Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and other dignitaries walk at the Moyale One Stop Border Post in Marsabit County, Kenya December 9, 2020. (Photo: Reuters)
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed began a two-day visit to neighbouring Kenya on Wednesday, his first official trip since launching military operations against the leaders of the dissident Tigray region last month.
As skirmishes continued in the north of Ethiopia and aid agencies decried the lack of humanitarian access, Abiy travelled south to the border town of Moyale where he and his Kenyan counterpart, President Uhuru Kenyatta, presided over the inauguration of a new border post promising a bonanza in cross-border trade.
"We want to see Moyale becoming the Dubai of this whole region," Kenyatta said.
The remote market town lies roughly halfway between the Kenyan and Ethiopian capitals -- which are 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) apart -- has no airport and a population of fewer than 40,000.
The two heads of state also presided over the ceremonial opening of a 500km stretch of the highway connecting Nairobi and Addis Ababa.
Periodically, cross-border raids and violence between neighbouring communities has depressed trade and uprooted civilians, as Kenyatta acknowledged.
"We must also work together because we cannot establish economic victory if we are consistently having security challenges," he said.
Soon after Abiy took power in 2018, fighting between ethnic Somalis and Oromos in Moyale killed 21 people, while earlier the same year thousands of Ethiopians fled into Kenya for safety during another spate of violence, that time involving the Ethiopian military.
Abiy said such clashes were now in the past.
"This artificial border... will be dismantled with the new infrastructure... (which) will bring the two families together and tap the potential and opportunities of business and economy," he said.
Abiy made no mention of the crisis in Tigray during his visit to Moyale.
Abiy and Kenyatta also travelled later Wednesday to the Kenyan island of Lamu to inspect a new port that is under construction, also aimed at boosting regional trade.
It is unclear what the second day of Abiy's official visit will entail as no formal programme has been released.