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Navigating the Complexities of the Ethiopian-Somaliland MOU: A Comprehensive Analysis of International Reactions, Potential Outcomes, and Risks

Ethiopian-Somaliland MoU risks

By Alemu Arage

The Ethiopian-Somaliland Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) has become a focal point in global politics, sparking diverse reactions from international actors. This article delves into the responses of key players, such as the African Union (AU), the European Union (EU), and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the United States, and Egypt with the Arab League, shedding light on the intricate diplomatic landscape surrounding Ethiopia’s intention to recognize Somaliland

A. International Reaction

The African Union (AU), in its press statement, underscored the importance of mutual respect between Somalia and Ethiopia while emphasizing the imperative to uphold the unity, territorial integrity, and full sovereignty of all AU member states, including the Federal Republic of Somalia and the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. This stance reflects a diplomatic condemnation of Ethiopia’s intention with Somaliland to give recognition, contradicting the AU legal framework and violating the rights of AU member states, particularly Somalia. It also challenges Ethiopia’s commitment to international law, such as the AU and the Montevideo Convention.

Similarly, the European Union (EU), through its spokesperson, expressed concern, emphasizing the importance of respecting the unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Somalia in alignment with its constitution, the Charters of the African Union, and the United Nations. The EU’s emphasis on preserving international law condemns Ethiopia’s move to recognize Somaliland, with a primary focus on the violation of international norms rather than economic or trade agreements between the two parties.

Despite the Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), expressed deep concern about recent developments in relations between the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE) and the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS),  the organization  has remained notably silent on the MOU. This silence has led to dissatisfaction from Somalia, fostering a sense of disappointment and condemnation of Ethiopia’s perceived violation of international law. IGAD’s seemingly aligned stance with Ethiopian views has raised questions about its effectiveness and impartiality.

The USA while not explicitly condemning or endorsing the MOU, emphasized the need to de-escalate tension in the Horn of Africa and initiate dialogue. Its mention of respecting Somalia’s territorial integrity indirectly critiques Ethiopia’s intent to recognize Somaliland. The nuanced approach reflects a diplomatic balancing act, possibly driven by the desire to maintain positive relations with both Ethiopia and Somaliland.

Egypt and the Arab League, consistent with their usual stance, Egypt and the Arab League expressed unwavering support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Somalia. They vehemently condemned the perceived invalidity and unacceptability of the deal between Ethiopia and Somaliland.

With the exception of IGAD, which appears aligned with Ethiopian views, the broader international community, including the USA, demonstrates opposition to Ethiopia’s intention to recognize Somaliland. The varied responses underscore the intricate diplomatic landscape surrounding the MOU and its potential implications on regional dynamics.

B. Examining the Potential Outcomes of the Ethio-Somaliland MOU

Despite widespread criticism of the deal between Ethiopia and Somaliland, which has been framed as a threat to Somalia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, the possibility of Ethiopia realizing its proposed recognition is not definitively ruled out. Several factors, including the personal dynamics of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, internal political challenges, and external influences, contribute to the complex landscape of potential outcomes.

The personal behavior of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed plays a pivotal role in the execution of the MOU. Ongoing political unrest in Ethiopia, posing a threat to Abiy’s leadership, and potential attention diversion strategies could influence him to fulfill his commitment to Somaliland. While, Abiy Ahmed’s noteworthy relationship with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) introduces an external dimension to the MOU. The UAE’s role as a sponsor for both Abiy’s government and the Somaliland administration positions it as a potential broker in the execution of the agreement. This influence could shape the trajectory of the MOU, presenting unique possibilities.

Conversely, Ethiopian politicians may be cognizant of potential international reactions, leading to an agreement with their Somaliland counterparts to maximize gains by exposing intentions that could yield diplomatic benefits for Somaliland. Consequently, they may opt to abandon the contentious element of recognition and proceed with materializing other agreed-upon aspects of the MOU.

Simultaneously, countries like the United States may not need to apply intense pressure to advocate for the realization of the agreement. Meanwhile, the apparent silence of BRICS member states, including China and Russia, may inadvertently endorse the deal, providing impetus to Abiy’s decision-making process. The international landscape thus introduces nuanced possibilities that warrant careful consideration.

