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Somalia's successful diplomatic campaign against Ethiopia-Somaliland MoU sparks Abiy's criticism

Saturday July 6, 2024

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on an official working visit to Addis Abeba in September 2022. 

Mogadishu (HOL) – The signing of a controversial MoU between Ethiopia and the self-declared Republic of Somaliland on January 1, 2024, has prompted Somalia to embark on a vigorous diplomatic campaign to oppose the agreement. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed criticized Somalia this week for avoiding direct talks, stating, "If the Somali government has grievances with us, one flight and a one-hour meeting would suffice. We harbor no ill will towards Somalia. Instead of talking to us directly, the Somali government chose to go around and file complaints against us. I advise against wasting money. Every country we visit costs us money. It is better to build one kilometer of road or a school in Mogadishu that people can benefit from."

Somali Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre hit back, accusing Ethiopia of pursuing land grabs under the guise of maritime interests, stating, "Ethiopia's goal is not maritime access but to grab land from Somalia. This is a clear violation of our sovereignty."

Somalia, which views Somaliland as part of its territory despite Somaliland's 1991 declaration of independence, has vehemently opposed the maritime agreement. Somalia's government has labelled the deal an "act of aggression" and an illegal maneuver by Ethiopia, expressing concerns over reports that Ethiopia might become the first country to recognize Somaliland's independence in exchange for the port lease.

Details of the agreement remain undisclosed, but it is understood that Somaliland may allow Ethiopia to access one of its ports for commercial purposes. In return, Somaliland would receive a stake in Ethiopian Airlines. Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi suggested that Ethiopian recognition of Somaliland's independence was part of the agreement.

Somalia has reached out to intergovernmental organizations, Western countries, and Gulf states, seeking support against what it perceives as Ethiopian encroachment. The situation has led the Somali government to recall its ambassador from Addis Ababa, and Ethiopia's ambassador to Somalia has also left Mogadishu, highlighting the severe diplomatic rift.

The African Union, the United States, and the Arab League have all voiced support for Somalia's territorial integrity, urging all parties to de-escalate the situation. Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairman of the African Union Commission, called for "mutual respect and peaceful resolution" to the crisis.

Amid the rising tensions, Turkey has offered to mediate by inviting delegations from Ethiopia and Somalia to its capital, Ankara, for discussions. Turkey's Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan emphasized, "We are committed to a peaceful resolution and will continue to support both parties in their dialogue." The meetings in Ankara were reportedly initiated upon Ethiopia's request, indicating its interest in resolving the dispute diplomatically.

On July 1, the foreign ministers of Ethiopia and Somalia arrived in Ankara but did not engage in face-to-face talks. Turkey's foreign ministry described the discussions as "transparent, good-faith, and forward-looking." The parties agreed to reconvene on September 2, indicating that more dialogue is needed to resolve the crisis.

Diplomatic Campaign and International Support

Ethiopia and Somalia have a tumultuous history marked by conflict and competition. The two countries fought a devastating war in the late 1970s over the Somali Region in Ethiopia, also known as the Ogaden War. This conflict left deep scars and set the stage for future tensions. Ethiopia's loss of its ports following Eritrea's secession in the early 1990s exacerbated its landlocked status, making access to the sea a strategic imperative for Addis Ababa.

Eritrea has its own contentious history with Ethiopia and has aligned itself with Somalia in the current dispute. Somalia has sought Eritrea's support to counterbalance Ethiopia's regional ambitions. The alliance underscores the intricate web of regional rivalries as Eritrea views Ethiopia's maritime aspirations suspiciously.

Egypt has emerged as a significant supporter of Somalia amid rising tensions with Ethiopia. This support is partly driven by Egypt's broader geopolitical strategy, which includes its disputes with Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Nile River. Earlier this year, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry reaffirmed Egypt's full support for Somalia, stating, "We stand by Somalia in its efforts to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity." Egypt's backing includes diplomatic support within international forums such as the Arab League.

The Arab League has also consistently backed Somalia in rejecting the Ethiopia-Somaliland agreement. Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit criticized the deal, stating that it undermines Somalia's sovereignty. The league's collective stance reflects a broader regional consensus against Ethiopia's actions. This support has further isolated Ethiopia diplomatically within the Arab world.

China and Russia have also weighed in on the dispute, each supporting Somalia's claim of sovereignty. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying stated, "China supports Somalia's sovereignty and territorial integrity and urges all parties to seek a peaceful resolution through dialogue." Somaliland has indicated a willingness to engage with Russia if Western support for their breakaway region fails, showcasing the global power dynamics at play.

The European Union has also expressed support for Somalia's territorial integrity, calling for Ethiopia to respect international norms. The U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa has warned that the Ethiopia-Somaliland deal jeopardizes the regional fight against the terrorist group Al-Shabaab, emphasizing the broader security implications. The U.S. has urged both Ethiopia and Somalia to de-escalate tensions and engage in constructive dialogue.

Turkey's involvement as a mediator is partly due to its strategic interests in Somalia, where it has invested heavily in military and infrastructure projects. The two nations have recently signed a maritime security pact and energy deals following the announcement of the Ethiopia-Somaliland MoU.

The maritime agreement has further highlighted the strategic significance of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, which are vital naval routes for global trade. The involvement of multiple international players, including the U.S., EU, China, and Russia, reflects the global stakes in the stability of the Horn of Africa.

Military and Security Context

The military and security dynamics in the Horn of Africa have become increasingly complex due to the Ethiopia-Somaliland maritime agreement, with Somalia accusing Ethiopia of military provocations. The arrival of new troops and the movement of Ethiopian forces have significantly impacted the regional security landscape.

Somalia has accused Ethiopia of illegal incursions, stating that at least 3,000 Ethiopian soldiers crossed into Somalia's border regions under a bilateral agreement. The Somali government has labelled these actions as violations of its sovereignty. On June 24, Somali officials claimed that Ethiopian troops had entered its territory without authorization, an allegation Ethiopia has denied, calling it "baseless." The Ethiopian government maintains that its troop movements are legitimate and part of the ongoing African Union security cooperation.

Amid these tensions, Somalia has demanded the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops. In early June, Somali officials threatened to expel Ethiopian forces unless the Somaliland port deal was scrapped. Somali Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre reiterated that all Ethiopian troops must leave Somalia by December 2024, underscoring the gravity of the situation. The demand is part of a broader strategy to exert pressure on Ethiopia to reconsider its agreement with Somaliland.

In response to the perceived threat from Ethiopia, Somalia has confirmed the arrival of new troops from Djibouti, Kenya, Uganda, and Burundi as part of the post-ATMIS mission. The Somali government has delayed the withdrawal of ATMIS troops, partly due to the ongoing security concerns posed by Ethiopian actions.


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