Saturday, June 22, 2024
HomeOpinionIs Abiy Ahmed’s MOU with Somaliland Bold or Reckless? 

Is Abiy Ahmed’s MOU with Somaliland Bold or Reckless? 

By Shiferaw Abebe 

Abiy Ahmed’s signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Somaliland’s president  may be seen as bold, but it is also reckless from every dimension one looks at it. 

If we stay clear from the emotional trick politicians so adeptly play on common folks, Ethiopia  doesn’t need a naval base in Somaliland or anywhere else. It doesn’t have a coastline to patrol  or protect which most countries in the world use their naval force for. Then for what purpose?  For the vanity of being counted among the powers with a naval presence in the region? What  can Ethiopia do with a naval force which it cannot do with a ground or an air force? 

A country with a quarter of its population endemically on the verge of starvation cannot afford a  navy force or a naval base just to stroke the ego of a delusional prime minister. 

Ethiopia may need to diversify access to seaports for commercial shipments, but it is not an urgent matter that needs to be achieved by any means necessary.  

Right now and for the foreseeable future a seaport doesn’t make the cut for the top ten  problems Ethiopia faces and needs to address. Ethiopia’s merchandise exports were worth a  paltry $3.6 billion in 2022/23. Its much bigger imports are still a meager amount by  international standards. The port of Djibouti, whose sole customer is Ethiopia, is more than  enough for Ethiopia’s commercial shipment needs. .  

The relationship between Djibouti and Ethiopia needs to be understood clearly. If Djibouti is  currently the only seaport Ethiopia uses, Ethiopia is also the only customer Djibouti has for its  commercial ports. So the issue is largely economics than anything else. 

From an economic standpoint, a seaport in Somaliland doesn’t come cheap either. In addition to  offering Somaliland with equity stakes in one or more of Ethiopia’s state-owned enterprises,  Ethiopia would have to incur huge costs for building the infrastructure to get to a Somaliland  port. Taking the shortest possible distance of 400 KM between an existing Ethiopian rail line  and a port in Somaliland, Ethiopia would have to spend about $2 billion to build a rail  infrastructure, plus a medium size port construction or major renovation, if required, would cost at least several hundreds of millions.  

For a country that has a credit rating of D or RD, desperately begging its creditors for debt  restructuring, with a national economy in shambles, where can Ethiopia get this kind of money  today or tomorrow to throw at a venture that has all the diplomatic and geopolitical red flags? 

How much would Ethiopia save by diversifying its port outlets, anyway?  

Currently, Ethiopia is said to be paying between $1 billion and $1.6 billion in port fees to  Djibouti. Suppose Ethiopia diverts half of its export and import shipments to a Somaliland port; how much savings would it be able to squeeze out of Djibouti’s hand? Not a great amount  because Djibouti would still be the preferred port for Ethiopia and perhaps for shipping  companies too. A significant amount of any potential savings would also be used up to cover  the higher transportation costs to a Somaliland port. We can assume protection to the rail  infrastructure will somehow be Somaliland’s responsibility but it won’t do it for free. 

And then here is the crux of the economic question. Why do we want to trip over to secure or save  something we don’t have, when we are squandering mindlessly what we earned or own by the  grace of God? 

Since Abiy took power, there has been one major devastating war (with TPLF/Tigray), while two  more are raging as we speak – one in the Amhara region and another in Oromia. 

The damage of the war with TPLF/Tigray was pegged at $25 billion. 

The current wars in Amhara and Oromia combined can be expected to cost as much ($25 billion)  if not more by the time they wrap up, hopefully sooner rather than later. (Mind you, we might  have not seen a huge infrastructure damage as yet, but the impact on GDP of the wars in the  two largest regions is massive). 

Add to this the fact that 5 million people have been displaced throughout the country, many of  them for 2 or more years now. Taking the per capita income of the country as a basis, the lost GDP  because of this displacement is at least $10 billion. I won’t dare put value on the death toll – a  million and counting- even though there are models that do that. 

The above cost estimates (admittedly rough but conservative) add up to over $60 billion. 

Add to that what corruption and thievery in every single sector is costing the country. The world  average cost of corruption is 5% of world GDP, but we can safely double that for Ethiopia which  in monetary terms comes to over $12 billion per year. 

