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HomeOpinionEthiopia’s Maritime Access from Somaliland: Is it a Blessing or a Curse? 

Ethiopia’s Maritime Access from Somaliland: Is it a Blessing or a Curse? 

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By Fessehaye Kidane
Eritrea, Asmara

On January 1, 2024, Ethiopia’s government opened a new Pandora Box in the Horn of Africa. Soon after it signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Somaliland so as to get maritime access, all of a sudden the decision and treaties backfired against its expectations. The MOU states that Somaliland, which is unrecognized by the international community as a sovereign nation, would lease more than 20 kilometers of its Red Sea coastline to Ethiopia for 50 years. In return, the Somaliland government expects to get political recognition from Ethiopia in spite of Ethiopia is mum so far on the issue of recognition. Nonetheless, regardless of Ethiopia’s silence and intrigues on the matter of recognition for the time being, according to some circumstantial evidence, the unwritten terms of the MOU proves to Ethiopia full port ownership and large swatches of land around the Awdal region of Somaliland’s coast. However, voices of political disapproval on Ethiopia’s miscalculation are roaring more than ever before, not only from Somalia but also from the Arab League countries as well. As a matter of fact, there is no doubt that such opposition and condemnations from different African countries, regional and international organizations, even including from its own citizens, was imminent and a foregone conclusion. Moreover, the fact that the Somali government unequivocally rejected the deal as a violation of Somalia’s political unity, territorial sovereignty and integrity is the most challenging factor. Far beyond that, such an untimely deal between a sovereign country, Ethiopia, and another secessionist state, Somaliland, has even become a rallying point of some African countries. On top of all, the most challenging warning was from Egypt which sided with Somalia warning and ensured that it would even move up to the extent of defending militarily if asked or deemed necessary. As a result, the Ethiopian government seems to trap itself in dilemmas and quandaries as to how it would manage and escape from its own creations.   

On the one hand, as far as Ethiopia and Somaliland port deal was concerned, it seems that every observer of the Horn of Africa’s politics was amazed and at the same time dismayed as well both with the publicity of the accord at the eve of the New Year and the sudden revelation of the secret pact of both entities. On the other hand, there are also other political pundits who may be worried about the absurdness of the deal with Ethiopia since it may be a security threat first and foremost to Ethiopia itself besides its internal crisis. However, the ones who are seasoned about the lack of political integrity, carelessness, irresponsibility, fecklessness, egoism and attention seeking trends of the Premier of Ethiopia are not surprised despite the fact that the deal has no legal basis. As a matter of fact, it is very controversial when one is to see it from a perspective of Ethiopia’s unstable and insecure political situation. The reason that multiple armed rebel factions such as Fano in Amhara region and Oromo militias who control most of Oromia region are fighting to their political rights or self-determinations are not to be quelled or appeased whether Ethiopia’s rhetoric of sea accesses or otherwise is materialized or not.  Unlike the Premier’s day-in-and day-out preaching that ‘Ethiopia’s existence as a nation is linked to sea,’ to the contrary, Ethiopian citizens at large and armed groups in particular are aware of that there is no doubt that Ethiopia is blessed with abundant natural resources and abundant arable lands which can feed all Ethiopians. Accordingly, the political strife and armed conflicts which are gaining momentum day by day in Ethiopia is not a matter of sea access, but simply to regain and enjoy peace, security, unity and equality of ethnic groups and religions in their own country and in all walks of life.   

In its age-long history, Ethiopia has never experienced an internal security risk and territorial integrity as well as harmony of its people as of Menelik’s era of governance all the way up to Hailesilasse’s throne and even in Menghistu’s time of 17 years rule while the bitter armed struggle resistance of Eritreans was in place.  However, within five years of Abiy’s governing period, it is unfortunate that Ethiopia has witnessed fragility of peace and security which the government is unable to control. Accordingly, there is no question that the prime priority of Ethiopia right at the moment is ensuring security and unity of the country and people. There seems no doubt that  sea access or otherwise, which may be dealt with peacefully anytime in the future upon building a united Ethiopia as a primary project of nation-building is a secondary issue as the country is in more quagmire than any time before. In stark contrast, a Prime Minister who does not control 60% of his country’s territory, however, opted to materialize his hallucination of sea access, notably selecting a weak state of Somalia regardless of the consequences ahead. 

