Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government has been experiencing strained relations, to say the least, with Ethiopia’s neighboring country. This tension escalated in November 2023 when Abiy Ahmed made a statement asserting Ethiopia’s right to access the Red Sea. The situation deteriorated further after his government signed a Memorandum of Understanding agreement with Somaliland, the breakaway region Somalia regards as just Northern Somalia, on January 1, 2024.
Somalia viewed the MoU agreement as a “violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity.” In response, it has been mobilizing support from multilateral organizations, such as the Arab League, and state actors like Eritrea and Egypt, among others.
On his first overseas trip since the MoU agreement, which happens to be to Uganda where the Non-Aligned Movement summit is taking place and where heads of state from various countries convened, he seized the opportunity to clarify his government’s pursuit of access to the sea.
He tweeted :
“In my remarks today during the 19th Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Non-Aligned Movement, I reiterated that landlocked countries face insurmountable challenges hindering their ability to fulfill the demands of their people for adequate and sustained livelihoods and to ensure their development.
Ethiopia continues to seek a peaceful, mutually beneficial, and negotiated solution to such a challenge.”
If the MoU agreement with Somaliland takes root, Ethiopia will have access to a twenty-kilometer stretch of coastal land on a fifty-year lease basis. In return, Ethiopia is obligated to transfer a percentage of shares from national assets, such as Ethiopian Airlines and Ethio-Telecom. Recognizing the independence of Somaliland is also a condition that Somaliland expects Ethiopia to fulfill. The political and diplomatic price Ethiopia is already paying for it is significant. Some observers tend to view Ethiopia’s MoU agreement with Somaliland as equivalent to recognizing Somaliland as a sovereign state.
There have been concerns that the situation could escalate into an outright war between Ethiopia and Somalia. State actors and multilateral organizations have been urging the two countries to engage in negotiations, a proposal that Somalia is currently rejecting. The government of Somalia states, “There is no room for mediation unless Ethiopia retracts its illegal MoU and reaffirms the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ethiopia.”
PM Abiy returned to Addis Ababa on the same day. Fana Broadcasting Corporation (FBC), the state media, reported that the PM held discussions with Kenyan President William Ruto and Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe on the sidelines of the summit. He also engaged in discussions with Akinwumi Adesina, the President of the African Development Bank. FBC did not specify the subject matter of the sideline discussions.
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