We cannot put even a rough number on the cost of economic mismanagement, which is the  hallmark of Abiy Ahmed’s government, but we know it is one of the main factors that has kept  the country in abject poverty. 

The sum of the above quantified costs alone is equivalent to more than 50 years’ of port fees for  Djibouti. This is a hole Abiy Ahmed’s misadventure in Somaliland will never fill. 

Being landlocked is a significant constraint on economic development, but not an indictment for  everlasting poverty. There are landlocked countries that are wealthy, and what do they have in  common? Internal stability, good economic management and good relationships with their  neighbors including the transient countries, none of which Ethiopia has under Abiy Ahmed. 

Economics aside, Ethiopia’s recognition of Somaliland won’t come without diplomatic and  geopolitical costs. Respecting territorial integrity and sovereignty is one of the key principles of  international relations (recognized by both the UN and AU), which Ethiopia is now being seen as  undermining by signing the MOU with Somaliland.  

Somalia has vehemently renounced and nullified the agreement as it should be expected and  there are reports that Ethiopian refugees in Somalia are being targeted at least on social media.  If the situation escalates, Abiy’s government will do tit for tat, targeting Somalis who might  be residing or visiting in Ethiopia. Neighboring countries are not coming out condemning the  MOU but there is no question that they are deeply concerned by Abiy Ahmed’s reckless move because they should see it as causing more tension and hostility in a historically volatile region.  

The United States, European Union, African Union, Turkey and China have made clear  statements that acknowledged Somalia’s territorial integrity. China, through its foreign minister,  Mao Ning, has stated that Somaliland is part of Somalia and that China supports the Federal  Government of Somalia in safeguarding national unity, sovereignty and territorial  integrity. Russia is unlikely to voice a different stance. So who is cheering for Abiy Ahmed’s  “bold” move? No one, internationally.  

Domestically, Abiy seems to have cajoled opposition parties in the so-called Ethiopian Political  Parties Joint Council into supporting his agreement with Somaliland, but the fact is opposition  parties don’t count much because they don’t have any influence or constituency in the country 

to speak of. More broadly, opinions and emotions could be divided because securing a sea  outlet has been at the back of the vast majority of Ethiopians’ minds for the last 32 years. The  issue is not whether Ethiopia deserves a secured access to the sea, but the timing and the way  Abiy Ahmed is going about it. 

The history of the two Somalia’s is in many ways similar to that of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Over 30  years ago, Ethiopians were furious with TPLF for recognizing Eritrea as an independent state,  without which Eritrea could have remained an unrecognized state to this day, like Somaliland.  Over time, however, most Ethiopians overcame their ill feelings and accepted Eritrea as a  country of its own and today they only want to see a close and mutually beneficial relationship  between the two countries (even though, thanks to Abiy Ahmed, as of late it is going the opposite  direction). Similarly, it could be the case that Somalia will someday acknowledge the  independence of Somaliland and decide to live in harmony with their brothers and sisters north 

of their border. Then and only then could one say Abiy’s so-called bold move is a judicious  move as well that would advance the interest of Ethiopia while promoting regional cooperation  and economic integration. 

Finally, the big problem is Abiy Ahmed himself. His spectacular, all rounded failures as a leader  aside, he is someone who cannot be trusted, whose words and promises cannot be taken at face  value, and whose predilection to whimsical infatuations in all manners of politics, diplomacy and  regional relationships are well known. Ethiopia had terrible leaders before Abiy, including  Mengistu and Meles Zenawi, but they were known for remaining true to their words, like it or  not. When they spoke, people didn’t have to wonder whether they were lying or telling what is  in their heart or believed in. In Abiy, we have a leader whose words don’t mean anything to him,  a man with no core principles, a man who can change his mind on the fly with little concern for  consequences. We cannot be sure, for example, why he signed the MOU with Somaliland, in the  first place. For the same reason, we shouldn’t be surprised if he dumps this whole MOU thing and moves on to another shinny misadventure in a matter of a few months.

