By Ahmed Ibrahim, Ph.D
- Ethiopia and Somaliland signed a deal on January 1, 2024, that grants Ethiopia access to the Red Sea through Somaliland and includes a military base.
- Ethiopia’s default on its debt and subsequent pursuit of debt relief that has alarmed its creditors and investors, casts doubt on its intent and capacity to embark on new mega projects requiring significant investments such as new port investments.
- The deal is a serious violation of Somalia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and a threat to regional stability in the Horn of Africa, the greater East Africa and the Red Sea regions.
- The deal reflects Ethiopia’s internal crisis and disregard for international norms and regional cooperation.
- Somalia has strongly opposed the deal and pursued peaceful and diplomatic resolution, while the president of Somaliland Muse Bihi has defied Somalia and the international community.
- Somalia has sought the support of the international community, especially the African Union, the United Nations, European Union, and the U.S., to resolve the crisis amicable and hold Ethiopia accountable
- Somalia must respond with a range of measures to deter Somaliland and protect its national interests, including travel restrictions, imposing sanctions, supporting northern unionist and civil society against Muse Bihi and preparing for potential military intervention against any implementation plans for the MoU.
- Ethiopia is facing an economic crisis, exploding foreign debt, poverty, high level of un-employment, internal conflicts that threatens its stability and development, as well as the security of the region.
Ethiopia and Somalia have had a complex historical relationship marked by tensions, conflicts and wars. The modern dynamics of their relations are influenced by factors such as territorial disputes, regional geopolitics, and internal political dynamics. Despite these conflicts, the relations of the two countries, underwent significant changes in the 21st century, recognizing the importance of cooperation in addressing common security challenges, including terrorism, piracy, and instability in the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia intervened in Somalia’s civil war to support the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and later the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) against Islamist insurgent groups such as Al-Shabaab. As the relationship between Somalia and Ethiopia showed signs of improvement, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia’s recent deal with Somaliland is viewed as a potential step towards fostering unity within Somalia.
The controversial and reckless MoU deal between Ethiopia and Somaliland, signed on January 1, 2024, has the potential to significantly undermine the geopolitical landscape of the Horn of Africa. This agreement, which grants Ethiopia access to the Red Sea through Somaliland and includes a military base, has been widely criticized by Somalia and the international community as a breach of Somalia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. This development could have serious implications and not only undermines the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Somalia, a key U.S. partner in the region, but also threatens to destabilize the already fragile region. This could potentially create a power vacuum that al-Shabaab and the Islamic State might exploit, posing a direct threat to the security in the region.
The deal also highlights the failures of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who despite winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his efforts to end the conflict with Eritrea and reform his country, has presided over a nation plagued by ethnic strife, human rights abuses, economic crisis, and political repression. His inability to deliver on his promises of peace, democracy, and prosperity has resulted in a deepening crisis within Ethiopia, threatening its stability and development.
Potential Implications for Counterterrorism Efforts and Regional Stability
The recent deal between Ethiopia and Somaliland, which grants Ethiopia access to the Red Sea and includes a military base, could have far-reaching implications for Somalia and the international community’s counterterrorism campaign against al-Shabaab and ISIS. The deal will have a negative impact on regional security, stability and will promote radicalization, and terrorism. The deal will do the following:
- Undermining Counterterrorism Efforts: The deal could undermine Somalia’s sovereignty and the international community’s counterterrorism efforts. By bypassing the Federal Government of Somalia, the deal may weaken the government’s legitimacy and its ability to effectively combat al-Shabaab.
- Increasing Radicalization and Terrorism: The perceived violation of Somalia’s sovereignty could fuel sentiments of injustice and marginalization, potentially leading to an increase in radicalization and terrorism in the region. This could provide extremist groups like al-Shabaab and ISIS with a potent narrative to boost their recruitment efforts.
- Fueling Insurgency: The deal could strengthen al-Shabaab and ISIS by providing them with additional grievances to exploit for recruitment and propaganda purposes. This could lead to an escalation in insurgency activities and more terrorist attacks in Somalia and across the region.
- Religious Conflict: The conflict could potentially take on a religious dimension, escalating from a political dispute into a broader Muslim vs Christian religious war. This could further complicate the conflict and make it more difficult to resolve, while also increasing the risk of sectarian violence.
Ethiopia’s Unlawful Deal with Somaliland: A Challenge to Somalia’s Sovereignty and Regional Stability
Somalia is currently facing a significant threat to its sovereignty and territorial integrity due to a deal signed between Ethiopia and the breakaway region of Somaliland. This agreement, which grants Ethiopia access to the Red Sea and potentially recognizes Somaliland as an independent state, is a clear violation of international law and principles of good neighborliness. It poses a serious risk to the stability and security of the region. Somalia has rightly rejected this deal as an act of aggression and has recalled its ambassador from Addis Ababa. The international community, particularly the United Nations, the African Union, and Arab League, has strongly supported Somalia, condemned Ethiopia’s unilateral move, and affirmed its solidarity with Somalia.
President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre, and other political leaders have shown commendable leadership and courage in defending Somalia’s rights and interests. They have so far pursued a peaceful and diplomatic solution to the crisis, demonstrating a commitment to the unity and reconciliation of the Somali people. However, Somaliland’s leader, Muse Bihi, has rejected this offer and chosen to align with Ethiopia, betraying his own people and the Somali nation. Somaliland’s actions are not only illegal and illegitimate but also counterproductive and self-defeating. They risk isolating Somaliland from the rest of Somalia and the region and exposing it to sanctions and pressure from the international community.
Somalia must take decisive and proportional measures to deter Somaliland from further violating its sovereignty and to protect its national interests. These measures include restricting travel to and from Somaliland, imposing political and economic sanctions on Somaliland’s president and government officials, supporting the legitimate opposition and civil society in Somaliland, and should end the special treatments of Somaliland administration. The gloves must come off. Somalia must also continue to seek the support and mediation of the international community, especially the African Union, the United Nations, the European Union, and the United States, to resolve the crisis and hold Ethiopia accountable for its actions. Somalia’s stance against Ethiopia’s aggression is not only justified but also necessary to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity and ensure peace and stability in the Horn of Africa.
Somaliland, a self-declared independent state in the Horn of Africa, has been seeking international recognition as a sovereign nation since 1991. However, it is not recognized as a separate country by any member of the United Nations.
Ahmed Ibrahim, Ph.D
Email: [email protected]
Dr. Ibrahim is former senior United Nations official who served in the Africa, the Middle East, and the United Nations Head Quarters in New York. Dr. Ibrahim is a security and development consultant as well as freelance writer based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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