Government security forces killed at least 60 civilians in an attack in Ethiopia’s northern Amhara region of Merawi. (Photo: @AbiyAhmedAli/Twitter)

Ethiopia May Revoke Plan to Recognize Somaliland

News Politics

■ Deal with breakaway region for sea access angered Somalia. US, UN urged a regional approach to de-escalate tensions.

Ethiopia is considering scrapping a plan to recognize the breakaway state of Somaliland, amid international pressure to defuse regional tensions over the proposal, according to people familiar with the matter.

Landlocked Ethiopia signed an initial agreement with Somaliland in January that would make it the first nation to recognize the sovereignty of the semi-autonomous region of Somalia, in return for 50 years of access to the Gulf of Aden.

The accord triggered an uproar in neighboring countries, with Somalia saying it would “defend its territorial integrity” and Egypt and other nations urging caution. During recent talks in Nairobi with Kenyan President William Ruto, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed expressed his willingness to “step back” from the deal’s most controversial elements in an effort to restore relations with Somalia, said the people who asked not to be identified as they’re not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Ethiopian officials privately told foreign officials that the country may be willing to “drop its recognition” of Somaliland, according to five foreign officials who were briefed on Addis Abeba’s stance. Ruto also raised the matter in a meeting with Somalian President Hassan Sheikh, who was visiting Kenya at the same time as Abiy.

While Ethiopia hasn’t officially withdrawn from the Somaliland deal, with Abiy keen on coastal access, major donors warn the pact could ignite conflict in an unstable region. Somalia deems it “illegal” and an “annexation.”

The US and UN caution it may allow al-Shabaab militants to exploit the situation for recruitment. [BLOOMBERG]
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Why Somaliland?

Over the years, Somaliland’s leaders have established a relatively stable, effective, and democratic de facto state that more or less possesses all the empirical traits of statehood. The former British colony is trying to release itself from the rest of Somalia, a former Italian colony that was unified with Somaliland in 1960. Somalia continues to have its juridical statehood recognized despite its lack of a strong central government for decades.

Ethiopia’s reason for signing this deal is to try and overcome its landlocked status, which presents significant political and economic drawbacks. Most notably, Addis Ababa makes annual payments of around 1.5 billion U.S. dollars to the government of Djibouti for use of its port.

However, without significant investments in infrastructure, the MoU is unlikely to affect the import and export of goods from southern Ethiopia, which is currently better linked with ports in the Kenyan cities of Mombasa and, in the future, Lamu.

Ethiopia has sought an agreement with Eritrea, its northern neighbor, but has been unable to reach one because of fluctuating relations. Eritrean troops fought alongside the Ethiopian military during the war in Tigray, but relations soured after Abiy signed a peace deal in November 2022 with President Isaias Afwerki’s rivals in Tigray.

Abiy’s rhetoric about Ethiopia’s ties to the Red Sea raised Eritrean suspicions of restorationist ambitions on the part of Ethiopian leaders. Tensions arose after Abiy used the words of nineteenth century Abyssinian warriors as justification for Ethiopia’s apparent desire to reclaim its access to the sea through Eritrea, either diplomatically or by force.

[By Jussi Grut| Ethiopia Insight – Ethiopia’s Somaliland gambit rattles a shaky Horn]