Mogadishu (Caasimada Online) – Ethiopia, a landlocked nation with a population exceeding 120 million, urgently seeks sea access to bolster its economy.
This pursuit intensified after Ethiopia’s then-province, Eritrea, gained independence in the early 1990s, leaving Ethiopia without a coastline.
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been vocal about this need, citing historical claims to the Red Sea and emphasizing the economic burden of depending on Djibouti’s ports, which costs the nation over $1.5 billion annually in fees.
A contentious deal sparks tension
On January 1, a pivotal agreement was reached between Ethiopia and Somaliland, a self-declared independent region in Somalia.
Ethiopia agreed to lease 20 km around the port of Berbera for 50 years, offering stakes in Ethiopian state-run companies and potentially recognizing Somaliland’s sovereignty in return.
This move, however, has been met with fierce opposition from Somalia. President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud denounced the deal as an invasion of sovereignty, signing a law to nullify it and refusing dialogue with Ethiopia.
Somalia’s stance: A challenge to autonomy
The heart of Somalia’s discontent lies in its claim over Somaliland, which declared independence in 1991 but remains unrecognized globally.
Somalia views the deal as a direct challenge to its territorial integrity. Recognition of Somaliland by Ethiopia could set a dangerous precedent, encouraging other nations to follow suit.
This escalating dispute raises alarms over the stability of the Horn of Africa, a region already grappling with political volatility.
External powers, including Middle Eastern nations like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Turkey, and Qatar, have vested interests in this strategic location, making the situation more complex. Their involvement ranges from economic investments to military presence, potentially exacerbating tensions.
International reactions: A call for sovereignty
Internationally, the reaction has been cautious. The Arab League, African Union, European Union, and the United States have all reaffirmed Somalia’s sovereignty over Somaliland.
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, amid tensions with Ethiopia over the Nile dam dispute, expressed support for Somalia’s territorial claims.
The UAE, a significant player in the region and manager of Berbera port, has limited its response to aligning with the Arab League’s statement.
This dispute is more than a mere lease agreement; it’s a litmus test for regional dynamics and the balance of power in the Horn of Africa.
As Ethiopia seeks economic growth and maritime access, and Somalia defends its territorial integrity, the actions of regional and international players will be pivotal in shaping the future stability of this strategically significant region.