Suleiman Dedefo has been serving as Ethiopia’s Ambassador to Djibouti for the past four years. A former representative of Ethiopia in Kuwait and Nigeria, ambassador Suleiman has a legal background obtaining a Bachelor degree in Law and a second degree in International Law. Suleiman says the relationship between the two countries is getting stronger. The two neighbors signed several economic and trade agreements and have some common projects on the go. Capital’s Muluken Yewondewossen talked to the ambassador in February about the ties between the two countries in February 2015, in Djibouti.
Capital: How do you describe the diplomatic relationship between Ethiopia and Djibouti, especially from an economical integration concept?
Suleiman: Ethiopians and Djiboutians are one people who are living in two different countries; it is simply impossible to see the people separately. They are not bound by borders. So the relationship between the two countries is a people to people relationship. There could always be a policy shift but the people to people relationship has remained unchanged.
Taking this relationship as a baseline, the governments of the two countries are paving the way for the two country’s people to work towards a common goal, that is prosperity. With this in mind, during the recent meeting of the two countries investors’ commissions, the idea of marching into full economic integration was initiated and both governments believe that it is the major means we can win together the fight against poverty. Borders should only be the symbol of sovereignty and they shouldn’t become an obstacle for mutual benefit.
The idea of full economic integration was announced by Djibouti’s President and Ethiopia’s Prime Minister. There are fertile bases for this; it is not just for politics. There is already a strong infrastructural tie between the two countries which is a very important base for the rest. You cannot find such kind mutually sensitive ties between other countries. The two countries are connected through roads, electricity, telecommunication, water and railway. This is a sturdy base for economic integration.
The leaders of the two countries have seen that the development in Ethiopia has also contributed to the development of Djibouti; Ethiopia’s growth is Djibouti’s growth.
IGAD has crafted a regional integration plan called Minimal Integration Plan which works towards integrating the region economically step by step. So far, there have been some slow developments in executing the plan and the planned integration of Ethiopia and Djibouti will move it forward much faster.
Africa has a vision to be integrated economically without shadowing on countries benefits’. That vision will become a reality once different regions are integrated. And Ethiopia and Djibouti are good examples of that move towards unification.
Capital: The two countries signed several agreements including the supply of electricity and water. Can you elaborate for us the electricity and potable water supply deals?
Suleiman: There is water shortage in Djibouti; they don’t have sources like rivers and purifying the ocean water for drinking is very costly. Ethiopia has abundant underground water and it plans to provide portable water to Djibouti for free. Many Djiboutian are affected by lack of clean water and this project will solve that problem. This shows the positive perception Ethiopia has for Djibouti. Power shortage is another issue in Djibouti in spite of the country’s geothermal potential; but that needs a lot of capital to develop. So to solve the shortage of electricity, Ethiopia is already providing 50mw in light of the first agreement. Later on a second agreement was signed and that hopefully will help meet almost all of the Djibouti’s electricity need. Electricity fee is expensive in Djibouti currently and when installation of the second transmission line is complete, the shortage and fee will reduce significantly. The country many not need much power currently, but as it grows, the need for electricity will also grow because of industrialization. The electricity is provided at a preferential rate and they are happy about that.
Capital: When will these projects become operational?
Suleiman: The water project is expected to be ready in the next two to three years and currently the contractor is mobilizing machineries. Similarly, a survey was done for the electricity project and unless there is a challenge with finance, it will not take more than three years.
Capital: Some critics say that Ethiopia faces water shortage and providing water to Djibouti is not fair. What do you say about that? The water line elongates about 300 kms. Will it also be used by communities who live along the path?
Suleiman: Ethiopia has its own water delivery plan for local communities. We have separate water supply schemes for the area where the water will be pumped out. The communities who live along the way the water line passes will have clean water supply even before the Djibouti project is completed.
We didn’t discover the water source for Djibouti’s sake, we tapped it because of our need. After noticing it has a big capacity, we decided to provide some amount to Djibouti.
Capital: Regarding tourism, there is interest from Ethiopia to take Djibouti into its tourism package.
Suleiman: The tourism project is one element in the integration process. Ethiopia has a huge tourism potential, so does Djibouti. The aim is to tie the two tourism sectors and promote it well.
Capital: Transporters are discontent about bad road conditions which damages their vehicles. What is your comment on that?
Suleiman: Yes, the roads are poor but are maintained frequently. The traffic has increased notably now. The massive traffic the road serves today was unimaginable then. Due to this the road gets damaged but it’s maintained often. We are discussing with Djibouti to fix the problem.
Capital: What were the outcomes of the recent visit of the Ethiopian Prime Minister to Djibouti?
Suleiman: We have achieved everything we had set to gain. One of the things we wanted was to scale up our relationship. We have signed several agreements; these agreements will help push our relationship further. We have also renewed our trade agreements. We didn’t have border trade agreement previously and we have signed that too. We also signed an agreement to deliver gas to Djibouti using a pipeline.
Capital: What kind of discussions were there regarding the port?
Suleiman: We mostly discussed the challenges, and how to make the system time and cost efficient. Different proposals that would facilitate use of the port were presented. We agreed to bypass pro forma invoices requirements for commodities entering into Ethiopia because that process takes a long time. That proposal has been accepted. Things need to be modified all the time to accommodate emerging needs and for mutual benefit.
Another proposal was made to hold ministerial meetings every month which was held every year previously and that’s got acceptance.
Capital: Were there agreements on mining?
Suleiman: There are two things happening in the mining area. One of them is to increase Ethiopia’s capacity to utilize the minerals found in Djibouti. Ministers of Mines of the two countries have signed an agreement on that. The other is building an oil pipeline from Djibouti to Awash, Ethiopia. This particular project will be carried out by an American company called Black Rhino. All these have been agreed on by both governments. Black Rhino is bringing the finance itself, the government is not involved, it is an investment.