Ethiopia turns to Burundi seeking to expand ties in the region

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Compounded by crises in the north with the fighting in Tigray and a simmering land dispute with its western neighbor which threatens to spill over into a full blown war, Ethiopia’s president Sahle-Work Zewde took a much-needed break from mitigating multiple conflicts to visit another Eastern African in a bid to improve ties with regional neighbors.

Speaking on arrival at the Melchior Ndadaye International Airport in Bujumbura last week, she said, “We felt something has been missing in our relations and even with this high level of delegation of Ethiopia to Burundi, none of us has visited this beautiful country before, so I’m extremely honored to be the first.”

Ethiopia has been stretching its hand to other Eastern African nations recently as the government seeks to score crucial diplomatic points with relation to its conflicts with Sudan and Egypt over the Nile, and now a land dispute with the former.

Burundi is one of the 11 Nile Basin countries, and over the past has supported Ethiopia’s position on the world’s longest river, “that all riparian countries have an equal right to the river’s resources.”

During her tour, Zewde met her counterpart President Evariste Ndayishimiye, and she visited manufacturing companies seeking to find ways for collaboration between both countries in the manufacturing sector.

The two leaders released a joint communique, asking concerned sector Cabinet ministries to put in place a strategy that would revitalize their cooperation, through working sessions and of the joint permanent commission between Burundi and Ethiopia to be convened.

“The two heads of state stressed the need to strengthen continental, regional and sub-regional organisations in the promotion and consolidation of peace, security, stability and sustainable development,” reads part of the communique.

Aside from the Nile issue, Ethiopia and Burundi are among countries contributing troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

In December, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed met Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and they discussed on the Nile conflict and peace and security in the Horn of Africa region. Both leaders opened a One Stop Border Post (OBSP) in Moyale on both sides of the border, to guarantee free movement of goods and people between the two nations.

President Zewde is the first head of state to visit Burundi since Ndayishimiye was elected last year.

For the past almost eight months in office, President Ndayishimiye’s government has prioritised mending and strengthening of diplomatic ties and relations with neighboring countries and the international community. Since 2015, Burundi’s government has been under sanctions from the EU over “violation of human rights.”

Brian Kithinji
Brian Kithinji is a journalist with over four years experience reporting on various topics across the African continent. Join him in exploring an evolving Africa through extensive contextualization and deep analysis.