Hargeisa (Caasimada Online) – The President of the self-declared Republic of Somaliland, Muse Bihi Abdi, has announced the region’s decision to press forward with a controversial agreement with Ethiopia.
This pact, signed earlier this month, grants Ethiopia access to the sea via Somaliland’s coastline.
Abdi provided further details of this memorandum of understanding, signed on January 1st with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, in a recent interview with Somaliland National Television.
Ethiopia’s ambitions: Beyond naval base
Contrary to initial beliefs, Ethiopia’s intent with this deal extends beyond mere commercial activities. President Abdi revealed Ethiopia’s plans to lease a 20-kilometer stretch of Somaliland’s coastline for a naval base.
This move, poised to bolster Ethiopia’s strategic capabilities significantly, marks a departure from its prior use of the port of Berbera, the largest in Somaliland, for import and export activities.
Ethiopia, the most populous landlocked country globally, has relied on Djibouti’s port since losing access to the sea when Eritrea seceded in 1993.
Regional and international backlash
This agreement, however, has not been received favorably in all quarters. It has sparked condemnation from regional and international groups, including Western countries, citing concerns over Somalia’s territorial integrity.
These tensions, they argue, could destabilize the already volatile Horn of Africa region. Somalia, in particular, has voiced strong opposition, viewing the deal as a direct threat to its sovereignty.
Somaliland, strategically positioned along the Gulf of Aden, unilaterally declared independence from Somalia in 1991 but has yet to receive international recognition.
The deal has polarized opinion within Somaliland itself. Some citizens anticipate potential economic benefits, while others fear a compromise of their sovereignty.
This division has led to notable political fallout, including the resignation of Somaliland’s Defense Minister, Abdiqani Mohamud Ateye.
International community’s stance
The international community has reiterated its support for Somalia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, encompassing Somaliland.
A recent meeting involving officials from the African Union, European Union, and United States highlighted this stance.
Michael Hammer, U.S. special envoy for the Horn of Africa, expressed concern that escalating tensions could hinder efforts to combat al-Qaida-linked militants in Somalia.
Experts warn of the broader implications of this agreement. Matt Bryden, a strategic consultant at Sahan Research, a Kenya-based think tank, notes the potential for various regional actors, including Egypt, Eritrea, and al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab militants, to unite against this Ethiopia-Somaliland agreement.
Egypt, already in dispute with Ethiopia over the Grand Renaissance Dam, and Eritrea, with its tense relations with Ethiopia and extensive Red Sea coastline, are likely to view this development with concern.