#Ethiopia Recognizes #Somaliland: A Landmark #Agreement with Far-reaching Implication
By. Khadar Suldan Aadan Faarax
Ethiopia has embarked on a historic journey toward securing sea access, a critical issue deemed existential by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. The country has taken a significant step by signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the self-declared republic of Somaliland. The agreement, shrouded in some secrecy, aims to pave the way for Ethiopia to gain access to the sea through one of Somaliland’s ports, with discussions primarily centered around the port of Berbera.
While MoU is not legally binding, it signifies a statement of intent and may lead to a treaty that imposes obligations on the signing parties. The move has been hailed by Addis Ababa as a major diplomatic victory, with Prime Minister Abiy expressing gratitude at the signing ceremony. Notably, the agreement includes a provision where Ethiopia commits to recognizing Somaliland as an independent country in the future.
Somaliland’s foreign ministry lauded the deal as a “historic agreement” that ensures Ethiopia’s access to the sea in exchange for formal recognition of the Republic of Somaliland. The arrangement reportedly includes the lease of sea access for Ethiopian naval forces for a period of 50 years.
Ethiopia lost its direct access to the sea when Eritrea seceded in the early 1990s, leaving it as the most populous landlocked country globally, with over 100 million people. Currently reliant on Djibouti’s port for the majority of its imports and exports, this new initiative holds strategic significance for Ethiopia’s economic and security interests. The development follows a previous deal between Ethiopia and Somaliland in 2018, which ultimately fell through in 2022 due to Ethiopia’s failure to meet acquisition conditions for a stake in the port of Berbera. The announcement has triggered tensions in the Horn of Africa, with Somalia responded officially “an open interference with Somalia’s sovereignty, freedom and unity” and “null and void” as it considers Somaliland part of its territory .
In a significant diplomatic development, the Republic of Somaliland and the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia have recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that marks a historic milestone in the region. This agreement not only symbolizes the official recognition of Somaliland by Ethiopia but also includes a strategic provision granting Ethiopia naval and commercial sea access on lease for the next 50 years. To understand the gravity of this situation, it’s crucial to examine the broader context of the region, drawing parallels with similar cases, such as Bolivia and Peru in Latin America.
Ethiopia’s Recognition of Somaliland
Ethiopia’s decision to officially recognize the Republic of Somaliland is a departure from the status quo in the Horn of Africa. While Somaliland declared its independence from Somalia in 1991, it has struggled to gain international recognition as a sovereign state. Ethiopia’s recognition adds a significant geopolitical dimension to the region, potentially influencing the stance of other nations.
Ethiopia’s recent signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the self-declared republic of Somaliland marks a significant development in its pursuit of sea access, which Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has deemed as crucial for the country’s existence. While the details of the agreement have not been disclosed, the focus has been on the port of Berbera in Somaliland.
The MoU, though not legally binding, is viewed by Addis Ababa as a major diplomatic victory, potentially opening the door for Ethiopia to gain access to the sea. The agreement also hints at the possibility of Ethiopia securing a “leased military base” on the coast. The Prime Minister’s office states that the MoU “paves the way to realize the aspiration of Ethiopia to secure access to the sea.”
One notable aspect of the agreement is Somaliland’s claim that Ethiopia will formally recognize it as an independent country in the future. The foreign ministry of Somaliland describes the accord as a “historic agreement” that ensures Ethiopia’s sea access in exchange for recognizing Somaliland. The statement quotes President Muse Bihi Abdi, noting a 50-year lease for a 20km sea access for Ethiopian naval forces.
It’s important to highlight that Somaliland declared independence from Somalia over 30 years ago but lacks recognition from the African Union (AU) and the UN as an independent state.
Ethiopia, with a population exceeding 100 million, became landlocked when Eritrea seceded in the early 1990s. The country has heavily relied on the port in Djibouti for its imports and exports. Previous attempts to secure access to the port of Berbera, including a 2018 deal that fell through in 2022, have underscored the strategic importance of sea access for Ethiopia’s economic and security interests. The latest agreement with Somaliland signals Ethiopia’s continued efforts to address its maritime challenges and enhance its geopolitical positioning in the Horn of Africa.
This move by Ethiopia could be seen as a strategic decision driven by political, economic, and security considerations. Somaliland has emerged as a stable and relatively peaceful entity within the tumultuous Horn of Africa, making it an attractive partner for Ethiopia. The recognition could strengthen bilateral ties, fostering economic cooperation and regional stability.
Naval and Commercial Sea Access Lease
Ethiopia’s recent memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Somaliland marks a significant step in its pursuit of sea access, a matter deemed existential by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. The details of the agreement, including the use of Somaliland’s port, Berbera, and the potential for a “leased military base” on the sea, remain undisclosed. While MoU is not legally binding, it signals intent and can pave the way for future treaties.
