Qatar and Ethiopia warming relations

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Ethiopia’s ruling party had led repeated efforts to craft a diplomatic relation with Qatar, the energy-rich Gulf state that began to play an increasingly influential role in the Horn of Africa in security and diplomacy. Qatar‘s friendly relation with Eritrea was a nuisance to the Ethiopian regime, causing the late prime Minister Meles Zenawi to cut off diplomatic relations with the Gulf state in 2008. However, following discussions between Meles and Qatar officials in London in 2012, the two countries started looking for common ground to normalize relations. The current Prime Minister Hailemariam’s special envoy, Ambassador Berhane Gebrekristos’ travel to Doha in 2014 was part of the campaign. Not long after that visit, Ethiopian Airlines announced the start of the three weekly flights to Doha and the two countries signed 11 agreements and memoranda of understanding in Addis Ababa in 2016.
The Qatari Emir Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani’s trip to Addis Ababa this Monday is just the latest indication that Ethiopia is opening up to Qatar. The visit to Ethiopia, which is the first leg of Emir’s visit to three African nations is the first for him since he took power in 2013. Prime Minister Hailemarim would use this opportunity to urge the Emir to plough more of its vast oil and gas wealth into infrastructure projects across the country and provide relief and assistance to the millions of Ethiopians affected by natural disasters.
During the state visit, which would also include a meeting with President Mulatu Teshome as well as senior politicians and executives, the two countries would sign an agreement setting out a framework for further talks on issues such as trade and investment. A visa-free travel agreement for some Ethiopian nationals would be signed. The Ethiopian Ambassador to Qatar Mesganu Arga Moach told the Qatar news agency that the Emir’s tour “will effectively contribute to promote the Arab-African relations, hailing Qatar’s vital role in establishing peace and stability in Africa, including its important role in achieving peace and stability in Darfur, Djibouti and Eritrea.”
Qatar certainly is pursuing its ostentatious role of mediating the conflicts of the Horn of Africa, as it successfully did between Eritrea and Sudan and Eritrea and Djibouti. The mediation effort in Sudan’s Darfur conflict and the stalemate between Ethiopia and Eritrea have not yet been successful. However, according to Patrick Ferras, French political analyst and intelligence expert, if Ethiopia and Qatar develop warmer relations, it is likely that Qatar would invest in improving the status quo of the two neighbouring countries’ situation of “neither peace nor war”.
Surrounded by larger neighbors, Iran and Saudi Arabia, the small country depends on the country’s state-owned airline, Qatar Airways and state-owned broadcaster Al Jazeera to punch its weight on the international scene.

Arefayné Fantahun
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