Spillover effects for Ethiopia–Kenya relations

Ethiopia’s recent support for the FGS in its attempt to influence events in Jubaland unsettled the Kenyan Government

Although Ethiopia and Kenya have generally enjoyed stable and positive relations since Kenya’s independence, the situation in Jubaland has also put Ethiopia and Kenya at odds. The two countries have long cooperated on security, with a defence pact dating back to 1965 and visa-free travel between the two countries. However, Kenya’s 2011 military intervention in Somalia marked its first foreign security intervention; this foray also marked Kenya’s shift into an area that had, especially since the 1990s, been dominated by Ethiopian military influence. Shortly after its intervention, Kenya backed President Madobe in asserting Jubaland’s interests as an emerging federal member state over the influence of the federal government.64 This stance brought Kenya into competition with Ethiopia. However, in 2013 a modus vivendi allowed both countries to support Madobe. Ethiopia enforced a settlement between Madobe and the FGS (under Farmajo’s predecessor in 2013) following the formation of Madobe’s first FMS administration. This fitted with Kenya’s aim of establishing a buffer zone between its ambitions for economic and physical infrastructure development in northern Kenya (especially the LAPSSET corridor project) and the volatility associated with Somalia’s unstable politics.65 It also fitted with Ethiopia’s position of supporting a ‘building blocks’ approach in Somalia, which underlay its support for the federal project in Somalia since 2002. It was also in keeping with the longstanding trend in Ethiopian foreign policy dating back to the 1950s that sought to constrain a strong centralized state in Somalia.66

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Ethiopia’s recent support for the FGS in its attempt to influence events in Jubaland unsettled the Kenyan Government. In doing so, Abiy appears to be reversing Ethiopia’s previous position on Madobe. It could be that Madobe has fallen out of favor in Ethiopia because of his connections to the previous EPRDF administration, under which there were strong linkages between the security services and Somali Regional state administration in Jijiga.67 Madobe’s clan networks stretch across the Ethiopian border; he may be perceived as too closely linked to the TPLF and may not be trusted by the current Somali Regional state administration.68

Despite the apparent tensions between Ethiopia and Kenya over Somalia, Kenya is Ethiopia’s only neighbor in which economic considerations are likely to significantly offset purely political or security concerns resulting from Abiy’s shifting of Ethiopia’s established positions. Kenya’s private sector is eyeing Ethiopia’s planned liberalization for opportunities, particularly in telecommunications (where Kenya’s Safaricom will probably compete for entry) and in banking (where KCB Group—which already has subsidiaries in Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda—is considering expansion).69 Given long-standing concerns in Ethiopia about the government’s ability to regulate large foreign corporations in the financial sector, Kenya’s banks may be perceived by the Ethiopian Government as less challenging than larger, global banks. On a much smaller, but still politically salient, scale, the Abiy administration may also be set to clear the entry the entry of Brookside Dairy, owned by the family of Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, into the Ethiopian market.70 The company first mooted taking a share in an Ethiopian enterprise in 2013 but now appears to intend to start its own operation. Such considerations for personal and broader national economic gain in Ethiopia may be enough to reassure Kenya’s leadership that the relationship with Ethiopia remains solid.71

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