It is not a historical amnesia that Ethiopia and Somalia had feuds and difficulties as neighbors as of the 1960s till the late 1970s. Somalia, however, lost its statehood in 1991 while at the same time the TPLF-EPRDF government of Ethiopia assumed power upon Mengistu’s defeat. As of this time onwards, Somalia’s resuscitation to be a political nation fell under the support and blessing of the international community. In this case, supposedly including Ethiopia’s political involvement and sharing of its army was found to be vital as far as the fundamentalist Islamist Al Shabab faction became a threat both to Somalia and the Horn of Africa as well. Nonetheless, at the time Ethiopia, under the premiership of late Meles Zenawi, misused its support making use of it for its own advantage. As such, Ethiopian invasion of Somalia followed in 2006.  Later on, according to close sources of the TPLF leader, it is assured that Meles was heard to have recanted on his ‘big mistake’ of occupying Somalia’s territories. One of Meles’ close friends, Alex de Waal, revealed that Ethiopia’s former premier’s concern was not the Jihadists in Somalia, but rather he was worried about Eritrea’s leader, Isaias Afewerki, agenda of dismantling Ethiopia (Reporter, February 2021). Quote in quote, “it is the Eritreans that are worried [Ethiopia], not the Somalis; we cannot give [Isaias] one inch,” the late Ethiopian leader confessed in his conversation with the British author. In this case, it is worth noting that the Ethiopian government made a serious foreign policy mistake at the expense of Somalia’s political unity just to deter Eritrea’s peaceful fingers out of Somalia. At the same time, Ethiopia’s current Prime Minister is also committing the same foreign policy mistake again at the expense of Somalia’s political and territorial integrity. In other words, Ethiopia due to its foreign policy mistakes seems to have chosen to be a messenger of proxy wars of western agendas as far as the Horn Region is concerned. 

In the meantime, it seems that the accord which is signed between Ethiopia and Somaliland may be interpreted as a pact of two desperate leaders. In this juncture, even the Somaliland president, Muse Bihi Abdi, seems to escape from Somaliland parties challenges who rebel to his leadership of secessionist policy in favor of a united Somalia. The fact that he agreed to offer maritime access to Ethiopia while he has been negotiating in Djibouti with the Somali president on Somali unity  a week ago is nothing but shows only to his double-standard dealings ostensibly to be free out of his legitimacy crisis at home. Be that as it may, however, Abiy Ahmed, as a legitimate leader of a sovereign country, counts more as far as keeping political and territorial integrity of any nation is concerned. In this regard, Ethiopia’s age-long service and experience of diplomacy makes it liable to uphold the rule of law putting the political sensitivity of matters into account. Above all, Ethiopia is a hub of the office of the African Union. As such, it is expected that it has to play a pivotal role not to violate international agreements and the sanctity of the colonial boundary of Somalia or otherwise. However, irrespective of Ethiopia’s need or priority of sea coast, the fact that it agreed with a secessionist state in Somalia may even invite either Tigray or Oromia to follow suit in any sort of independent political mandate and arrangement whether be it with Eritrea or Djibouti if need be. In this case, it is worth reminding that when the leader of the TPLF-Tigray used to communicate via various channels of communication either with US or UN officials during the Tigray War, it was utterly condemned by the Federal Government of Ethiopia at the time. For instance, as the rebel commander of the Sudanese Paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), General Mohammed Hamdan Degalo, was invited to attend in the 42nd Extraordinary Assembly of IGAD in Uganda, Entebbe, on January 18, 2024, why the de facto leader of Sudan, General Abdel-Fatah Burhan, refused to join him was nothing but to decline him statehood legitimacy. Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia as a state head, however, authorized a secessionist leader at their communiqué of the issue which is not good to the dignity and political status of Ethiopia. 

Moreover, the African political organizations, namely AU and IGAD, are expected to clarify their fair and firm stances for the sake of justice as far as the accord of Ethiopia and Somaliland is concerned. Ethiopia’s violation of Somali’s territorial integrity is not something to be spared or feared just because Ethiopia is the seat of the African Union office. However, both the AU and IGAD statements’ called ‘only for a de-escalation of tensions of Ethiopia and Somalia’ which actually seems to linger in a ‘gray area’ of diplomacy. As a matter of fact, such a stand tends to treat both the unlawful and victim equally which may only complicate matters and thereby invite other Western countries to intervene for their own vested-interests on African issues and conflicts. Even the AU’s nomination of former Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, as a mediator is only to digress from the main issue of concern. Earlier, what Mr. Olusegun Obasanjo mediated between the Ethiopian government and TPLF’s Tigray region peace deal is still pending with no progress on the ground. By the way, is Mr. Obasanjo the only smart and indispensable senior diplomat and peace maker in Africa? In this case, the party which is unlawful is Ethiopia, but not Somalia.  It is thus Ethiopia which has to retract its deal with Somaliland. The AU’s proposal of mediation has nothing to do if it is intended to bring Ethiopia and Somalia to a negotiation table. That’s why the Republic of Somalia has unequivocally rejected any sort of mediation bids.  In fact, be it the African Union or other nations of Africa, it is worth reminding that South Africa’s rational stand and measure on ‘Israeli’s brutal war of genocide and depopulation of Palestinians in Gaza’ has become a good example of  justice and humanity. The fact that the International Court of Justice (ICJ), on Friday 26, 2024, ‘ordered Israel to prevent acts of genocide in Gaza as an emergency measure’ has made South African initiative and application a well-acclaimed success story all over the world. As the South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, emphasized soon after the ICJ jurisdiction, ‘no one is above the law!’ The AU and IGAD, including other concerned African governments also must tell Ethiopia that ‘it is not above the law!’  

