In 1999, interacting with late premier of Ethiopia, Melez Zenawi, on the economic and security importance of still to be built Gara’ad Port was an eye-opener for him. The late Puntland President and I came to his office at Arati-Killo in Addis Ababa one day on appointment. At his campound gate, there were only two security guards. The campound seemed deserted with no visible security detail, unlike presidential buildings of most Somali leaders in Villa Somalia and capital cities of the Federal Member States. At door we were met by a sole office worker. We went through a narrow passage with a number of closed doors on each side, presumably offices, until we reached a sitting place where the premier was waiting for us. Melez was chain-smoking his cigarette brand of Rothmans, I noticed, while Yusuf was unusually nervous as he indicated that by his constant scratching on the edge of the sofa. I put my hand over his to stop him scratching persistently.
During a little chit-chat, Melez asked Mr Yusuf, “tell me about your cousins”. Yusuf responded, “you know Generals Gabyoy and Morgan better than I do, for you interacted with them when TPLF was a rebel organization based in Mogadishu during Siyad Barre regime, and you and I know how General Omar Haji Masale misbehaved during Somali Talks in Cairo in 1997”.
We started talking business. Melez was a good listener and habitually never interrupts someone, based on my earlier encounters with him. Among our priorities for discussion included our plan to construct Gara’ad Port on the shores of the Indian Ocean in Mudugh Region of Puntland. Somehow, Melez sounded that he heard about our desire to have a seaport there, but he seemed not to have paid any attention before. He looked concerned about Eritrean issue and frictions with Isaiah Afewerke.
Abullahi Yusuf explained to Melez how would-be Gara’ad Port could become a game-changer in terms of Ethiopian economy and marine transport needs, especially for Eastern Ethiopia. Mr Yusuf briefed him that in the event Ethiopia wanted to pump Shilabo gas through pipes to tankers at sea, there are three routes, the shortest and most secure of which would be Gara’ad Port. The route to Gara’ad Port passes through Darood sub-clans while the routes to Berbera and Obbiyo pass through multiple Somali sub-clans, who were traditionally antagonistic to each other. The operation of gas pumps have to consider safety as a priority. Melez had warmed up to the idea of Ethiopia having an alternative and safer sea-route to the Indian Ocean. Ethiopia should now take advantage of the newly built Gara’ad Port. They should invest in the construction of well-built highways to Gara’ad Port.