Ruto, Abiy agree to uphold African sovereignty

Kenya’s President William Ruto and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Wednesday agreed to respect individual sovereignties and territorial boundaries of peers in the region, a revealing decision for the Horn of African region.

Meeting at state house Nairobi, the two leaders vowed to maintain peace, security and stability within the continent “as a necessary condition for economic growth and development,” a dispatch said.

“Accordingly, they affirmed their commitment to recognise, respect and uphold sovereignty and territorial integrity of state, and to reject unconstitutional changes of government as well as interference in domestic political processes of African countries by external interests.”

The declaration may be both face-saving and self-shielding, especially for the Ethiopian side.  It could be a political coup for Nairobi which has been trying to push back channels to resolve the Ethiopia-Somalia tiff. The joint communique did not refer to the Somalia issue specifically.

But since January, Ethiopia and Somalia have bickered over a memorandum of understanding (MoU) Addis Ababa signed with Somaliland, a breakaway region Somalia considers its territory.

Somalia has demanded the MoU is withdrawn, terming it as a violation of its territorial integrity by Ethiopia, which had agreed on a sea access deal with Somaliland.

On his first state visit to Nairobi since 2018, Abiy’s trip coincided with a visit by Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud for the UN Environmental Assembly. While both leaders were expected to hold bilateral talks with host President Ruto, it was still unclear if Dr Abiy and Dr Mohamud would meet face to face.

Yet, that declaration too was self-shielding for Ethiopia. Facing constant internal rebellions from militias, Ethiopia has been forceful in cracking them down, earning itself criticism from mostly Western countries on human rights violations especially the detention of journalists.

The visit was significant to iron out forgotten issues between the two sides. They said they will enhance bilateral cooperation in trade, investment, agriculture, tourism, health, fisheries and transport.

Dr Abiy had arrived in Nairobi on Tuesday evening to start his State visit to Nairobi, his first since June 2018 and which was expected to turn-around in relations between the two sides.

Dr Abiy was received in person by his host at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, President William Ruto, the first time he has done so to a leader of another country. They exchanged a camaraderie hug in the rain before moving to other routine rituals for arriving leaders at the airport.

After their meeting, they agreed on an earlier announcement which exempted Ethiopians from paying the fees for an online visitor arrival management system known as electronic system for travel authorisation (ETA).

Ruto had made his first foreign trip as President to Addis Ababa in 2022. But the Horn of Africa has since become a boiling port of geopolitical issues.

Ethiopia itself has faced internal strife, Sudan has plunged into war and Ethiopia and Somalia have bickered over MoU with Somaliland. These issues are expected to be discussed as they affect both countries in one way or another.

For a long time, Ethiopia and Kenya remained anchor states in the volatile Horn. Now the pressure is on both leaders to sustain that trait.

Dr Abiy is accompanied by his wife Zinash Tayachew and several senior government officials.

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