On Monday, an agreement signed in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and President Muse Bihi Abdi of the breakaway republic of Somaliland preceded a shocking announcement that has already set the tone for interstate relations in the Horn of Africa this year.
The memorandum of understanding was for the leasing of 20km (12 miles) of Somaliland’s sea coast to landlocked Ethiopia. In exchange, Somaliland will receive shares in its neighbour’s flagship carrier, Ethiopian Airlines – and receive formal recognition as a sovereign state.
International recognition has been a long-sought goal for Somaliland, a region in northern Somalia that has enjoyed de facto independence since 1991. But the groundbreaking agreement has created shockwaves in the region and fury in Somalia, which views it as a hostile violation of Somalia’s sovereignty.
“As a government, we have condemned and rejected the illegal infringement of Ethiopia into our national sovereignty and territorial integrity yesterday,” Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said in a statement on X shortly after convening an emergency cabinet session on Tuesday. “Not an inch of Somalia can or will be signed away by anybody.”
In Ethiopia, where for much of 2023 the government stressed the economic need for a seaport and even subtly hinted at possibly invading Eritrea for access to the Red Sea, the deal is being portrayed as a victory.
But the terms of that victory differ for Ethiopia and Somaliland, and that could further complicate the situation in the coming days.