afrol News, 3 January - After Saudi Arabia last month surprisingly lifted its damaging 2001 ban on the import of live livestock from the Horn of Africa, a lucrative export trade has been revived. But this has sent Djibouti and non-recognised Somaliland into a new fight over becoming the region's leading export harbour, with Djibouti even expelling Somalilander diplomats.
Apart from Djibouti, Somaliland's city of Berbera is the only port on the northern coast of the Horn able to serve land-locked Ethiopia, with its large trade on a regional scale. The small state of Djibouti - which has its greatest revenues from its port facilities - is best connected with the Ethiopian hinterland; by road and train, but relations between Djibouti and Addis Ababa are not always the best.
With the December lift of Saudi Arabia's 5-year livestock import ban from the Horn region, trade passing through the ports of Djibouti and Berbera are expected to boom. Before the ban was announced in 2000, livestock was among the main export goods from Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia/Somaliland.
As soon as the ban was lifted, Djibouti authorities announced that their diplomacy had plaid a vital part in achieving this aim. The Saudis and other Arab nations officially had imposed the ban in 2001 after an outbreak of Rift Valley Fever among cattle, but critics claim that the outbreak had never occurred on the Horn. Also the exceptionally long ban indicated that it was rooted on protectionist policies.
Several diplomatic efforts to have the ban lifted failed throughout the years, creating a crisis for the regional livestock industry. Livestock constitutes the backbone of the Somaliland economy and is essential to most rural communities in Djibouti, Ethiopia and Somalia, with Saudi Arabia historically being the main market.
Djiboutian diplomats claimed they were to be thanked for the lifting of the Saudi ban. Djibouti had launched several proposals to assure animal health for exports to Arab nations. Therefore, the nation's Foreign Ministry held in December, other countries in the region should award Djibouti by using its port facilities to export livestock. Djibouti would now become a regional "hub for livestock exports," the Ministry said in a statement.
At Djibouti port, the Ministry claimed, quality would be assured due to the August 2004 establishment of a quarantine centre with a veterinary clinic and laboratories. These modern US$ 6 million facilities would assure that another regional livestock would be avoided in future. Shortly after these statements, President Ismail Omar Guelleh inaugurated a new port terminal worth US$ 40 million, mainly aimed at serving Ethiopia's trade.
Neighbouring Somaliland however for long has been suspicious on Djiboutian efforts to secure a monopoly situation for its port. Two years ago, Somaliland authorities accused Djibouti of trying to control its economy following a proposal by Djibouti aimed at making its ports a gateway for Somaliland's livestock exports to Arab Gulf countries.
Somaliland's Berbera port is seen as the country's greatest potential for economic development, and only last week, port authorities disclosed they had made a purchase of US$ 640,000 worth of dock loading and stacking equipment used for lifting goods and container freight - one of the first major investments for around 20 years in this port.
Answering the Djiboutian initiative to capitalise on the lifting of the Saudi ban, Somaliland authorities in December banned the sending of home-grown cattle to Djibouti for re-exportation. Somalilander livestock heading towards Saudi Arabia was to be shipped out from Berbera, authorities ordered.
With its modest investments in the Berbera port, Somaliland also hopes to gain a part of the Ethiopian livestock export market. Ethiopia is not uninterested, as it currently has better ties with Hargeisa than with Djibouti, following the latter's low-profiled support for the defeated Somali Islamists.
Underlining the seriousness in the harbour fight between the two neighbours, Djibouti immediately expelled Somalilander diplomats in what has been described as a tit-for-tat reaction. No country, not even Djibouti, officially recognises Somaliland, which nevertheless has diplomatic stations in most countries of the region.
Indeed, without securing transit revenues from other livestock exporters, Djibouti is to gain little from the Saudi ban lifting. The Djiboutian livestock industry is in a deep crisis after years of drought. According to the US agency Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS), the 'Heys/Dada' rains - which are essential for the viability of coastal dry season grazing areas - performed poorly also in November 2006.
"These rains serve a vital function in the migration cycle of pastoralists," the latest FEWS report on Djibouti warned, noting that pastoralists were facing a crisis. "Successful recovery for pastoralist communities requires prevention of distress livestock sales and continued restocking over several consecutive seasons," the US agency added.
Also in Somaliland and Ethiopia, the last few years have not been the best for pastoralists, but in large parts of these two countries, relatively sound stocks of livestock are still present, ready for exportation to the Saudi market.
Exports of Somaliland livestock has started already. In late December, the first consignment of over 400,000 livestock heads were supposed to be exported to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to coincide with the Hajj, whose rituals require that every pilgrim kill one sheep as a sacrifice. Reportedly, almost a quarter of these sheep had however been smuggled to Djibouti for re-export to Jeddah. Berbera port authorities have yet to report how many went through their facilities.
Also Djibouti port authorities rapidly reported cattle export successes after the ban was lifted. Only four days after the lifting, over 10,000 livestock heads - of unclear origin - were shipped to Saudi Arabia. The port has been made ready to receive "thousands of animals on a daily basis originating from bordering countries," Djibouti port authorities state optimistically.
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