Ethiopia’s neighbors have always been a foreign policy priority because of obvious historic, geographic and strategic considerations. Ethiopia knows that it has an enormous amount in common with all its neighbors. The historical connections and the common borders it shares, as well as long-standing links, cross-border ties and the normal cooperation among the peoples of the Horn of Africa over many centuries are the bedrock of the good relations that exist between Ethiopia and its neighbors.
It is no surprise that Kenya is one of the countries with which Ethiopia enjoys excellent relations of cooperation and bonds of close friendship. Indeed, Ethiopia has always attached great importance to its relations with Kenya and its people going back many years, though formal relations date to 1954 when Ethiopia established an Honorary Consulate General in Kenya. Ethiopia appointed its first Ambassador to Kenya in 1961, and six years later Kenya opened an Embassy in Addis Ababa. Earlier, during the Italian occupation of Ethiopia, Ethiopian forces were able to operate across the common border, getting medical and other supplies from Kenya. Similarly, during the Mau Mau liberation struggle for Kenya’s independence, Kenyan fighters were able to operate from Ethiopian territory.
After Kenyan independence, the personal friendship between President Jomo Kenyatta and Emperor Haile Selassie cemented existing ties and both countries embarked upon joint co-operation in a number of areas, notably in working towards the realization of the principles of ‘non interference’ in the OAU’s Charter. In fact, the Ethiopia-Kenya boundary was initially defined in 1907, and this was used as a legal base for a detailed boundary description in 1947, and then demarcation, carried out 1950-1955. After Kenya’s independence a Joint Inter-Ministerial Consultative Committee reviewed the work, and the boundary was formally agreed by a treaty signed in 1970.
The close links between Ethiopia and Kenya have been particularly visible in the way the two countries have constantly supported each other’s positions in international forums in many different areas. Ethiopia and Kenya share a common understanding on such issues as cross-border terrorism, piracy, regional integration under the umbrella of IGAD and the prime importance of peace and security in the Horn of Africa and beyond. Their common involvement in IGAD provides a significant indication of the strength of their relationship. Both countries have consistently demonstrated their common interests through the organization, their support for revitalizing IGAD and for ensuring that it provides the basis for one of the AU’s Regional Economic Units.
In particular, Kenya and Ethiopia have worked together to bring lasting peace in Somalia and showed their commitment by organizing several Somali national reconciliation meetings. During their respective chairmanships of IGAD, they played a major role in brokering the peace deal between the south and north Sudan, and the signing of the CPA, ending the longest war in Africa, as well as providing for the reinstitution of the TFG in Somalia. Both Ethiopia and Kenya have been the target of Somali irredentism at various times. Both countries play a significant role in UN peacekeeping operations.
Ethiopia and Kenya have also cooperated closely over cross-border problems. One important element of IGAD for both Ethiopia and Kenya is the Conflict Early Warning and Response Mechanism (CEWARN). This has been successful in organizing and expanding community-led peace initiatives in areas all along the border, including the Maikona and Dukana Peace Accords that have improved the relations between the Borana and Gabbra communities of the two countries. Since these were instituted in 2008/9, they have significantly reduced violent incidents among these communities while enhancing peaceful interaction and resource sharing. Other communities along the border have expressed their commitment to adopt similar accords, pledging to work towards living peacefully and sharing resources both internally and along the border. Committees are being set up within the framework of CEWARN to be tasked to follow up peace and security issues.
These activities underline the close people-to-people relationship that exists between Ethiopia and Kenya going back over many years. Links have never been solely based on government ties. In fact, government relations and cooperation has always been characterized as cordial and strong, and the relationship and the attendant cultural understanding that exists between the two peoples have a very solid foundation. Current cooperation that exists between the two countries range from political to economic and cultural matters. The biannual Joint Ministerial and the annual Joint Border Commission meetings, held alternatively in each country, provide opportunities to exchange views on issues of common concern. There have been numerous exchanges of high-level visits.
Cooperation has been strongly encouraged by these bilateral contacts. Both countries have embarked upon a number of joint development programs in road construction, commerce and trade and other areas. Ethiopia has been exploring the possibility of using Mombasa as a port, and is taking a keen interest in the discussions about the creation of a new port at Lamu and the possibilities of rail links with other areas. One major new project has been the development of the Omo River valley which alarmed some conservationists in Kenya, worried about the impact on Lake Turkana. In fact, the series of dams in the Omo Valley, in particular Gilgel Gibe III, will generate nearly 2,000 MWs of hydro-electric power. A significant amount of this will go to Kenya, and as Kenya’s Environment Minister recently said “Gilgel Gibe III should brighten not threaten out future.”