Protesters block Ethiopia-Djibouti rail link as conflict escalates
NAIROBI, Kenya – The vital rail and road link to Djibouti was destroyed on Wednesday, which could now cut essential supplies to Addis Ababa, which depends on the port of Djibouti for imports and exports, essential to the Ethiopian economy.
A senior government official said the railway had been partly uprooted and some sections were blocked, crippling transport between Ethiopia and Djibouti. This is the first reaction of ordinary people in Ethiopia to target the economy.
The railway line between the two East African countries has been closed since the protests took place on Monday, said Mohamed Rooble, spokesperson for the Somali Ethiopian region government on Tuesday.
The protest follows an attack by special forces and militiamen from the neighboring Afar region on the town of Garbaiisa, where many ethnic Somalis live. Hundreds of people have been killed by the Afar militia in the disputed area with the Somali region.
Somali authorities have confirmed that at least 300 people have died in the violence, which began on July 24, Mohamed said. Protesters also closed the road that connects the Somali region to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, in response to hostilities from neighboring Afar people.
The blocked trade route risks further damaging Ethiopia’s economy, which is already struggling to cope with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and a nine-month conflict in its northern Tigray region. Ethiopia relies on Djibouti’s port and transport infrastructure for 95% of its maritime trade, according to the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies.
The country’s 2024 Eurobond yields rose for a fifth straight day on Tuesday, reaching 10.26%, the highest since May 2020.
The conflict that began in Tigray in November has spread to Afar and is likely to spill over into the Amhara region. The violence has displaced, displaced at least 2 million people and left thousands dead.
A spokesperson for the Afar regional government did not immediately respond to calls for comment. Tilahun Sarka, managing director of the state-backed railway company Ethio Djibouti, did not immediately respond to a call for comment.
It should be noted that the conflict between the Afar and Somali regions has nothing to do with the current animosity between the federal government and the Tigray region. However, amid the clashes, the Somali region sent troops to join federal forces ahead of the planned assault on Tigray.
A few weeks ago, the Tigray Defense Forces [TDF] had started making incursions into Afar territory, promising to cut rail and road links to Djibouti in retaliation for the genocide carried out by federal troops, Amhara regional forces and Eritrean troops in the Tigray region.
Djibouti is reported to have sent its military to the border with Ethiopia to deal with these eventualities, but the government has rejected the allegations. The road and rail link brings Djibouti millions of dollars in foreign exchange since Ethiopia depends almost entirely on its port.