Abiy Ahmed's visit a sign of improved ties between Addis Ababa and Nairobi

Monday February 26 2024
Abiy Ahmed and William Ruto

Kenyan President William Ruto with Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (left) during a meeting in Mogadishu, Somalia on February 1, 2023. Courtesy Fana


Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is expected in Nairobi this week on his first State visit since President William Ruto took over. 

Two diplomatic sources told The EastAfrican the visit from Tuesday signals improved relations between Nairobi and Addis Ababa. 

Dr Abiy attended Dr Ruto’s inauguration in October 2022 but has often chosen to send representatives to Nairobi for other meetings instead.

Yet Dr Ruto’s first foreign trip after that inauguration was to Addis Ababa, where he also launched the Safaricom-Ethiopia telco.

A diplomat said Dr Abiy’s initial cold stance was some sort of protest after Dr Ruto announced during the inauguration ceremony that his predecessor, Uhuru Kenyatta, would mediate the Tigray conflict alongside other conflicts in the region.

“He felt he had not been consulted and was very mad,” the source said. “However, President Ruto worked on that immediately and ensured communication channels were open to clarify anything untoward.”


Mr Kenyatta would co-mediate, under the African Union, with former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo and former South African president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, helping to reach a peace deal between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

Read: Ethiopia drops charges against TPLF leaders

With that now water under the bridge, Dr Abiy’s trip was firmed up last week when senior diplomats from both sides met under the Joint Ministerial Commission (JMC), Kenya’s oldest bilateral organ with a foreign country, established in 1963 as a forum to discuss issues between the two.

In Addis Ababa, Kenya’s Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi, who doubles up as the Foreign and Diaspora Affairs minister, and Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister Taye Atske Selasie revisited the ties on Wednesday last week, seeking to cement economic, social, security and foreign relations cooperation, according to a dispatch.

“The 36th JMC further provided an opportunity for Kenya and Ethiopia to enhance their cooperation in regional and global issues of mutual interest,” it said.

Ethiopia is among the earliest countries to sign mutual security pacts with Kenya, owing to the friendship between Jomo Kenyatta and Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie.

Dr Abiy’s last State visit to Kenya was in June 2018 when he and then president Uhuru Kenyatta vowed to elevate their ties to strategic levels.

This time, the trip is punctuated by security and economic undercurrents, such as Ethiopia’s need to access the sea. In January, Ethiopia and Somaliland sparked a diplomatic tiff with Somalia after signing a deal to access the sea. Somalia considers Somaliland its territory.

Read: Kenya, Ethiopia revive hopes of Lapsset with talk of new railway

That tiff could benefit Kenya though, which is seeking to attract users to Lamu Port. 

Ethiopia and Kenya say they are working on non-tariff barriers (NTBs) that have impeded the full use of the transport corridor, the dispatch said. Some of those include irregular security and poor infrastructure.

Last week, Ethiopia and Kenya concluded a strategic framework to promote bilateral cooperation in key areas of economic and social development. It said the two sides will work on removing unnecessary checkpoints, harmonise axle load rules and customs protocol and systems and strengthen the Moyale One-Stop Border Post.

Read: Moyale one-stop border post opens

Early in February, Ethiopia’s Minister of Transport and Logistics Alemu Sime confirmed that the country is preparing to send its first shipments through Kenya's Lamu Port, in a move that seeks to diversify its trade routes and reduce its heavy reliance on ports in Djibouti.

Mr Sime told Parliament that Ethiopia is eyeing the Kenyan port for trade activities, including exporting livestock and other farm inputs through the Southern border.

“We are set to commence with fertiliser imports within the next two months, the move represents a broader strategy to secure alternative maritime gateways. By tapping into Lamu Port, Ethiopia aims to secure a more stable and efficient route for its trade,” said the minister.