The development is hailed by Addis Ababa as a diplomatic victory, showcasing its commitment to securing sea access after losing it when Eritrea seceded in the early 1990s. The agreement, signed in the Ethiopian capital by Prime Minister Abiy and Somaliland’s President Muse Bihi Abdi, includes a provision for Ethiopia to recognize Somaliland as an independent country in the future.
Somaliland’s foreign ministry emphasizes the historic nature of the agreement, asserting that it ensures Ethiopia’s sea access for naval forces in exchange for recognizing Somaliland. The reported terms indicate a 50-year lease for a 20km sea access. Ethiopia, however, has not commented on this specific aspect of the deal.
While the move is celebrated by Somaliland, which seceded from Somalia over 30 years ago, it remains unrecognized by the African Union (AU) and the UN. Somalia, claiming Somaliland as part of its territory, is yet to respond officially. The agreement follows a failed 2018 deal for Ethiopia to acquire a stake in the port of Berbera.
In the context of Ethiopia’s overreliance on Djibouti’s port for imports and exports, this new initiative is seen as a strategic effort to diversify sea access options. Despite the potential geopolitical implications in the Horn of Africa, the agreement underscores the complexity of regional dynamics and the pursuit of maritime opportunities by landlocked nations.
The provision granting Ethiopia naval and commercial sea access on lease for 50 years is a noteworthy aspect of the agreement. This implies that Ethiopia will have access to Somaliland’s ports and maritime facilities, potentially boosting its trade and economic activities. The lease agreement may also have implications for regional security, as both nations collaborate on maritime and defense matters.
Comparisons with Bolivia and Peru
Both Bolivia and Peru lost access to the Pacific Ocean as a result of the War of the Pacific (1879-1884). Bolivia became landlocked after losing its coastal region to Chile. The recent “Bolivamar” agreement between Peru and Bolivia grants Bolivia access to a small stretch of coastline in southern Peru, providing maritime access for the first time in over a century.
The War of the Pacific and the loss of access to the sea have left a lasting impact on the national psyche of both Bolivia and Peru. Bolivia celebrates a national Día del Mar (Day of the Sea) annually on March 23rd, expressing the country’s desire to regain access to the Pacific.
Bolivia and Peru have historically considered themselves close allies, but tensions had arisen in recent years due to ideological differences. The “Bolivamar” agreement is seen as a potential thaw in relations between Bolivia and Peru, with the two nations displaying solidarity despite previous hostilities.
The agreement between Bolivia and Peru is expected to have economic benefits for Bolivia, including tax-free access to maritime and industrial zones in Peru’s Ilo port. Bolivia’s improved access to the Pacific is anticipated to boost its economy by cutting the distance goods have to travel to important Asian markets.
Relations between Bolivia and Chile have been strained since the War of the Pacific, and Bolivia has sought to regain sovereign access to the sea. Bolivia’s recent agreement with Peru may impact its relations with Chile, potentially causing further damage to the already fraught relationship.
Chile, under President Sebastián Piñera, has been adamant about not discussing the issue of Bolivian access to the sea. The “Bolivamar” deal between Peru and Bolivia is viewed critically by Chile, suggesting that Peru’s involvement in the coastline dispute may strain Chile’s relations with both countries.
The agreement is highly symbolic for Bolivia, representing a significant step toward resurrecting the country’s maritime tradition and addressing a historical injustice. The deal is praised as a success for President Evo Morales, who managed to achieve what his predecessors could not.Top of Form
Drawing parallels with the Bolivia-Peru case in Latin America provides some insights into the dynamics of such agreements. Historically, Bolivia lost its access to the Pacific Ocean following the War of the Pacific in the late 19th century, leading to longstanding disputes with Chile. However, in 2018, the International Court of Justice ruled against Bolivia’s claim to regain access. In contrast, the recent Ethiopia-Somaliland agreement resembles a scenario where both parties have willingly entered into an accord, addressing mutual interests.
Diplomatic Recognition: Ethiopia’s recognition of Somaliland underscores the evolving geopolitical landscape in the Horn of Africa. It challenges the traditional dynamics of statehood and could influence the stance of other nations in the region and beyond.
The provision of naval and commercial sea access is a strategic move that can enhance economic cooperation between Ethiopia and Somaliland. It opens up new avenues for trade and investment, potentially benefiting both nations.
The agreement has the potential to contribute to regional stability by fostering closer ties between Ethiopia and Somaliland. As a stable entity in a volatile region, Somaliland could become a key partner for Ethiopia in addressing common challenges.
The Memorandum of Understanding between Ethiopia and Somaliland is a landmark agreement with far-reaching implications for the Horn of Africa. As both nations navigate this new chapter in their diplomatic relations, the international community will closely watch how this development shapes regional dynamics and influences the broader discourse on statehood and recognition.
By. Khadar Suldan Aadan Faarax