Prime Minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed (Getty Images)

The events of the "Al-Aqsa Flood" encouraged Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to issue statements amounting to declaring war on the countries of the Horn of Africa bordering the Red Sea, most notably his speech to members of parliament, in which he blamed Ethiopians for not paying any importance to the Red Sea issue, saying: "Although the source of the Nile in Ethiopia, it represents an existential issue for Egyptians and Sudanese and it is not considered taboo to discuss it publicly. Similarly, the issue of discussing the Red Sea should not be a taboo for Ethiopians."

He added: "The Red Sea and the Nile River represent two main tributaries on which Ethiopia's fate and development efforts depend, and they will elevate the country, either to a great renaissance or push it into oblivion."

"Ethiopia's rights and claims to access are rooted in history and geography and are economically justified, including the fact that Ethiopia's legitimate need for adequate access to the sea is enshrined in the UN Charter."

To elevate Ethiopia's historical obsession with water outlets, Abiy Ahmed noted that Ethiopia is an island surrounded by water, but it is nevertheless a thirsty country, in the sense that it is a landlocked country.

He also warned fellow lawmakers — and his counterparts in particular in neighboring countries — that with Ethiopia's growing population, the question of discussing a sea access to the Red Sea is no longer a luxury, but an existential issue for Ethiopia. How can a country with a population of about one hundred and fifty million live in a "prison of geography"?

These statements raised a state of concern and questions in the region, especially among some of Ethiopia's neighboring countries that have ports overlooking the Red Sea, such as Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia.


These statements were taken seriously, especially since they came after the leak of an earlier talk by Abiy Ahmed, in which he said: "Ethiopia will work to secure direct access to the port, either peacefully or by force if necessary."

That being the case, how can we understand these statements? What are the implications of its timing? In what contexts and modalities is the issue of Ethiopia's direct access to a sea port raised? Are the statements an indicator of the tension of the situation at home, or in relations with its neighboring surroundings, especially with Eritrea? Does it portend another war in the region?

There's a lot to be said to answer these questions, but we just mention four things:

First, it seems clear that Abiy Ahmed wanted to put forward his ideas at this time when the region is witnessing major geostrategic changes that provide appropriate international conditions to raise the issue of Ethiopia's access to a sea port.

In doing so, it underscores a recurring pattern of exploitations by the countries of the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia and Eritrea in particular) of major events.

Paradoxically, those who re-read the contexts of important events – in some countries in the Horn of Africa – find that the authorities there usually take advantage of major events in the world to make policies and decisions that sometimes amount to a declaration of war.

Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki took advantage of the world's preoccupation with the events of September 2001 in the United States and arrested a large number of state and ruling party officials in what was later known as the arrest of the "reformist group" on September 18, 2001. Their fate is still unknown.

Another more egregious event was the use by the federal government of Ethiopia of the occasion of the world's preoccupation – and the United States in particular with the fallout from President Trump's November 2020 election loss – by waging war against the Tigray Regional Government on November 4, 2020.

Second, Abiy Ahmed – following the custom of Ethiopian elites – has a habit of occasionally doing what historians call a "historical revision."

It means the process of reviewing past historical facts or phenomena, especially in the case of new sources or evidence that help to understand those facts and phenomena in a different and new way.

Unfortunately, we do not find anything in Abiy Ahmed's statements to say that there are new legal evidence or references that authorize him to review the laws of existing national states in the region, to the point of allowing access to a sea port.

Severe criticism of the ruling

The question of growing population or Ethiopia's urgent need for access to the sea for development reasons does not entitle him to such a talk. But we know from experience that he resorted to such a historical revision, or more correctly instrumentalism, after coming to power in April 2018.

Shortly after becoming prime minister, Abiy began to harshly criticize the experience of federal rule launched by the Tigray Liberation Front (TPLF) in the nineties, calling it the root of Ethiopia's problems. He then proceeded to target all elements affiliated with the Tigray Front in various state administrations, either by excluding them from senior positions in the army and security, or by targeting them on corruption charges.

It was also not surprising that the Amhara elites were the group most in line with Abiy Ahmed's new orientations, because the abolition of the federal system and the return to the former central system allow them to regain their position and gains in previous eras.

This was also welcomed by President Isaias Afwerki, who had a negative attitude towards Ethiopia's system of ethnic federalism. Afwerki once stated: "The conspiracy against Eritrea emerged from this project – ethnic federalism – and there was no reason for the border dispute. Federalism was just a ill-intentioned philosophy aimed at dividing the people for their rule."

One of the results of this rapprochement between these three parties was the emergence of a new alliance that includes the federal government in Ethiopia led by Abiy Ahmed, the Eritrean government led by Isaias Afwerki and the Amhara elites through the Fano militia.

When the Ethiopian government declared war on the Tigray region on November 2020, <>, under the pretext of re-establishing the rule of law, the military operation included these three parties themselves: the Ethiopian National Defense Forces, the Eritrean army, and the Amhara Special Forces and affiliated militias.

Third, Abiy Ahmed's statement reflects a strain in his relations with the same parties with whom he had allied earlier in the Tigray war.

Abiy Ahmed has previously worked to exclude the Tigray Liberation Front by signing the peace agreement with Eritrea in 2018, and he unilaterally signed the Pretoria Peace Agreement in November 2022 with the Tigray Liberation Front, without involving the Amhara or the Eritrean government.

This made the Amhara feel that the federal government employed them in its war against the Tigray Front without reaping any gains.

Worse still, in April 2023, the Ethiopian government issued a decision to disband all regional militias – including the Fano militia – and establish a single central force at the federal level, which ultimately produced widespread unrest, which led to the deterioration of the security situation in the Amhara region, especially after the Amhara militia "Fanu" took control of several cities and regions in the region, prompting the Ethiopian government to declare a state of emergency there.

Another war in the region

On the other hand, the Eritrean regime – Abiy Ahmed's former ally in the Tigray War – has taken a similar stance on the Pretoria Peace Agreement. There are frequent reports of support and training by the Amharic militia Alfanu from Eritrea.

In addition, the Eritrean Ministry of Information's comment on Abiy Ahmed's remarks also reflects signs of a silent crisis between the two governments, as it published a brief statement saying that there has been a lot of talk – both physical and virtual – recently about water issues and access to sea ports.

Although these statements have puzzled observers concerned with this issue, the Eritrean government has reiterated that, as always, it will not be dragged into this kind of gossip.

In light of the above, the question arises: whether the Ethiopian Prime Minister's statements portend another war in the region?

Apparently, Abiy Ahmed's remarks did not come by chance, but rather the culmination of a new alliance that has begun to emerge since he signed the Pretoria Peace Agreement with the Tigray Front.

Since the signing of the agreement, the Amhara region, Ethiopia's second most populous region, has been witnessing widespread unrest, and the Amharic militia Alfano still controls some of its areas.

In addition, these statements can be seen as a means of mobilizing political support for Abiy Ahmed's government, especially since the issue of Ethiopia's access to a sea port is of great interest to the Ethiopian people.

The statements can also be seen as another indication of the disintegration of the political alliance that linked Isaias Afwerki and Abiy Ahmed during the Tigray War.

The relationship between them is likely to end in one of two things: either the relationship will return to the atmosphere of tension it was in (2001-2018) before the signing of the peace agreement in 2018, and the two countries engage in "proxy wars" aimed at destabilizing the internal situation in each other; or the two countries will enter into a new war, as happened in the period 1998-2001.