An Address by HIH Prince Ermias Sahle-Selassie Haile-Selassie to Florida
April 8, 2004
“It is possible to measure, in large part, the rise of global wealth — and
fluctuations in it — by the viability and efficiency of the trade in goods.
This has been the history of civilization, beginning with the trade in food
commodities, metals, animals and luxury goods around the littorals of the
Red Sea and Mediterranean, dating from ancient times. It is now clear that
many of the implements vital to early Egyptian society came from the Horn of
Africa and possibly even from Australia. Discoveries have revealed that
commodities from the British Isles found their way to the Eastern
Mediterranean long before the Roman invasion, and a mainstay of
Mediterranean and European wealth was, for several thousand years, the
arduous, complex trade across the Silk Road to China.
And yet it was with the development of efficient, large ships that trade —
and global wealth — began to multiply. This was compounded in the late 19th
and early 20th centuries as two great manmade canals — the Suez and Panama —
took advantage of the mechanization of ships to create a stable, rapid and
increasingly reliable heavy freight capability.
Several great maritime arteries today are the definitive choke-points for
international trade, and therefore international stability and wealth: the
Suez-Red Sea sea-lane; the Panama Canal; and two natural waterways, the
Danube River system and the Strait of Malacca.
It could be argued that the global economies were damaged significantly and
measurably when, in 1967, the Suez Canal was closed during the Six Day War
between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Equally, there was another great
economic hiatus when, in 1984, Libya’s Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi ordered the
laying of floating ocean mines in the Red Sea from the minelayer Ghat, a
move which caused insurance companies to refuse to allow merchant vessels,
including oil tankers, from transiting that sea lane leading to and from the
Suez Canal, forcing traffic around the long and arduous Cape of Good Hope
Equally, European economies — literally all of them except those of
Scandinavia — suffered to one degree or another, and still do, as a result
of the decision by the then-US Administration of Pres. William Clinton in
1999 to bomb the bridges in Serbia, crossing the Danube. This damage still
has not been completely repaired, and European economies are still
recovering. Yet little is discussed about the vital nature of this arterial
Today, we take the great arterial sea and waterway trade for granted and
focus more on the impact of air transportation. Indeed, the role of aviation
to the development of trade and strategic power is unquestionable, but the
movement of large numbers of people and large volumes of commodities and
finished goods depends, even today, overwhelmingly on sea transport.
It is necessary to understand this global matrix to provide a context for
understanding the paramount significance of the Horn of Africa to the
stability of the global trading system and therefore its significance to the
wealth of nations and peoples.
Indeed, it is an obvious geopolitical link to see how the fortunes of the
Red Sea/Suez sea lane are tied to the Horn of Africa; they are inseparable
from each other. And it is easy to see why a variety of states — from Egypt
and Israel, and from the United States to Australia — are so sensitive to
the wellbeing of this sea lane; their lives depend on it, as do the welfares
of much of Western Europe and Japan.
Arguably, at some point, perhaps 20 to 50 years into the future, Japan will
see a unified Korean Peninsula adjacent to it, allowing the completion of a
rail link which will provide extremely rapid, “just-in-time” shipping of
Japanese manufactured goods to Western Europe. Right now, at least 40
percent of Japan’s high-value exports are sitting on ships at any given
time, tying up enormous investments — literally 40 percent of the cost of
those exports — for all the time those goods are at sea. Reducing tied-up
capital enables greater investment turnover, dramatically accelerating
But it should be assumed that even a major arterial railroad linking the
foot of the Korean Peninsula with Western Europe would not diminish in any
way the vital ocean traffic moving through the Red Sea/Suez link nor the
South China Sea and Malacca choke-points along the way to and from Japan.
The question, then, is how the vital element — the Red Sea/Suez link — can
The existing approach, as I noted, has been to focus on the sea-lane itself,
and on the littorals: the coastlines of Somalia, Somaliland, Djibouti,
Eritrea, Egypt, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. But history has taught us that the
health of the littorals is merely the symptomatic reflection of the health
of the hinterlands behind them, just as the health of a person’s skin is a
reflection of inner health.
