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ModernDiplomacy.eu: Ethiopia’s diplomatic retreat: The case of portal deal politics with Somaliland

Posted by: Berhane Habtemariam

Date: Thursday, 14 March 2024

Following Ethiopia's 2018 internal political reform, the country has seen a backsliding in diplomatic relations. This retreat into diplomacy occurs as a result of Abiy Ahmed’s administration approaching novice and weak diplomats.

Following Ethiopia’s 2018 internal political reform, the country has seen a backsliding in diplomatic relations. This retreat into diplomacy occurs as a result of Abiy Ahmed’s administration approaching novice and weak diplomats, which are the members of the Prosperity Gospel Cabinet and Oromo elites, without any meritocracy line. This essay focuses on the recent diplomatic agreement between Somaliland and Ethiopia. The agreement between Ethiopia and the de facto state of Somaliland is one of the many examples of failed diplomacy.  

As part of his main political agenda, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed stated on October 13, 2023, that his landlocked country has the right to demand maritime access to a Red Sea port from its neighbors through diplomatic efforts or in force, even though the government of Ethiopia needs to prioritize addressing the country’s present political and economic complications, which include anti-orthodox Christian movements, genocide against Semitic peoples, the economic slump, famine, and corruption.

This essay contends that just one of the following four issues could be the source of the Prime Minister’s claim of port. One, Abiy Ahmed, brought up the port issue as a result of agenda-setting to deflect attention from domestic political squabbling.

The Amhara ethnic group’s Fano Force has been at odds with Abiy Ahmed’s administration lately, citing the ongoing genocide against Amhara ethnic groups. In light of this, Abiy is eager to highlight national concerns like port that might get Amhara’s attention and undermine the Amhara Fano Force struggle with support from the Amhara ethnic group. This is not feasible since Amhara ethnic communities no longer have as much faith in the Abiy Ahmed administration.

Second, Abiy Ahmed administration has been using Somaliland as a mitigating excuse for Horn of Africa separatist states. Oromo nationalists have been envisioning the sovereign state of Oromia’s independence since the 1960s. In connection with this, the port proposal may use the recognition of Somaliland as a pretext for a request to recognize Oromia as an independent sovereign state.  

However, this will not be reconciled and can lead to ethnic conflicts between Oromo and Somali ethnic groups since Somali and Somalia elites have a great passion to create great Somalia by integrating Ethiopian-Somali with Great Somalia, extending the territory deep into Oromia-Ethiopia, and on the other hand, Oromo elites are interested in creating the great sovereign state of Oromia under the Gada political system with territorial incorporation of Somaliland. 

Third, the UAE, which has been providing financial and military support to the Abiy Ahmed Administration and has taken charge of the humanitarian catastrophe for Semitic Peoples, has been ambitious to establish a foothold in ports along the Red Sea and push Abiy to make a deal with Somaliland, despite challenges from the powerful state of Eritrea.

Forth, once the Abiy’s administration acknowledges that the government cannot manage Eurobond issues, it could bring up the port’s agenda topic. Hence, obtaining a port can help the Abiy Ahmed’s administration in supporting its financial position and reducing the currency cost of importing products, but this is not possible by the illegal move of gaining a port.

As a result of one of the four spring points of interest, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed attempted to use a carrot strategy to persuade President Isayas Afeworki to put forward an interest in port, which boosted Eritrea’s level of anxiety and spurred Isayas to escalate his campaign against Ethiopia by coordinating other Horn countries, which eventually prompted Abiy to look for alternative routes to reach port.

Abiy’s ambition has been given precedence over the de facto state of Somaliland, although Somalia views Somaliland as a part of its territory. During a civil conflict in the south of the country in 1991, Somaliland declared its autonomy from Somalia and has governed autonomously ever since. However, neither the AU nor the UN recognizes Somaliland as a separate political entity.

Knowing this, Abiy made a landmark pact with Muse Bihi Abdi, president of Somaliland, on January 1, 2024, to lease 20 km around the port of Berbera, with access to the Red Sea, for 50 years for its navy after recognizing Somaliland as an independent nation-state. After this, backers of Abiy Ahmed hailed it as a significant diplomatic achievement; Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed even posted on X that “all that can be said is thank God” without realizing the agreement’s diplomatic shortcomings. 

Thereby, this agreement has drawn strong criticism from around the world and enraged Somalia, which has referred to the action as an act of hostility. Several countries, notably the United States of America, have denounced Ethiopia’s action by citing the African Charter and the 1960 territories of the sovereign state of the Republic of Somalia. 

Somaliland is a vital element of Somalia’s territory. Any action that could lead to an agreement with any country without Mogadishu’s consent is an infringement on sovereignty and might hamper peace and stability. Subsequently, Somalia—which considers Somaliland to be a part of its territory—called in its envoy to Ethiopia to discuss the deal.  

Then, in a symbolic move intended to chastise both parties for a deal that has heightened tensions throughout the Horn of Africa, Somalia’s president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, signed a bill on January 7, 2024, nullifying a preliminary agreement for Somaliland that would have allowed landlocked Ethiopia port access to Somaliland’s coast, considering the agreement a serious threat to the sovereignty of Somalia. 

If Ethiopia continues playing this illegal diplomatic game without Somalia’s permission, it will go to war. Due to its internal conflict with paramilitary rebel groups Fano and 50-year-old emaciated fighters of the Oromo Liberation Front, Ethiopia would suffer from the war with Somalia. 

In conclusion, Ethiopia’s landlocked agreement with Somaliland could negatively impact regional security dynamics and cannot pave the way for sea access. Ethiopia’s relations with other countries in the Horn of Africa, particularly with Somalia, will be affected by the recognition of Somaliland.  

Due to Somalia’s refusal to officially recognize Somaliland’s independence, there will be a resurgence of hostilities and military confrontation with Ethiopia if Ethiopia becomes the first country to recognize Somaliland as a sovereign state, as stated in the agreement. In addition, since Ethiopia shares economic ties with Somalia and Somaliland, oasis on the agreement, giving recognition to Somaliland could impact trade routes and economic cooperation with Somalia.

Ethiopian domestic political security will reach unmitigating status.  The agreement may have an impact on Ethiopian-Somali communities, as Ethiopia is home to a sizable Somali-speaking population. Communities of Ethiopian-Somali people will grow more devoted to and united with Somalia; this will result in a political crisis in the southern part of Ethiopia.  

The Oromo Liberation Front and the Fano Force will have the opportunity to establish a military network with other rebel groups in the Horn of Africa and gain access to military supplies from Somalia and Eritrea, which are annoyed by Abiy Ahmed’s unacquiescent diplomatic maneuvers. This, in turn, escalates conflicts in the Horn of Africa. 

Having said that, this essay emphasizes that while the search for a port is appropriate, the Ethiopian government must address domestic political concerns first. Then, by fortifying diplomatic ties and raising the subject of international law with neighboring countries in the Horn of Africa, it can employ a temporary workaround to secure access to a port. 

 
Agenagn Kebede
Asst. Prof in department of Political Science and International Relations, Injibara University, Injibara, Ehiopia.

ሓይልን ጽባቐን ኤርትራዊት ጓል ኣንስተይቲ - መንእሰያት ደቂ ኣንስትዮ ሳዋ | Walta EDF TV show for July 14, 2024 - ERi-TV

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