In the final analysis, perhaps what Abiy’s government termed as ‘win-win mutuality’ between Ethiopia and Somaliland maritime deal seems to serve not to Ethiopia and Ethiopians. Supposedly, if it was meant to serve for Ethiopia, the agreement ought to be between two sovereign nations: Ethiopia and Somalia. Rather, it appears that the Premier of Ethiopia who is an advocate of Oromia state rather than to the rest of Ethiopians is underpinning grounds for his fantasy of a Kush State. In other words, in case he loses power, whether in election or by coercion, his Oromia Prosperity Party is likely to declare a Secessionist State of Oromia which enjoys sea access in the Horn of Africa. Needless to say, even if the PM of Ethiopia chooses to implement his sea access deal with Somaliland while he is still at the helm of Ethiopian power, it would be a curse to Ethiopia. In this light, there may be a scenario ahead that it may push to some Red Sea countries to make alliances for a mutual defense pacts against Ethiopian aggression of territorial integrities and for the sake of the peace and security of the Horn Region putting in to consideration to respect colonial treaties as well.  The other scenario which may be posited is also that Somalia in particular may be a magnetic attraction and thereby countries like Egypt and Turkey may seek a military base in Somalia at the pretext of global powers’ competitions and interests. Nonetheless, whether the Ethio-Somaliland maritime accord would be a ‘blessing or a curse’ to Ethiopians in general is something which begs a question of the wisdom and political insight of Ethiopian political leaders!     

About the Writer 

H:\FishMiscelleneousFiles\FishBookPhoto.jpgFessehaye Kidane Melaky is based in Asmara. He is a cadre of education in the Eritrean Ministry of Education at the Office of the Minister. He is an author of two books namely ‘A Handbook: Anthology, Basic Tigrigna Grammar and Writing Clues (ማሕዘል ኣደ፥ መሰረት ሰዋስውን ስነ-ጽሕፈትን ቋንቋ ትግርኛ…; Tigrigna version, 2023) as well as an English one which is entitled ‘Star Reader: Zeal to Sacrifice, 2009.’  Besides, he has also written dozens of articles both in English and Tigrigna (mother-tongue language) versions in the State-owned Newspapers namely Eritrea Profile and New Eritrea. As a case in point, the writer’s recent publications in Eritrea Profile and Hadas Eritrea respectively include ‘From Home Song’ to ‘Family in an Ordeal’ (Shabait.com, Feb 16, 2019) and (መጕስዕ ኲናት ስነ-ልቦና ኽሳዕ መኣስ፧ ጋዜጣ ሓዳስ ኤርትራ፣ ሚያዝያ 2022 or ‘Rumination of Psychological Warfare: For How Long  Will It Last?’). Prior to that, he has contributed various articles regarding education, linguistics and grammar, book reviews and political history of Eritrea and Ethiopia. As of 2023, he has also contributed numerous articles to the borkena.com Website. 

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

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3 COMMENTS

  1. After reading this article the first time I was in disbelief that it was published on this website. Then I gave it the benefit of a doubt and read it again. It made me seriously doubt about all these allegations that there is no press freedom in Eritrea. I also started suspecting that this website is an outlet in the pockets of this writer and the regime he works for. I have no problem with that if that is a fact either because it is not the first time such arrangement was evident in the political and propaganda landscape meant to steer all that in the desired direction in Ethiopia. I remember in the good old days of the late 1960’s through the mid 1970’s. Someone rallying us bedeviling the late emperor on Sundays and that same person being seen shouting slogans like ‘The world should condemn Ethiopia’s bombing of civilians in Eritrea’ on Monday AM hours in the streets of major city in the West. Call it savvy or whatsoever. This is not from an individual’s perspective. This article is loaded with thinly veiled call for the removal of a leader of a sovereign nation by a paid employee/cadre of a foreign government.

  2. Once again I am asking my dear and over qualified editors how this article by a foreign government cadre is posted on this esteemed website? How? It bothers and bugs me a lot. How did that happen? I like many others would like to know how, if you may. Thanks a lot.

    • why are you so sick about a person giving his opinion on this page? He only wrote his opinion. He didn’t try to take away or snatch a piece of land like your childish PM.. And FYI, you wouldn’t have known who this writer if he hided his info, but on the contrary he briefly describe who he is. you should applaud for him for that.

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