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


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  1. Folks,

    I just discovered that 1+1=2 is not right. It may be correct but it may not be right. Wait a minute! I think I got it in reverse. It should have been 1+1=, just forget all about it!!!. It may be true though but.. I said forget all about it!!! That my first math teacher had it all wrong, not correct or not true. He even had the audacity to tell us that the numeral ‘0’ has no value! May he rest in peace since he was gone a long time ago but if he was still alive I would have taken him to court for teaching us that. What a nerve!!!

    Poor Ittu!!!

  2. I have been asking this same question since the announcement of the MOU. Why wasn’t a commotion with same intensity when DP World leased(bought) the Berbera port in 2016? Right after DP World’s acquisition Ethiopia had bought a 19% share in the DP World Berbera company. DP World is a U.A.E. entity. Is that because U.A.E. is an Arab country? They can scrub their faces, necks, chests and arms with chemical agents to whiten their skins, Somalis are just as blacks as the rest of Horn of Africans and all Africans for that matter. To that jalabi donning bigot in the Arabian Peninsula, every Horn of African or African in general is an ‘abd’, a nigger.

    I have another question for you. It is a historically proved fact that Arabs from that peninsula were involved in the slave trade for more than thousand years. They were in the trade before the Portuguese and Spanish started hauling away Africans as slaves to the Americas beginning the 16th century. But the Arabs were in the trade going back to the 8th century. It is reported that 12 million Africans were forcefully taken away from their homes and sold as slaves in the New World. Those 12 million original slaves now have more than 50 million descendants living everywhere in the Americas. The Arabs were taking Africans as slaves to the tune of 50,000 during several years across the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. Tens of millions of Africans were taken as slaves across the ocean to the Arabian Peninsula. You should ask where their descendants are now. What have they done with them? I don’t wanna refer to some of the folklores from the Arabian Arabian Peninsula. No I prefer not because that will boil your blood. But I will be asking the cardinal question: What had they done to my African brothers and sisters they took away as slaves? I don’t see that many colored folks except the recent migrants in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar and Iraq. According to some conservative estimates at least 20 million Africans were taken as slaves to the peninsula since the 9th century. Where are their descendants now? I better stop asking that question because it may boil your blood beyond you are able to control it. But the sad effect is some among us are still willing to bend over for the former slave masters.

  3. Everybody in Habasha Land listen. It is Af-Mishar here. I have just made a decision to contract a mining company here in California to dig up the vast uranium deposit in my country of Somalia. I have assembled a group of scientists to design a portable reactor based on a French blue print. I will then have them come up with two nuclear bombs and I will have no 2nd thought to use them on those hostile to my people. I will use the 1st one to wipe out every Amhara, Tigre, Sidama, Gambela, Beni Shangul and those Afars and Oromos who refused to convert themselves into Somali Aikas and Somali Abos. I will use the 2nd nuclear bomb to sniff out the last breath of every living Isaaq in Somaliland. Consider yourself forewarned!!!

  4. Did U.A.E. have to get permission from Somalia in 2016 for its Berbera acquisition? If yes, then Somalia is playing a double standard. Did U.A.E. ever seek and obtained permission from Somalia then? If no, then that spells a qualified recognition. Remember port acquisition is not an ordinary business transaction like trading rice and be paid in livestock. It is owning a landmass and a swath of seashore. Arabs yes but black folks, no! You think those segregated lunch counters from the 1960’s South are long gone. How wrong you are! But this lunch counter is claimed by black folks. John Lewis is turning is his grave when he hears this. Bend over for Arabs but lance rattling for fellow black folks! Gitlow is still alive and kicking!

  5. You see, the Ethiopian government officials committed one major mistake when they signed the MOU with Somaliland. First and foremost they should have ontained permission from the masters of Somalia in Dubai, Doha, Muscat, Kuwait, Riyadh, and probably in Al-Qahirah. Once they get the green light from these masters and then they could have gotten the rubber stamped permission from Mogadishu. How did they miss that? I could have told them that even during my afternoon nap. You don’t just barge in and bypass the masters of the servile state. Don’t forget Somalia is a land of Arabs. I never knew you can escape being an abd/house nigger by becoming a member of an Arab League. Hey Abiy! Hey Ahmed Shide! Get the permission in writing from the Ol’ Cap’n Cotchipee’s in those capitals first and then you can head to Mogadishu to get it rubber stamped. See how easy and flawless it is!!!


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