As tensions escalate, Somalia dismisses Ethiopian Ambassador

Map of Somalia showing Puntland and Somaliland regions
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In an apparent escalation of tension between Somalia and Ethiopia, Somalia has expelled the Ethiopian ambassador in Mogadishu. It went further by threatening to shut down two Ethiopian consulates, one in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland and another in the independent region of Somaliland, although I remains unclear how it intended to enforce this decision given its apparent lack of leverage.

This action follows heightened discord over a contentious memorandum of understanding (MoU), which essentially set Ethiopia on course to recognizing Somaliland’s statehood, a move that has raised concerns about further destabilization in the Horn of Africa.

The focal point of the port agreement revolves around Ethiopia leasing a stretch of coastline measuring 20 kilometers in Somaliland, a territory that Somalia lays claim to, despite protestation from Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, which declared itself independent in 1991, and has been striving for international recognition as an independent nation ever since. Despite this, Somalia vehemently opposes such recognition and maintains that Somaliland falls under its sovereignty.

Ethiopia, the world’s largest landlocked nation by population, says it needs a reliable seaport and a navy that serve its ambitious economic and strategic interests. The MoU, inked on January 1st with Somaliland, would grant Ethiopia permission to establish a naval base in a 20 kilometer stretch of coastal territory north of the port of Berbera. In return, Ethiopia has proposed the potential recognition of Somaliland, and or granting Somaliland shares in key state-owned assets, such as Ethiopian Airlines and Ethio-Telecom.

This latest move by Mogadishu appears to be triggered by Ethiopia’s receiving of Mohammed Farah Mohammed, Finance Minister of Puntland, another semiautonomous region on the verge of breaking away from Somalia. According to the Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign affairs, “The two delegations explored collaborative opportunities in trade, investment, energy cooperation, and joint infrastructure projects to bolster and broaden the ties between the two sides”. 

Somalia’s response has been characterized by defiance, with President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud warning in February that his nation would “stand its ground” should Ethiopia proceed with the agreement. Given Somalia’s anarchic domestic politics, President Hassan risks appearing weak, especially since Ethiopian peace keeping troops secure significant swaths of territory in Somalia, which faces increasing threats from Al Shabab terrorists. This stance has precipitated a diplomatic standoff, as Somalia vehemently opposes both the port arrangement and Ethiopia’s broader strategic objectives in the area.

Distrust of President Hassan among Ethiopian authorities reached an all-time high after his recent visit to Cairo, in an apparent closing of ranks with Egypt, a country considered to be a strategic rival by most Ethiopians. The atmosphere remains charged, raising concerns about the need for international intervention to mitigate the dispute and prevent further escalation in the region. Given the Horn of Africa’s existing array of conflicts and humanitarian challenges, the port agreement has the potential to aggravate an already fragile situation.

The trajectory of the Ethiopia-Somaliland MoU remains largely hidden from public, and the overall Somalia-Ethiopia relationship is uncertain. Their history is marked by a mix of conflict and collaboration, leaving the resolution of this particular issue uncertain. As events unfold, the ramifications for regional stability could be substantial.

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