Ethiopia Strikes Port Deal with Somalian Breakaway Region

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What to Know:

Ethiopia has struck a port deal with the Somalian breakaway state of Somaliland to gain Red Sea access, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office announced earlier today. While Somalia’s federal government has not officially responded, it is expected to fully reject the deal.

What is Somaliland:

Somaliland is a self-declared, de facto independent state that makes up the northern most territory of Somalia along the Gulf of Aden, which declared its independence following the overthrow of President Siad Barre by rebel forces in 1991. While Somaliland operates with its own democratically elected government, state institutions, and military forces, it has not gained international recognition as an independent state, but has been able to operate with autonomy in some capacity. Somaliland also maintains informal diplomatic relations with some countries, such as Ethiopia.

The Deal:

The deal, in short, allows for Ethiopia, a landlocked country, to have access to the Red Sea through the port of Berbera in a lease agreement with Somaliland. In turn, Ethiopia will recognize Somaliland as independent and establish diplomatic ties in due time, according to Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi.

In a statement, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office said that the Memorandum of Understanding “is intended to serve as a framework for the multisectoral partnership between the two sides.”

“The Memorandum of Understanding shall pave the way to realize the aspiration of Ethiopia to secure access to the sea and diversify its access to seaports. It also strengthens their security, economic and political partnership. Furthermore, the Memorandum of Understanding also indicates the pathway to bolster their political and diplomatic relations.”
“The Memorandum of Understanding reaffirms the principled position of the Ethiopian Government to advance mutual interests through cooperation on the basis of reciprocity. The Memorandum of Understanding ushers in a new chapter of cooperation and has a huge significance for regional integration in the horn. It also enables Ethiopia to enhance its role in maintaining regional peace and security,” the statement concluded.
Separately, Ethiopian National Security Adviser Redwan Hussien stated that Somaliland would receive an unspecified stake in state-owned Ethiopian Airlines.
Somalia Response:
So far, Mogadishu has not released any official statements on the deal, however, this comes as Somalia’s federal government rejected an appeal from Ethiopia in October to negotiate for Red Sea access. Somali state media has reported that the national cabinet will convene an emergency meeting tomorrow to discuss the deal.

Some Somali officials have started to react to the deal, with MP and Defense Committee member Mursal Khaliif warning that “our government, executive & legislative branches, will respond appropriately to news of Ethiopia infringing on our territorial integrity.”

Likewise, Somali Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Abdirizak Mohamed called Somalia’s sovereignty and integrity “uncompromisable,” adding that Ethiopia has no carte blanche, or freedom do do whatever one desires, to “violate our territorial integrity.”

Somalia is expected to fully reject the deal, but a response remains unknown. Mogadishu still considers Somaliland as part of greater Somalia, so military action could be taken to seize the port. Likewise, we might also see political and/ or economic sanctions put on Ethiopia.