Somalia cancels port agreement between Ethiopia and Somaliland

In a bold move, Somalia's President revokes a pivotal agreement with Somaliland and Ethiopia, unleashing international condemnation and heightening tensions in the Horn of Africa.

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FILE PHOTO: Somalia's President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud addresses the parliament regarding the Ethiopia-Somaliland port deal, in Mogadishu, Somalia January 2, 2024. REUTERS/Feisal Omar/File Photo

On Saturday, the President of Somalia endorsed a bill revoking a preliminary agreement between Somaliland and Ethiopia for port access to Somaliland’s coast. This symbolic action was aimed at rebuking both parties involved in a deal that has heightened tensions across the Horn of Africa.

Hassan Sheikh Mohamud conveyed through a post on X that the bill exemplified their commitment to preserving unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity in accordance with international law.

Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in 1991 during a civil war in the southern part of the country and has since operated autonomously. Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, asserts borders based on the former British protectorate of Somaliland in northern Somalia.

The memorandum of understanding, signed last Monday between Somaliland’s President Muse Bihi and Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, outlined a potential future agreement between Addis Ababa and Hargeisa. Ethiopia would be allocated a 20km stretch of land along Somaliland’s Gulf of Aden coast for at least 50 years. In return, Ethiopia would grant Somaliland shares in Ethiopian Airlines equivalent to the value of the acquired land.

Although the memorandum is not legally binding at this stage, senior Somaliland officials have indicated that it includes a provision for diplomatic recognition of Hargeisa, a goal long sought by the self-declared republic. Ethiopian officials, however, have provided conflicting statements on this aspect of the agreement, with some arguing for Somaliland’s recognition without committing Ethiopia to a position.

The deal has garnered significant international condemnation and sparked anger in Somalia, which characterizes the move as an “act of aggression.” Somalia’s president urged Ethiopia and Somaliland to reverse course, emphasizing that Somali territory should not be exchanged for shares in companies such as Ethiopian Airlines, Ethiopian Telecom, or the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

Somalia recalled its ambassador from Ethiopia and sought international support. The US State Department spokesperson, Matthew Miller, stated that the US recognizes Somalia within its 1960 borders, encompassing Somaliland, and called for dialogue to resolve the issues. The UK released a statement on Thursday, urging full respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, advocating restraint and dialogue. Turkey’s foreign ministry expressed support for the unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Somalia. International entities, including the EU, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and Arab League, have also appealed to Ethiopia to reconsider the deal, heightening tensions in an already volatile region.

Undeterred by the opposition from Mogadishu, Somaliland has affirmed its commitment to proceed with the preliminary pact it negotiated with Ethiopia. The agreement has created a rift in public opinion within both Somalia and Somaliland, leading to numerous demonstrations and counterdemonstrations. The big issue revolves around the transfer of territory to Ethiopia, a country with which Somalia has a history of conflict.

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