For Ethiopia the reestablishment of full diplomatic relations with the small oil- rich gulf kingdom of Qatar is a sign of the beginning of a new era. Diplomatic relations between the two countries were severed in mid-2008 following Ethiopia’s accusation that Qatar was helping the destabilizing forces in Somalia.
In addition to assisting Islamic militant groups in Somalia, Qatar has close ties with Eritrea, which provides training grounds and logistical aid to Somali militants and to groups operating inside Ethiopia, like the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). Before diplomatic relations were cut, the Ethiopian government expressed displeasure with the activities of Qatar in the region. The Ethiopian government raised an issue that was directly connected with the ONLF. The media reported that ONLF fighters were being trained inside Qatar. Ethiopia officially considers the ONLF a terrorist organization that has taken up arms to destabilize the constitutional government of Ethiopia. The ONLF has been in a struggle to secede for over a quarter of a century.
Letting bygones be bygones, the Ethiopian government positively accepted the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Qatar. What are the reasons behind this? With a population of less than 300,000, Qatar is a tiny sovereign Arab nation that has the world’s highest GDP per capita, and large proven oil reserves and natural gas. According to Forbes magazine, Qatar is at the top of the list of richest countries in the world. The economy grows at a rate of 19 percent annually, the fastest in the world.
Ethiopia, with a population of around 80 million, is an agrarian country not yet fully self-sufficient in food production. Though it is said, time and again, that there is oil and natural gas in Ethiopia, the possibility is unexplored and the country is categorized as one of the least developed. The reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Ethiopia and Qatar is mutually advantageous. With a growing economy, Ethiopia needs the natural oil and gas products of Qatar. The Ethiopian government estimates the rate of growth to be around 11.5 percent, anually while The International Monetary Fund takes this figure down to 6.5 percent.
In return, Qatar requires a huge workforce for its fast growing economy. Ethiopia has an abundant reserve of unskilled man power; therefore, using the positive shift in relations, it is possible to export this force to Qatar.
Ethiopia needs foreigners willing to invest in the country. Qatar has the resources lying around and for Qataris this is a golden opportunity to participate in all areas of Ethiopia’s developing economy. This symbiotic relationship will be of benefit to both countries.
Apart from this economic benefit, working in cooperation with Qatar is helpful in diminishing the threat by subversive forces. For this to happen, Qatar has to stop providing logistical aid and training grounds for dissidents. If this is implemented, Ethiopia will greatly benefit from this arrangement.
Qatar’s relationship with Eritrea is a complex one. This relationship existed even during the armed struggle against Ethiopia. Former Ethiopian governments like the Derg and the Imperial regime complained that Arab states, including Qatar, were helping rebels in Eritrea. At the time, some Arab countries denied this allegation. In the post-independence era of Eritrea, the Ethiopian government’s allegations were proven right.
Even after gaining independence in May 1991, Eritrea continued its destabilizing efforts against Ethiopia and went one step ahead, invading Ethiopia in 1998. All these acts were encouraged by the assistance of oil-rich Arab states.
There are some Arab countries assisting Eritrea in good faith; with good relations restored, it is possible to expose the heinous intentions of the ruling Eritrean elite. Additionally, it will be easy to show donors that money given to Eritrea for one purpose is spent on a totally different and destructive one; like training and supplying the Ethiopian opposition.
In light of all this, the reopening of embassies in both capitals is essential, sooner rather than later. The Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) disclosed that they are currently preparing to reopen their embassy and that Ethiopia will also be posting a new Ambassador to Qatar soon, although MoFA declined to give any details or names of potential candidates for the post of Ethiopian Ambassador to Qatar, who will be stationed in the capital city, Doha. MoFA also expects the Qataris to send their new Ambassador to Addis Ababa within a month.
This is a good development, not only for its long term economic benefits as stated above but for the immediate purpose of diminishing the threat of dissident groups.