Landlocked Ethiopia is banking on cooperation with Sudan to improve its access to ports. Earlier this month, high-level officials from both neighboring countries had a meeting during which they discussed issues of port service and utilization.

The cooperation will see the Sudanese Sea Port Corporation provide Ethiopia with necessary support as it makes use of Khartoum’s ports for the importation and exportation of commodities.

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Sudan’s Sea Port Corporation is also expected to offer assistance to Ethiopia’s state-owned shipping and logistics service – the Ethiopian Shipping and Logistics Service Enterprise (ESLSE). This is aimed at facilitating the importation of fertilizer.

The idea of cooperating on port service and usage is of crucial significance to Ethiopia, who like several other nations across eastern Africa, is landlocked. Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) all have to transit goods through the Indian Ocean ports of Mombasa in mayors and local government officials. There are officials present from all over the continent, including Ethiopia, Kenya and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

Presently, reports indicate that about 90 percent of Ethiopia’s export-import trade is handled by Djibouti, its neighbor in the Horn of Africa region which is bordered by the Red Sea in the east.

IMF Djibouti's Port Investments May Haunt Its Economy
Doraleh Container Terminal. Source: DP World

Ethiopia now plans to use two ports to reduce the exclusive dependency on Djibouti, which has been the case since the 1990s, a move considered long overdue due to the rapid growth in population and economic activity.

“Ethiopia needs more ports. The development of many projects in Ethiopia meant than they are having in excess of 15–20 percent growth [with a population of] 100 million people. How can they manage to export and import?” Sultan bin Sulayem, Group Chairman and CEO of DP World, said last October.

Ethiopia Seeks Greater Access To Ports With Sudan Deal
Photograph — Africa Trade Finance

As many as 12 ports will be required in the coming years to deal with the expected growth in cargo, the top official added, in an interview with IHS Markit, a London–based global information provider.

The port diversification plan has seen Ethiopia actively try to interest partners in the refurbishment and development of other ports in the region – Port Sudan in Sudan, Berbera in the Republic of Somaliland, and Mombasa in Kenya. It also intended to re-open two roads connecting it to two of Eritrea’s Red Sea ports.

Somaliland, DP World Open New Container Terminal At Berbera Port
Berbera Port container terminal. DP World has committed to investing up to $442 million to develop and expand Berbera Port. Photo: DP World

But Sudan has long been considered a vital option by the Ethiopian government. This is largely due to the geographical convenience Port Sudan offers, being close to Ethiopia’s northern region.

Part of the agreement includes the implementation of the 2003 pledge by the government of Sudan to offer 875,000 square meter area of land close to Port Sudan for Ethiopian logistics service, reports say. Both countries will also establish a technical committee to smoothen the progress of the port service.

The Ethiopia-Sudan meeting had in attendance, the Ethiopian Minister of Transport, Dagmawit Moges and Sudan’s Undersecretary of the Ministry of Infrastructure, Omar Ahmed Mohammed as well as the Director-General of Sudanese Sea Ports Corporation, Onour Mussa.

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