Dehai News Somaliland’s Desperate Pursuit For Recognition And Addis Ababa’s Holy Grail Of Port – OpEd

Posted by: Berhane Habtemariam

Date: Thursday, 09 May 2024


Landlocked Ethiopia seeks access to the Red Sea, but Somaliland needs to gain global recognition for the leasing of its idle ports. Ethiopia, in talks with Somaliland, has angered Somalia. The President of Somalia argues that Somalia’s sovereignty is sacrosanct. The world in genral has opposed the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Somaliland and Ethiopia. The diversity of its ethnic makeup rules out Addis’s desire to balkanize another nation no matter how hostile, but it’s not a worthy fight. Tigray has had friendly ties with Somaliland for the last thirty years, but it has refused to formally recognize it. This was a red line.

The former Prime Minister, Melez Zenawi, sent many Ethiopian forces to Mogadishu to battle Al-Shabab militants aiming to crush them before they crossed into Ethiopia. Somaliland put the Berbera port at Ethiopia’s disposal. They could import military hardware there unchecked, whenever they needed it. Somaliland begged for recognition but Ethiopia remained stubborn. The international condemnation poured down before Addis Ababa signed the new contract. Somalia’s diplomatic clout was in full force. The Western powers opposed the agreement as the Atlantic wrote. “On the social platform X, some pro-Somaliland users prematurely celebrated Somaliland becoming the fifty-fifth state in Africa—despite it not having yet won any additional recognition globally.”

These were not teens posting on X for fun. They were mostly Somaliland officials who wanted to mislead the voters. The voters saw the government defeated militarily on August 25. It has also failed economically and became more isolated diplomatically. Djibouti kicked out the Somaliland representative in less than 24 hours. He was seen packing his luggage into a bus heading to Hargeisa. Djibouti fears they will lose the exclusive agent for Ethiopia’s shipping industry.

The MOU is a consensus among major parties. Kulmiye and Waddani agreed to hire ports to Ethiopia. But, the ongoing debate is on how to do so. But it’s also a consensus that Addis Ababa must recognize Somaliland first before their vessels move to the Red Sea. The MOU is opaque and remains a mystery to Somalilanders. Ethiopia says it wants a naval base and a port on something like a hire-purchase. It mentions no recognition.

But, the Hargeisa administration agrees to the base. They say they agreed to get recognition in return. The more they talk about the MOU, the more they divert from each other’s talking points. Mogadishu, the legal entity for all, opposed Addis Ababa’s approach. They want to enter the door, not from the window. Close sources say the DP World contract to invest in the Berbera port expansion was signed by President Sheikh Hassan. 

Silanyo signed it formally. He was a diplomat and a senior statesman of Somalia. At this stage, Somaliland exists as a de facto state. But, it can’t enter international agreements. So, President Muse put a requirement before signing the MOU into a contract. This is understandable. Both sides stick to their point, so it’s a Catch-22. Addis Ababa has downplayed the recognition. As mentioned, the key details of the MOU haven’t been shown to Somaliland’s legislatures and the public.

The MOU says Somaliland will get shares in the Ethiopia Airlines, whihc has angered many intellectuals in Somaliland and the diaspora. It’s argued that the airline is a shop could go bankrupt. If Ethiopia is serious about the deal—many argue—why don’t they give Somaliland a share in the Nile Dam? It would supply almost free electricity to power small factories and keep them buzzing. More questions than answers bubble up whenever dug.

The MOU is more complicated than one can imagine. Ethiopia once access to the Red Sea and was labelled “King of The Red Sea.” That was before Eritrea seceded. Now Ethiopia claims it has every right to use the idle ports in the Horn of Africa because their maritime trade is close to two billions of dollars and the threat by Houthis to the vital supply chain makes the matter more urgent. Israel is also keen to see Ethiopian war ships floating in the Red Sea and to pay handsomely to escort Israeli merchant vessels all the way to the Haifa port.

On the other hand, the State of Israel has huge leverage in the global corridors of powers, both at 10 Downing Street and the White House and can accelerate the recognition that Somaliland has desperately wanted for decades. However, Israel doesn’t want to clearly back Ethiopia’s demands and their presence in the Red Sea. Somaliland’s ruling party Kulmiye doesn’t have the political capacity to engage with Jerusalem. Street mobs and Wahhabi dictates the foreign policy of Somaliland. President Muse Bihi, while killing innocent lives in Las Anod, had called for his country to stand with Gaza without mentioning the horrific massacre of October 7 that triggered the deadly assault on Gaza. The world accused him of shelling mosques and hospitals in Las Anod indiscriminately.