Therefore, while criticism has been directed at the Ethio-Somaliland MOU, the possibilities of its materialization remain open due to a confluence of factors. The interplay of Abiy Ahmed’s personal dynamics, external influences, and international dynamics creates a complex scenario, necessitating a thorough examination of the various elements at play. As stakeholders monitor these developments, the potential outcomes of the MOU continue to evolve, highlighting the need for nuanced analysis and strategic anticipation.

C. Assessing Challenges in the Realization of the Ethiopia-Somaliland MOU

While the likelihood of the Ethio-Somaliland MOU materializing remains limited, persistent challenges that stem from concerns within the African Union (AU) regarding territorial integrity, external influences from the European Union (EU), and competing powers, as well as domestic opposition within Ethiopia may affect the full implementation of the MOU. 

The AU, grounded in the core principle of upholding the territorial integrity and sovereignty of its member states, poses a significant challenge. Fear of diplomatic exclusion from the AU may prompt the organization to exert pressure on Ethiopia, urging caution in pursuing the MOU. If the AU remains silent, the risk of setting a precedent for similar cases, as observed with Arab Saharawi, Jubaland, and Puntland, could motivate AU member states to intervene and discourage Ethiopia.

The influence of the EU and other global powers, aligned against potential repercussions arising from the MOU, adds another layer of complexity. External pressure may be exerted on Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to reconsider the agreement, highlighting the international dimensions that impact Ethiopia’s decision-making process.

Surprisingly, the Abiy Ahmed administration also faces opposition from within Ethiopia itself. Criticism over perceived diplomatic missteps and domestic political contradictions has generated discontent among Ethiopians. The lack of robust domestic political support, coupled with ongoing diplomatic pressures, may force Prime Minister Abiy to reevaluate the decision to proceed with the MOU.

Therefore, while the Ethio-Somaliland MOU faces challenges that complicate its implementation, the interplay of factors, including AU principles, external influences, and domestic opposition, necessitates a nuanced understanding of the obstacles at hand. As the dynamics evolve, careful consideration of these challenges is crucial for anticipating potential roadblocks and shaping the trajectory of the MOU in a manner that aligns with both regional and international dynamics.

D. Risks of Materializing the Intentions as Incorporated in the MOU

While it would be beneficial for Ethiopia to gain access to sea alternatives for economic, political, and security interests, the regime’s rhetoric, claims, and tools used to realize these interests pose risks. Rather than being seen as a country in genuine need, Ethiopia is perceived by neighboring countries, African states, and the international community as a warmonger and a regional security threat. The IGAD, where Ethiopia has played a significant role in diplomatic, economic, and regional affairs in the Horn of Africa, faces risks due to its seemingly biased press statement and an extension of Abiy’s views. The future positions taken by IGAD member states may contribute for further weakening of IGAD. Similarly, the AU, with its headquarters in Addis Ababa, may begin to see Ethiopia as unreliable, insignificant, and a potential security threat to the continent.

Moreover, the issue of sovereignty and territorial integrity may mobilize Somalian’s against a common enemy, i.e., Ethiopia, in the short run, potentially sponsoring conflicts directly or indirectly for the long term. The ongoing diplomatic quarrel between Ethiopia and Eritrea and the good diplomatic relation between Eritrea and Somalia may increase the insecurity of Ethiopia in the region. Abiy Ahmed’s meetings with leaders of other countries, such as Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces leader Dagalo, his quarrel with Kenya, and the threat posed against Djibouti under the pretext of access to the sea, may worsen Ethiopia’s relations and make it a country encircled by states in conflict.

Although the MOU may contribute to securitizing Ethiopia’s quest to access the sea and garner support from African states and the international community for this cause, it is a very narrow opportunity. Mostly, it may pose a threat to potential states willingness to support and grant such access to Ethiopia.

To conclude, the risks embedded in the MOU between Ethiopia and Somaliland are multifaceted, ranging from damaged regional relationships to potential conflicts and a compromised international standing. A more nuanced and strategic approach is necessary to address these risks, ensuring that Ethiopia’s pursuit of sea alternatives aligns with broader diplomatic goals and garners the necessary support from key stakeholders.

Alemu Arage  is a lecturer of Political Science and International Relations and currently a PHD Candidate in Peace and Security Studies.

Editor’s note : Views in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of 


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