The great 19th Century British strategist and geopolitician, Sir Halford J.
Mackinder, who is far too overlooked today in this world of quick-fixes and
instant technologies, talked about the critical relationship between
heartlands and rimlands. He who controls the heartland controls the rimland.
Perhaps I should add here the caveat that he who controls and utilizes or
develops the wealth and strength of the heartland controls the rimland.
In the context of the security of the Red Sea/Suez sea littoral, on the
African side, the heartland focuses around the wealth and power created by
the benefits deriving from source of the Blue Nile: the Amhara Plateau of
Ethiopia. Significantly, it is this natural wealth — today largely
unexploited following years of destruction by the Stalinist Dergue which
took power away from the Ethiopian people in 1974 — and the inherent power
over the source of most of the Nile waters, which places Ethiopia at a
strategic crossroad. Perhaps I should say it places Ethiopia in “the
strategic cross-hairs”, for this natural asset of which Ethiopia is the
custodian, the Nile, makes Egypt nervous and defensive.
The Government of Egypt — which has roughly the same size population as
Ethiopia — has said that the only natural cassus belli, or cause of war, for
it would be an interference with the flow of Nile waters. And yet despite
the fact that the flow of Nile waters has never been materially affected by
any actions in Ethiopia, such is the strategic and iconographic importance
of the Nile to Egyptian survival that governments in Cairo seek and demand
assurances and rights from Ethiopia over the flow of Nile waters. It could
be argued that the Nile is one of the great strategic waterways of the world
which is not as important for the goods carried on it as for the water
itself, which Egypt regards as its own.
As a result, Egypt’s strategic actions with regard to the Red Sea are
governed by its innate fears — which have never been even close to reality —
of Ethiopian intentions with regard to the Nile. Egypt today, for example,
favors the former Ethiopian territory of Eritrea, now an independent state,
and encourages its hostility toward Ethiopia. Equally, it works to ensure
that the Arab League and African Union do not recognize the sovereignty of
Somaliland, which in 1991 reverted to its independent status with the
collapse of the Somalia union. By keeping Somaliland unrecognized, Egypt
attempts to deny Ethiopia access to the sea, but in reality — as with the
fueling of Eritrean-Ethiopian hostility — succeeds only in sustaining
instability in the Horn of Africa.
Eritrea, in fact, is a classic example of the dependence of rimlands on
heartlands. Almost its entire wealth has been dependent on its historic rôle
as an entrepot; a transition from the shipping lines, which have linked it
from the times of ancient Greece with European, Arabian and South Asian
traders, to the heartlands of Ethiopia. Specifically, Eritrea was the area
through which the great coffee exports of the Abyssinian highlands — from
the area of Kaffe, from whence coffee takes its name — were bought and sold
to foreign buyers.
Even when Eritrea sought and obtained its independence in 1993, with the
blessing of the new Ethiopian leadership which followed the ruthless
suppression of Ethiopia and its then-province, Eritrea, by the Dergue, the
coffee trade continued to provide wealth to the Ethiopian farmers and to
Eritrean traders. It was only when Eritrean leader Isayas Afewerke decided
to create a new national currency, the nakfa, did the great schism begin
between Eritrea and Ethiopia, and it was a schism in which Egypt, Libya and
others supported Eritrea in the belief that Eritrea, not the now-landlocked
Ethiopia, held the key to Red Sea security. Significantly, the nakfa was not
backed by an innately strong economy in Eritrea, and was not an
internationally tradable currency, and yet Eritrea insisted that Ethiopian
farmers take this currency in exchange for the coffee. Ethiopia would,
however, only accept its own currency, birr, which could be used locally, or
a foreign hard currency.
Ethiopia, faced with a refusal by Eritrea to pay for the coffee other than
with nakfa, indicated that it would export its coffee through other ports,
and Djibouti immediately began to prosper as the ancient trade route linking
Ethiopia and Djibouti was given a new lease of life. The antagonism which
arose between Ethiopia and Eritrea was compounded by the fact that the new
Eritrean currency was named after the Nakfa mountain range, which had been
the symbol of Eritrean armed resistance to Ethiopia in the years following
World War II.
