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Ethiopia Signs Deal With Somaliland for Access to Red Sea

The Berbera port of Somaliland. Photographer: Mustafa Saeed/AFP/Getty Images

By Fasika Tadesse

Ethiopia signed a memorandum of understanding with Somaliland, a breakaway region of Somalia, to gain access to the Red Sea in exchange for a stake in its flagship carrier Ethiopian Airlines.

Detailed negotiations to reach a formal agreement will be concluded in a month, said Redwan Hussein, national security adviser to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. He didn’t disclose the stake Ethiopia will offer for Africa’s biggest airline.

The MoU will enable Ethiopia to access the Red Sea from Somaliland to use as a military base and for commercial purposes for 50 years, Hussein said at a briefing on Monday in the capital Addis Ababa. It will be able to lease a “20 kilometer (12 miles) long access for the Ethiopian Navy base and to be used as one of its entry ports,” Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi said at the same event. 

Ethiopia can also build infrastructure and a corridor, Hussein said.

As part of the agreement Africa’s second most populated nation will recognize Somaliland as a sovereign state, Bihi said. 

In October, Abiy in a televised lecture identified access to the ocean as a strategic objective and warned that failure to secure it could lead to conflict before toning down his comments. 

Abiy’s remarks drew rebukes from Eritrea, Somalia and Djibouti, all of whom described their sovereignty and territorial integrity as sacrosanct and not open for discussion. 

His position on the Red Sea raised concerns among diplomats of fresh regional instability.

The Horn of Africa nation lost direct access to the sea in 1993, when Eritrea gained independence after a three-decade war. Its main trade route now runs along roads and a railway that link the capital, Addis Ababa, to a port in Djibouti, one of five neighbors with coastlines that include Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan and Kenya. 

More than a 10th of the world’s global commerce transited the Red Sea that connects the Indian Ocean to the Suez Canal before attacks on commercial vessels by Houthi rebels led some ships to re-route around Africa to avoid the violence. 

Source: Bloomberg

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