In history, Ethiopia had had sea outlets. In ancient times, Richard Pankhurst argues that Adule or Adulis (the main port of Aksumite Empire) and Berbera were proved to have importance to Ethiopia in pursuing its trade and other forms of relation. In medieval times, Zayla, Berbera and Massawa known to have a great significance for trade with the outside world. Later, in the history of modern Ethiopian, the colonial moves had certainly curtained the country`s access to the sea. After WWII, the country regained the legal right of access to the sea through Massawa and Assab by the Resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations 1952. It was done along with the federation of Eritrea with Ethiopia.
Unfortunately, after about 40 years of enjoyment of its sovereign right, it is again in the verge of permanently becoming landlocked after the early 1990s (Abebe, 2006). With regard to a particular port, for centuries before the period that Assab was part of Eritrea under Italy colonial rule and from 1952 to 1991 the Asseb region has been part of Ethiopia (Negussay, 2000). According to Yakob H/Mariam, the government of Ethiopia determined to demarcate Ethio-Eritrea border based on colonial treaties and the 1964 OAU declaration of border (declare the maintenance of border based on the colonial demarcation). Assab is one of the vital geopolitical issues that affected by such governmental decision. In substantiating this view Abebe (2006) argues that the present government of Ethiopia has agreed and signed the Algiers Agreement that could make Ethiopia a landlocked country though it is believed that access to the sea is one of the critical issues.
There is also claim that the 1900, 1902, and 1908 treaties between Ethiopia and Colonial Italy are the major reasons for the loss of sea outlet for Ethiopia. This claim is a manifestation of lingering with the colonial border demarcation/treaties/ and the 1964 OAU declaration. The above mentioned treaties were concluded by Ethiopia and Italy to delimit the boundaries; and in resolving the current territorial disputes between Ethiopia and Eritrea the treaties have been mentioned, and used.
According to law of treaties, the above claim may not have legal validity. To elaborate, one of the reasons for termination or suspension of a treaty is the existence of material breach of a treaty. First, Italy breached the treaties by expanding its invasion and occupying Ethiopia in 1935. In this regard, article 60 (1) of the Vienna Convention on law of treaties provides: A material breach of a bilateral treaty by one of the parties entitles the other to invoke the breach as a ground for terminating the treaty or suspending its operation in whole or in part. Indeed, Ethiopia had invoked material breach of the treaties and declared the treaties null and void according to customary international law. Thus, it is clear that the victim state, Ethiopian abrogated the treaties, and the 1900, 1902 and the 1908 treaties lack legal validity to deal with the issue in Algiers Agreement. Second, the latest or 1950s UN recommendation and the re-marriage of Ethiopia and Eritrea considered to be a ‘treaty that could be a basis to claim Ethiopia`s right of access to the Sea. Therefore, the prevalence of such material realities and international legal provisions can compel intellectuals to re-evaluating, question and scrutinize the legal basis of the Algiers Agreement.
Currently, Ethiopia is landlocked state; it possesses a number rights related to access to the sea. Ethiopian is entitled all rights that landlocked state is possessing in accordance with international law. Those rights have been discussed above under the topic entitle “Relations between Coastal and landlocked states.” Particularly, the provision from article 125 to132 and 148 of the 1982 Convention on the Law of Sea provide rights to Ethiopia for her access to the sea (see the above discussion and the law of sea). The law provides that land-locked states shall enjoy freedom of transit through the territory of transit states by all means of transport. Accordingly, the terms and modalities for exercising freedom of transit agreement between the land-locked states and the transit state concerned through bilateral, sub regional or regional agreements is imperative. Regarding this issue (the uses of EEZ by landlocked state) article 69 (right of land-locked States) provides:
- Land-locked States shall have the right to participate, on an equitable basis, in the exploitation of an appropriate part of the surplus of the living resources of the exclusive economic zones of coastal States of the same sub-region or region, taking into account the relevant economic and geographical circumstances of all the States concerned and in conformity with the provisions of this article and of articles 61 and 62.