He accused Israel of shelling places of worship and health facilities in his speech, many call him the pot calling the kettle black. The president’s speech sounded more like a layman’s. The Gaza assault didn’t start in a vacuum.

Somaliland didn’t prepare the public to handle a modern government and respecting different opinions is a closed book among the clannish politicians at the helm. The Isse tribe’s loyalty lies in Djibouti much like Issaaq’s in Djibouti to Somaliland. If the MOU doesn’t please regional players’ opposing interests they may set the region on fire.

Somaliland has been waiting recognition for more than three decades, but President Muse insists he found the holy grail in Addis Ababa! But ,Ethiopia so far hasn’t taken any step towards this goal.

Two years ago, in an interview with VOA Somali, President Muse refuted rumors that Ethiopia wants to occupy Zeila port in the western region of Somaliland, only 552 km away from Ethiopia’s border. Now, he portrays himself as “a champion” for the landlocked country of about 130 million people to have a free access to the Red Sea. Was he playing devil’s advocate?

The MOU is a matter of life and death for Djibouti. It relies on Ethiopia’s unloading and loading of goods and earns about 1.5 billion annually. As such, any free access by Ethiopia is death kneel to Somaliland’s economy

For the sake of the argument, does Addis Ababa’s recognition matter to Somaliland? Can Addis force other major African countries like SA or Nigeria to follow suit? Many respected analysts say Addis Ababa bears no weight as deadly wars are raging around the capital as it’s heading into notorious Somalia’s style fragmentation: Tigray, Amhara, and Oromo are fighting for senseless wars.

Instead, the recognition of one country may complicate the matter and further global isolation. This desperate approach: SEA FOR RECOGNITION (Ku Badallo Badda Cas Aqoonsi), an initiative of the ruling party Kulmiye can be an insanely strategic mistake; Somalis coinned the hashtag: Our Sea isn’t for Sale. Many say Addis Ababa already withdrew because it caused a huge global backlash as it alienated many key allies, and it’s counterproductive.

Somaliland still struggles with the aftermath of a previously strategic mistake of making a unilateral declaration of independence UDI that ruled out any hope of securing recognition unless Mogadishu agrees. South Sudan learnt the hard and sought the blessing of Khartoum to part ways, so did Eritrea. President Bihi, ex-military man, a novice in diplomacy surrounded by mediocre politicians and a bunch of yes-men of his tribe entertains his rabble that the recognition is coming because he wasn’t serious about it before! Because of the historic animosity between Somalia and Ethiopia, any nod by Addis Ababa would cause a global furor. The late Prime Minister Zenawi knew it and abstained from interfering because it’s an internal issue among Somali brothers and sisters unless they get a stalemate and ask an arbitration.

Somaliland’s ruling party is misusing Addis Ababa as a campaign tool to convince the voters they secured a recognition. “See what we did. You can travel to Gondor, done!”

Even if it happened, mark my words, any recognition by the hellbent country would backfire.  For example, the recognition of several countries: North Korea, Russian and Syria to Donetsk People’s Republic DPR didn’t help. Neither did its economy grow nor is travel unrestricted to the rest of the world despite being an ally to Russia, which holds a veto power and a member of the UN Security Council. Muse’s trenched cronies’ expectations in Addis Ababa are high as they think the Prime Minister can force AU member countries to follow.

Addis Ababa may get what it wants willy-nilly either from Mogadishu or from Hargeisa without subjecting itself to global condemnation and threats of cutting aid. Somalilanders urges Addis to follow the UAE’s approach in regard to DP World and stay out of inner fighting inside Somaliland to not exacerbate the deep internal division of the society. The port rental in Somaliland is nonpartisan politics and a national issue without ifs and buts. It’s time Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed should ask President Muse to delay the project and resume the completion of the contract after Somaliland’s presidential election because he has a little mandate otherwise the majority of Somalilanders would view Abiy’s government “as unneeded spoiler” for their fragile country.


Abdirahman Mohamed Duale

   *Abdirahman Mohamed Duale is a freelance journalist and political commentator based in Hargeisa. He can be contacted at @mrdirye

ERi-TV, Eritrea - ጸብጻብ ዑደት ፕረዚደንት ኢሳይያስ ኣፈወርቂ ኣብ ዋዕላ ደቡብ ኮርያ አፍሪቃ | Reportage on President Isaias Afwerki's visit to South Korea for the South Korea-Africa Summit, held from June 3-4

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