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The wreckage of fighter jets and goats nibbling the grass alongside the newly laid tarmac at Somaliland’s small Hargeisa airport hardly suggest the territory is about to become an infrastructure hub for the region.
But authorities in the breakaway costal nation in the Horn of Africa say the recently unveiled $10m Kuwaiti-funded makeover of its two airports is just the beginning. They hope the investment will kick-start its efforts to become the new gateway for landlocked Ethiopia’s 92m people, developing connections by road, rail, air and sea in a nation at the meeting point of the African and Arab worlds.
“We believe [developing our export infrastructure] would contribute a lot to the region in terms of our strategic location and help the region’s trade,” says foreign minister Mohamed Bihi Yonis of the territory, which already exports millions of dollars of livestock across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
In recent months, bottlenecks at ports in Mombasa, Dar es Salaam and Djibouti have highlighted the demand for better infrastructure in a fast-growing region.
Ethiopia, a $43bn economy largely closed to the outside world, is growing at 7 per cent a year and keen to develop coffee and leather manufacturing exports. Ethiopia’s vulnerability was exposed after it lost its main access to the sea when Eritrea won independence in 1994.
“Ethiopia is the only landlocked country in Africa that has only one export port,” says Lars Christian Moller, the World Bank’s lead economist in Addis Ababa, referring to the small city-state of Djibouti, where Dubai’s DP World runs a huge port operation.
“Relying only on one trade corridor makes the management of the political economy of logistics particularly vulnerable to the relationship with the partner country Djibouti,” says a recent World Bank report co-authored by Mr Moller. It counsels Ethiopia to develop transport routes through Somaliland to “diversify Ethiopia’s options and thus improve its negotiating power with transit corridors”