And it was this impasse over currency which actually led Eritrea to economic
ruin and the necessity for its leadership to seek some form of distraction
from the decline which beset the country. It sought, and very nearly
succeeded, in destroying the Ethiopian Government, by claiming that Ethiopia
was occupying Eritrean territory and using this as a pretext for war.
Ethiopia, still divided after years of civil war, was unprepared; its best
generals from the Imperial era remained imprisoned, and the population was
divided. It only belated rallied to expel the Eritreans and, essentially,
win the war.
And yet the war still hangs over the region. Eritrea remains without a
resource to sell; it had once been the world’s fourth-largest coffee
exporter, and yet it grew no coffee, dealing only in the supplies brought
down to the coast by Ethiopian farmers. Eritrean ports languish today, empty
of ships. And so Eritrea subsists on foreign favors, to a large extent,
encouraged by Egypt, Libya and others, to persist with its hostility toward
Ethiopia, rather than rebuilding the ties which would benefit both states.
Ethiopia has begun to recover; it has innate strengths, traditional natural
wealth and a large — 60-million-plus — population. It has developed the
renewed trading route through Djibouti, and is now rebuilding and expanding
its overland links through Somaliland to the port city of Berbera, on the
Gulf of Aden. And yet Eritrea, Egypt and Libya, which have essentially led
the Arab League to support their initiative, have also attempted to starve
Somaliland of trade and recognition. The extensive Saudi imports of
Somaliland lamb have ceased, impoverishing this stable and moderate country.
Eritrea and Libya support insurgent groups operating in and through Somalia
to act against both Somaliland and Ethiopia, and Eritrea is the focus of
funding, training and arming of, among other groups, the Oromo Liberation
Front (the OLF), which has as a major goal the carving out of Oromoland from
Ethiopia. We should remember that Ethiopia developed over the past few
thousand years as a classic empire, comprised of a great number of ethnic or
communal groups, with some 60 languages and dialects spoken under an
umbrella of the Amharic language. For those of you unfamiliar with the area,
the Ethiopian language, Amharic, or Amarigne, is derived from a root
language, Ge’ez, which is itself derived from Aramaic. Ge’ez is, by way of
comparison, the “latin” or base of a number of the regional languages of the
Ethiopian empire, including Tigrigne, the language spoken by Eritreans and
the people of the neighboring Ethiopian province, Tigré (Tigray).
The other two countries of the Horn on which we have not yet touched,
Somalia and Sudan, are themselves severely challenged at present,
particularly Somalia, which is, in a real sense, not a nation-state at all,
its only productive constituent member, Somaliland, having withdrawn in 1991
from the union into which it had voluntarily entered as an independent and
sovereign state on July 1, 1960, with the former Italian Somaliland. So it
is ironic today that lawless Somalia — essentially what was Italian
Somaliland — today is recognized as a state, even though it does not have a
functioning government, while democratic, stable Somaliland — what had
originally been British Somaliland — is denied recognition although it is a
true sovereign state.
To be sure, the fears of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and possibly Libya, are
only partially about Ethiopia’s control of the Nile. They also fear that
Ethiopia, which was at one time a Jewish state but which has historically,
since the Fifth Century, been a Christian-led state, would give Israel a
base in the region and would give Israel a strong capability to control
trade through the Red Sea. For the same reason, they oppose Somaliland,
which, unlike Ethiopia, has virtually a totally-Muslim population, fearing
that Somaliland’s strong embrace of secular, democratic government would
also lead it to enter into deals with Israel so that Israel could base
military units and warships there to dominate the mouth of the Red Sea.
