Start date
3 months
Horn of Africa
Additional Members
Dr. Nisar Majid
Dr. Ahmed Musa
Nasra Jama
Khalif Abdirahman
Dr. Mark Pearson

The political economy of Berbera port and corridor

From January to April 2021, the Policy Practice undertook a political economy analysis commissioned by the UK’s FCDO entitled: ‘Ethiopia and Somaliland: The political economy of Berbera port and corridor: continuities and volatility.’  This was the latest in a series of related pieces of Policy Practice work since 2016 for the FCDO, and its predecessor DFID, on the same theme.

The background to this is a massive (in total potentially up to US $0.7 billion) infrastructure investment involving (a) modernising the port of Berbera on the north coast of Somaliland facing the second-busiest (and strategically crucial) sea-lane in the world, the Gulf of Aden, and (b) upgrading the highway from the port into Ethiopia.  The port development is being undertaken by a UAE-based company, Dubai Ports World, and the highway funded by a combination of the UK, Abu Dhabi and the EU.  This investment has enormous potential to act as a driver of inclusive development, generating formal and informal jobs and stimulating a range of economic sectors, in a geo-politically crucial region characterised by poverty, unemployment and inequality as well as radical Islam and violent conflict.  However, the investment also has the potential to further marginalise certain socio-economic groups and to lead to further instability.  The stakes are therefore very high.

The aim of the Policy Practice work since 2016, extended and updated by the 2021 project, has been to deepen understanding of the issues, to provide insights from a political economy perspective into factors affecting the prospects that the Berbera port and corridor development will contribute to inclusive development and stability, and to design a programme for UK financing that will contribute to development and stability.  This programme is currently being implemented.

The 2021 analysis inter alia examined (a) the relevant international factors affecting the wider Horn of Africa region, including the roles of China, the US, Arab states among others, (b) internal national-level political economy factors within the region, and in particular Ethiopia and Somaliland as the jurisdictions most directly affected by the port and corridor, and (c) local-level dynamics in both Ethiopia and Somaliland, including Somali clan politics and the role of businesses.  Particular focus was placed on gender issues and on the means of preventing and minimising violent conflict.

A team of nine people was assembled by the Policy Practice under the team leadership of Alex Duncan and including a total of four Principals and Associates of the Policy Practice, some resident in the region and all with long experience there. The work had to be undertaken extremely rapidly and was completed within less than three months.  Owing to Covid-19, the team members were obliged to work at a distance from each other.  The method employed to incorporate the diversity of perspectives on the subject and the specialisms of the individuals was to undertake intensive methodological interaction at the start, leading to tightly-defined outputs and timetables, with clearly-specified roles and responsibilities for each individual, and with frequent team interactions and monitoring.

Given Covid-related restrictions, travel was limited, but three team members resident in the region were able to undertake field visits and interviews.  Many other interviews were undertaken by telephone.  Some 60 were undertaken in total. The findings were presented in a workshop to the FCDO, and recommendations jointly developed.  Recommendations were at two levels – for the implementation of the UK-funded programme referred to above and for the future involvement of the UK in the Horn of Africa as a region.

In the event, the work was completed on time, and the feedback from the FCDO has been extremely positive.  Several of the recommendations made in the work are already being put into effect.