Wednesday, May 22, 2024
In DepthCost of the coast: what’s next in Somaliland deal?

Cost of the coast: what’s next in Somaliland deal?

Home to the storied Isaaq clan, a former protectorate of the English crown, and straddling a strategic corridor connecting the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, Somaliland is a storied yet often neglected place.

The shaping of modern-day Somaliland began in the 20th century, as the Victorian British government established a protectorate in the northernmost portion of Somalia called the State of Somaliland.

Somaliland gained independence from Britain in June 1960 following decades of resistance and rebellion and almost immediately united with Italian Somaliland, forming the borders of present-day Somalia.

The unification was stipulated in Britain’s agreement to Somaliland’s independence, but no less than 35 sovereign nations recognized the State of Somaliland during its brief five days of independence before the unification and creation of the Somali Republic was made official on July 1, 1960.

The Republic saw a succession of administrations before the fall of the Siad Barre regime in 1991. Leaders of Somaliland declared unilateral independence in May 1991 as Somalia struggled to cope with the power vacuum resulting from Barre’s overthrow.

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It has been more than three decades since, but the sovereignty of the self-declared Republic of Somaliland has yet to gain recognition from any government or international organization.

Somaliland’s quest for recognition got a sizable boost last week, as its largest neighbor and seat of the African Union looks to have struck a controversial deal that could have massive repercussions for the future of Somaliland, and the Horn of Africa. 

The year 2024 has gotten off to a dramatic start in the Horn, as Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) and Somaliland President Muse Bihi met in Addis Ababa to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that would see Ethiopia lease a 20 kilometer stretch of the Somaliland coast in exchange for recognition of the sovereignty of the Republic of Somaliland, among other things.

The Ethiopian government calls it a “historic” agreement, and it marks the culmination of months of controversy and tensions in the region following a series of public comments from PM Abiy on Ethiopia’s rights to and need for sea access.

“As we were saying, we never had a desire to force anyone [for a sea access arrangement]. We only want to share the resources we have and develop together,” said a social media post from the Prime Minister.

A communiqué from the Office of Prime Minister of Ethiopia following the signing of the MoU was carefully written to state that the agreement “indicates the pathway to bolster their political and diplomatic relations.”

However, neither the statement from the Prime Minister, nor a press briefing from Redwan Hussein, security advisor to the PM, gave clear indication that Ethiopia is ready to recognize Somaliland’s statehood.

Still, their Somaliland counterparts were quick to announce the agreement’s details, calling it “a significant diplomatic milestone.”

The MoU will provide Ethiopia with a 50-year lease on a stretch of the Somaliland coast, which the Ethiopian government will utilize for a commercial port facility and a military base.

Unspecified stakes in state-owned enterprises Ethiopian Airlines and Ethio telecom are also on the table, according to Redwan.

A statement from the Ethiopian Government Communication Service released two days after the signing on January 3, 2024, reveals the MoU has “provisions for the Ethiopian government to make an in-depth assessment towards taking a position regarding the efforts of Somaliland to gain recognition.”

This would make Ethiopia the first nation to recognize the Republic of Somaliland as a sovereign state.

It is a concept that has drawn fierce objections from Somalia.

The day after the signing, Mogadishu recalled its ambassador to Addis Ababa, and, a day later, an emergency Somali cabinet meeting strongly condemned the deal, calling it “a clear violation” of Somalia’s sovereignty.

“[The agreement] is an infringement by Ethiopia into our national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud during an address to the Somali parliament.

“Not an inch of Somalia can or will be signed away by anybody,” he said. “ Somalia belongs to the Somali people. This is final.”

The Somali cabinet has issued a nine-point resolution, which calls for the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the African Union (AU) to “convene urgent meetings to address Ethiopia’s violations.”

Cost of the coast: what’s next in Somaliland deal? | The Reporter | #1 Latest Ethiopian News Today

AU only called on the countries, Ethiopia and Somalia, to have a “calm and mutual respect to de-escalate the simmering tension,” and composed a few diplomatic wordings that urged the countries to “engage without delay in a negotiation process to settle their differences.”

The UNSC didn’t respond to the calls at the time this edition of The Reporter went to print.

The statement from the Ethiopian Communication Service, however, looks to downplay the concerns.

“No party or country will be affected by this MoU,” it reads. “There is no broken trust nor have any laws been transgressed.”

Still, the statement appears to recognize the blowback from the Somali government.

“It cannot be said that some will not be offended or shocked,” it reads, before requesting the offended parties to “refrain from attempting to destroy the positive progress.”

The shockwaves from the controversial agreement extend farther as Somali leaders petition international organizations and regional powers for help.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry released a statement in solidarity with Somalia following a telephone conversation between Egyptian President Al-Sisi and his Somali counterpart.

Neither the government of Italy nor the UK – Somalia’s former colonists – has issued official statements on the matter, except the UK embassy in Mogadishu. The embassy said that it will confirm the “full respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Somalia.”

A few UK politicians, including MPs, have, however, expressed their approval of the deal and called for the United Kingdom to follow in Ethiopia’s footsteps by recognizing the Republic of Somaliland.

The European Union (EU), on the other hand, has called for a respect of “the unity, the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Somalia.”

In its statement, the EU said that respecting the sovereignty of Somalia is “key for the peace and stability of the entire Horn of Africa region.”

Led by Workneh Gebeyehu (PhD), former Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) has been lukewarm in its reception to the agreement – neither opposing nor supporting it.

A statement this week from the eight-member regional bloc expressed “deep concern regarding recent developments between Ethiopia and Somalia.”

“The Executive Secretary [Wokneh] is diligently monitoring the situation and recognizes the potential implications for regional stability,” reads the statement.

The bloc was unable to say anything further than appealing to the two IGAD member countries “to collaborate towards a peaceful and amicable resolution of the situation.”

The Somali government was quick to react to the statement, expressing its ‘dissatisfaction and disappointment’ with the IGAD Executive Secretary within a few hours of its release.

Somali officials were expecting a condemnation of the Ethiopian government, but “consider [IGAD’s statement] to be in favor of the Ethiopian government.”

“Somalia calls upon the Executive Secretary to immediately apologize, withdraw the statement and take the appropriate action,” the Somali government said.

The developments have been causing a stir in academic circles as well, with scholars from both Ethiopia and Somalia lining up to give their two cents on the circumstances.

Among them is Mehari Taddele Maru (PhD), an expert in foreign policy, law and governance.

A post on social media from Mehari observes the deal has the potential to mark a “turning point in domestic, geopolitical, and diplomatic landscapes.”

He elaborates on what the latest developments could mean for the Horn of Africa.

“In Ethiopia, it diverts attention from wars, famine, and economic woes. In Somaliland, it potentially opens doors for recognition. For Somalia, it consolidates opposition against Somaliland’s independence bid and fierce opposition against interference,” Mehari wrote.

The African Union, which is preparing to hold its 37th Ordinary Session of the Heads of State next month in Addis Ababa, could possibly oppose the MoU, predicts Mehari.

“But[ the AU’s] effectiveness is questionable given its failures in preventing or early response to recent wars, unless the US piles on pressure,” Mehari wrote. “The US’s position could be influenced by broader global concerns like the Gaza war and maritime security.”

The AU, however, didn’t deny or support the MoU, as the message from its Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, only urged for respect of the “unity, territorial integrity and full sovereignty of all African Union member states, including Somalia an Ethiopia.”

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