It is true that Ethiopia has an Orthodox Christian majority population, but
the Christian section of Ethiopian society is only marginally larger than
the Ethiopian Muslim society. Significantly, Ethiopian Muslims tend to be
strongly nationalist Ethiopians, but now face an attempt by Wahabbists from
across the Red Sea to politicize them and separate them from their Orthodox
Christian brethren. This is unfortunate, because it was an Ethiopian King
who saved the disciples of the Prophet Mohammed when they were pursued by
the rulers of Arabia at that time. As a result of this, and the fact that
the Prophet married one of the daughters of the Ethiopian Negus (or King),
that the Prophet issued an instruction that no attempts should be made to
proselytize or attack the Ethiopian people.
Today, this stricture of the Prophet — from whom my part of the family is
also descended, as well as historically from the line of King Solomon — is
forgotten, and that Ethiopia, the great friend of the Muslim peoples, is
treated shabbily by Mulsim-ruled Egypt and by the Arab League.
Indeed, Egypt’s, Eritrea’s and the world trading communities’ interests are
best served by a healthy and strong Ethiopia. A weak and unstable Ethiopia
contributes to ongoing weakness and instability in Eritrea, Djibouti,
Somaliland, Somalia, Egypt and Sudan. This, it goes without saying, not only
causes hardship at all levels throughout the region, but also into the
Mediterranean, onto which Egypt looks. An economically weak Egypt, and one
which is troubled, has profound implications for the spread of radicalism
and for the continuation of the Arab-Israeli difficulties. A weak Egypt is
bad for all of the Middle East, which looks to Cairo for strength and
So in this regard, while it is understandable that the international
community should indeed be concerned about the stability of Eritrea, it
should also look to the core of regional stability, Ethiopia, as the heart
in the Horn of Africa heartland. Fortunately, Ethiopia has begun the slow
path back to economic and social reconstruction, despite being deprived of
its native access to the sea. However, the ongoing weakness of Eritrea
places its ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice in the position
where it will almost certainly again, and very soon, seek another war with
Ethiopia as a way of gaining international support and aid, and as a way of
suppressing internal frustrations which stem from the economic decline in
this formerly vibrant area.
This is not speculation. We know that the Eritrean Government continues to
fund, train and arm insurgents aimed at damaging the Somaliland Government
so that Ethiopia would be deprived of a viable sea outlet to supplement
Djibouti. We know that Eritrea is funding, arming and supporting the Oromo
Liberation Front and other groups which aim to break up Ethiopia. And we
know, even in the past few weeks, that Eritrea has begun, once again,
recruiting Russian mercenaries to fly its combat aircraft and run
specialized military units. This can only be in anticipation of a new war
The last war cost all of the peoples of the region most dreadfully in human
terms as well as crippling the regional economies. But it also hampered the
move back toward the kind of democratically-representative government which
my late Grandfather, His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I, was
introducing. Ironically, his reign was not overthrown to bring democratic
rule to Ethiopia, but to remove it; he had moved too rapidly toward
democracy for some people.
It is unfortunate that Ethiopia, the only part of Africa never to have been
formed as a result of colonization and which has its thousands of years of
history as a sovereign state with its own language and literature — unique
in Africa — is today less than understood in Western policy circles.
Ethiopia is a country of unrivalled beauty, history, complexity and
strategic importance. It is the font of all societal evolution; it was from
Ethiopia than communities formed, and spread to the rest of the world. As
such, it is a pillar in all-civilizational development. I urge you to
explore for yourself its wonders, mysteries and beauties. You will then
start to see its strategic and geopolitical importance to the world.
But do not wait too long. Africa needs Ethiopia to be strong again. It is no
surprise that Addis Ababa, its capital, is also home to the African Union.
Ethiopia was the inspiration of the African independence movements and of
the phenomenon of pan-Africanism. But Ethiopia is also an asset, and a vital
component, of the global trading and security structure.
We cannot afford to allow another war to occur against it.”
His Imperial Highness Prince Ermias Sahle-Selassie Haile-Selassie is
President of the Crown Council of Ethiopia, the only remaining
Constitutional body of Imperial Ethiopia. The Crown Council represents the
Ethiopian Crown during periods of interregnum, approves the candidature of
nominees for the Throne, and advises sitting Ethiopian Emperors and