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Somaliland claims Ethiopian consulate upgrade to embassy, Ethiopia yet to confirm

Tuesday May 21, 2024

FILE PHOTO/ Ali Hassan Mohamed "Ali Marehaan" is the Minister of Information, Culture, and National Guidance and the government's spokesperson. 

Hargiesa (HOL) — Ethiopia has reportedly upgraded its consular office in Hargeisa, Somaliland, to full embassy status, according to Somaliland officials. The announcement, made during the 33rd anniversary of Somaliland’s self-declared independence from Somalia on May 18, was confirmed by Somaliland President Musa Bihi Abdi and Minister of Information, Culture, and National Guidance, Ali Mohamed Hassan, also known as Ali Marehaan.

In an interview with BBC Somali, Minister Ali Marehaan emphasized the legitimacy of the announcement, noting that it was confirmed by President Abdi in his address to the nation. "The upgrading of the Ethiopian representative office in Somaliland to a fully-fledged embassy is officially bona fide information," Marehaan stated, reaffirming the president's declaration.

Despite this, the Ethiopian government has not yet released an official statement confirming the upgrade. However, Ethiopia’s President Sahle-Work Zewde recently included Delil Kedir Bushra, Ethiopia’s envoy to Hargeisa, in a list of newly appointed Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassadors, suggesting a formal diplomatic elevation.

The upgrade comes amid escalating tensions between Ethiopia and Somalia. On January 1, 2024, Ethiopia and Somaliland signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) granting Ethiopia sea access in exchange for recognizing Somaliland's independence. This led to Somalia expelling Ethiopia's Ambassador Muktar Mohamed Ware and ordering the closure of Ethiopian consulates in Hargeisa and Garowe, the capital of Puntland. Both consulates remain open.

Somaliland has rejected Somalia’s directive, asserting its sovereign right to maintain diplomatic relations. Minister Marehaan reiterated, "The agreement of the crucial bilateral relations in the MoU between both countries is on course and will be implemented duly." 

The MoU between Ethiopia and Somaliland includes provisions for Ethiopia to lease 20 kilometres of Somaliland’s coast for 50 years and establish a military base. In exchange, Ethiopia would agree to recognize Somaliland as an independent country. Somaliland has identified three potential sites for Ethiopia's military base, though the specific locations remain undisclosed. Essa Kayd, Somaliland’s Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister, expects the final agreement and Ethiopia’s formal recognition of Somaliland to be completed in the coming months. 

Ethiopia’s strategic interest in Somaliland stems from its need for access to the sea. The agreement, if finalized, would provide Ethiopia with a crucial maritime outlet and could potentially stabilize its economic and security interests in the region. The deal has faced staunch opposition from Somalia, which has accused Ethiopia of attempting to annex its territory and warned of potential regional instability.

The proposed recognition of Somaliland by Ethiopia has also raised concerns from neighbouring countries and the international community. Ethiopia faces pressure to reconsider the deal to avoid escalating regional conflicts. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has indicated a willingness to adjust the deal to maintain regional stability. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed discussed the issue with Kenyan President William Ruto, expressing a willingness to step back from the deal's most controversial elements to restore relations with Somalia. Molly Phee, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, urged Ethiopia to seek sea access through negotiations with the federal authorities in Mogadishu, rather than with Somaliland, warning that the deal could exacerbate regional instability and be exploited by militant groups like al-Shabaab. 

Despite Somalia’s objections, Somaliland continues to push forward with the agreement. According to a source close to the Somaliland government, a technical team, including international law firms and local lawyers, has submitted recommendations for the final agreement. "We expect the finalization of the agreement and Ethiopia’s recognition of Somaliland in the coming months," said Essa Kayd, Somaliland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

Somaliland, keen to conclude a controversial deal with Ethiopia, celebrated the anniversary of its unilateral declaration of independence on May 18, even though its claims of sovereignty remain unrecognized by the international community. 


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