- The terms and modalities of such participation shall be established by the States concerned through bilateral, sub-regional or regional agreements taking into account, inter alia: (a) the need to avoid effects detrimental to fishing communities or fishing industries of the coastal State; (b) the extent to which the land-locked State, in accordance with the provisions of this article, is participating or is entitled to participate under existing bilateral, sub-regional or regional agreements in the exploitation of living resources of the exclusive economic zones of other coastal States; (c) the extent to which other land-locked States and geographically disadvantaged States are participating in the exploitation of the living resources of the exclusive economic zone of the coastal State and the consequent need to avoid a particular burden for any single coastal State or a part of it; (d) the nutritional needs of the populations of the respective States.
- When the harvesting capacity of a coastal State approaches a point which would enable it to harvest the entire allowable catch of the living resources in its exclusive economic zone, the coastal State and other States concerned shall cooperate in the establishment of equitable arrangements on a bilateral, sub regional or regional basis to allow for participation of developing land-locked States of the same sub region or region in the exploitation of the living resources of the exclusive economic zones of coastal States of the sub region or region, as may be appropriate in the circumstances and on terms satisfactory to all parties. In the implementation of this provision the factors mentioned in paragraph 2 shall also be taken into account.
- Developed land-locked States shall, under the provisions of this article, be entitled to participate in the exploitation of living resources only in the exclusive economic zones of developed coastal States of the same sub-region or region having regard to the extent to which the coastal State, in giving access to other States to the living resources of its exclusive economic zone, has taken into account the need to minimize detrimental effects on fishing communities and economic dislocation in States whose nationals have habitually fished in the zone.
- The above provisions are without prejudice to arrangements agreed upon in sub-regions or regions where the coastal States may grant to land-locked States of the same sub-region or region equal or preferential rights for the exploitation of the living resources in the exclusive economic zones. The right to have free access to the sea encompasses the right to have passage (land and water); the right not to be subjected for exceptional or extra customs duties, taxes and other charges the prerogative of supply with free zones and other customs facilities for transit and port service ; cooperation in the construction and improvement of means of transport; Grant of greater transit facilities and measures to avoid or eliminate delays or other difficulties of a technical nature in traffic in transit.
Thus, in utilizing the Exclusive Economic Zone, the sub-region that Ethiopia is found is the Horn of Africa, includes the coastal water of Djibouti, Eritrea and Somalia. Somehow the route through Sudan, Kenya is also the possible ways to access the sea and use the living resource there. For the sake of utilizing EEZ by land locked state regional or bilateral agreement is need and therefore Ethiopia`s right to use the resource of EEZ is dependent upon the conclusion of agreement with the states found in sub-regions of Horn of Africa or East Africa and or North Africa.
Under the Law of Sea, landlocked states have given the right to have facility or expeditious transit services, exemption of extra fee, exploitation of the resources of EEZ and high sea and the like. In the case of Ethiopia, the country’s right access to the sea could also be treated in the context of the rights of landlocked state. In other word, the provision of the mentioned law in article 69, the provision declared from article 125 to 132 and article 148 of the 1982 Law of Sea are applicable to deal with Ethiopia’s right access to sea outlet.
Negussay Ayele (2000). Assab as a symbol of restoration of Ethiopia`s Natural seacoast. Available at www. Media Ethiopia.com/negussay_asseb/
Vienna Convention on the law of Treaties (with annex). Concluded at Vienna on 23 May 1969. Vienna Convention on the law of Treaties: Treaties among international organization and between states, Concluded at Vienna in 1986.
Abebe Teklehaimanot (2006) Ethiopia’s Sovereign Right of Access to the Sea under International Law. Georgia: University of Georgia School of Law.
Dametew Tessema Deneke (2017); Crisis Leadership in Ethiopia: A Comparative Analysis on the 1989 Coup D’état and the Post-2016 Protracted Political Instability; Int J Sci Res Publ 7(9) (ISSN: 2250-3153). http://www.ijsrp.org/research-paper-0917.php?rp=P696783
United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982. Available at http://www.un.org/depts/los/convention_agreements/convention_overview_convention.ht