In a recent interview with ENA, Peter Pham, a former U.S. Special Envoy for the Sahel and Great Lakes Regions of Africa, emphasized the importance of recognizing Ethiopia’s legitimate interests in accessing the sea to ensure economic security for its people.

Pham highlighted Ethiopia’s crucial role in promoting peace and security in the region and argued that the country deserves understanding and support for its strategic needs.

“It has (therefore) every right to expect in return for that same goodwill and understanding for its legitimate interests and needs within terms of access to the sea and secure economic security for its people. It can’t all be a one-way street.”


The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi has been hailed as a significant step towards addressing Ethiopia’s need for redundant port structures. Pham expressed optimism about the agreement, emphasizing the importance of basing international relations on reality rather than wishful thinking. He underscored the geopolitical and economic dynamics of the Horn of Africa region, emphasizing the need for strategic adjustments to meet evolving challenges.

“Why am I so positive? First and foremost, I believe international relations have to be based upon reality — not fiction, not fantasy, not wishful thinking, but reality. And the reality is the geopolitics and economics of this Horn of Africa region, which is so vital and changing, shifting before our eyes; and we need to adjust to these.”

Ethiopia’s Legitimate Interests In Accessing The Sea For Economic Security Insights From A Former U.S. Diplomat
Peter Pham, a former U.S. Special Envoy for the Sahel and Great Lakes Regions of Africa

Ethiopia, as the world’s most populous landlocked state with 120 million people, has historically relied on Djibouti for access to the sea. However, Pham argued that a country of Ethiopia’s size and importance should not be dependent on a single outlet. He highlighted the economic rationale behind Ethiopia’s interest in the Berbera Port, citing investments by DP World and the United Kingdom government in its development.

“DP World has already invested in there, and the United Kingdom government is investing in phase two. There’s a road infrastructure, bringing up the port there.”

There is an excellent runway; all sorts of things make that a compelling case, he added.

Pham also drew attention to the broader infrastructure deficits in Africa, emphasizing the critical need for investments in ports, roads, energy, and other essential facilities to support economic growth and prosperity across the region. He stressed the positive impact of infrastructure development on creating conditions for shared prosperity and sustainable development.

“I think the key is that Africa as a whole, but this region in lacks critical infrastructure. So I’m very much in favor of anything that contributes to whether ports, roads, energy, electricity. Anything that adds to the stock, that helps create the conditions for economic growth and prosperity shared throughout the region is a positive development.”

In conclusion, Peter Pham’s insights shed light on Ethiopia’s legitimate interests in accessing the sea for economic security and the strategic imperatives driving its engagement with partners in the region. By understanding and supporting Ethiopia’s needs, the international community can contribute to fostering stability, growth, and prosperity in the Horn of Africa and beyond.