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May 29, 2024

Ethiopia and Somaliland Sign Historic Port Access Deal, Sparking Backlash

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Jan 4, 2024

Ethiopia and the self-declared republic of Somaliland have signed a historic agreement granting Ethiopia access to Somaliland’s strategic Port of Berbera on the Red Sea. Under the deal, Ethiopia will gain a stake in some Somaliland state enterprises, including possible shares in its national airline. However, the agreement has sparked outrage in Somalia which does not recognize Somaliland’s independence and condemns the deal as illegal. Regional powers and Western nations urge restraint amid fears of further destabilizing the volatile Horn of Africa region.

Ethiopia Secures Vital Red Sea Access

On January 1st, Ethiopia and Somaliland signed an accord allowing Ethiopia, a landlocked country, to acquire a substantial stake in the Port of Berbera. Ethiopia will gain expanded maritime trade capacities vital for its economy, bypassing dependence onDjibouti which handled 90% of its foreign trade. Ethiopian officials state that gaining stakeholder status in the port fulfills a longstanding strategic goal.

In return, Somaliland will reportedly receive a 19% stake in Ethiopian Airlines, although details remain unclear. Somaliland broke away from Somalia after the government there collapsed in 1991 and has sought international recognition ever since. Ethiopia recently opened a consulate in Hargeisa, Somaliland’s capital, hinting at a potential shift towards recognizing Somaliland’s sovereignty.

Analysts speculate that securing access to a Red Sea port could also assist Ethiopia with future exports of potash deposits found in its northern Afar region.

Somalia Condemns “Aggression”, Recall Ambassador

The central government in Mogadishu rejects Somaliland’s independence claims over what they deem to be an autonomous region still under Somalia’s control. Somali President Hassan Sheikh dismisses the port deal as “null and void”, infringing upon Somalia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Somalia has recalled its ambassador from Addis Ababa amid the worst diplomatic crisis between the two nations in over a decade. Officials warn that Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s perceived aggression could bolster the resurgent Al-Shabaab insurgency as Somali nationalism is inflamed.

Regional Bodies Express “Deep Concern”

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an eight-country trade bloc in Africa, warns that the deal could destabilize the entire Horn of Africa. The European Union, Arab League and Egypt back Somalia’s objection and urge respect for its territorial sovereignty. Ethiopia remains defiant, downplaying Somalia’s complaint as “a non-issue”.

Several hundred Somalis have protested in Mogadishu condemning Abiy as a “modern colonialist puppet master” seeking to divide Somalia for his country’s sole benefit. More demonstrations against the port agreement are planned.

Counterprotests have occured in Hargeisa as thousands rally in support of greater ties with Ethiopia. Officials there hail the deal as a “win-win” for Somaliland’s economy and security. Ethiopia has reportedly agreed to train Somaliland military and police units to combat terrorism threats, drawing Mogadishu’s further ire.

Port Stakes Ethiopia: 19%
DP World: 51%
Somaliland: 30%
Recognition Somaliland by Ethiopia: Likely
Somaliland by Somalia: Never
Airline Stakes Somaliland in Ethiopian Airlines: Details Unconfirmed

Global Powers Rule Out Recognition

Western countries maintain a firm one-Somalia policy, considering Somaliland an “autonomous region” despite its unrecognized self-declared independence since 1991.

The United States states it has “no plans to recognize” Somaliland’s statehood despite deepening ties between Addis Ababa and Hargeisa. Similarly, the European Union stresses respect for Somalia’s sovereignty and unity following the port access accord.

China has remained silent although analysts suspect Beijing will not disrupt its strategic partnership with Ethiopia over the deal. China [has invested over $20 billion in Ethiopia] including infrastructure and telecoms.

Uncertainty Looms Over Next Steps

It remains unclear whether President Hassan will take legal action attempting to nullify the port agreement, which Hargeisa vows to implement without delay. Mogadishu may also militarily intervene should Ethiopian troops be deployed to Somaliland for training purposes under the deal’s security provisions. Ethiopia has denied plans for permanent bases.

With Somalia politically unstable after delayed elections, Emirati-backed factions in southern Somalia could also exploit the crisis to press for greater autonomy from Mogadishu. Somalia has accused Gulf adversaries like the UAE of seeking to sabotage its fragile central authority.

With Ethiopia facing continued internal unrest and Somalia battling militant Islamists, uncertainty prevails across the strategically vital Horn of Africa as all parties brace for potential escalation in the coming weeks.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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