NAIROBI, Kenya (Mogadishu24) – For the Horn of Africa, 2024 has started with a contentious agreement that has set the stage for a tense year ahead.
On Monday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed hosted Muse Bihi Abdi, president of the breakaway region of Somaliland, in the capital Addis Ababa.
The two leaders signed a memorandum of understanding for Ethiopia to lease a 20-kilometer (12-mile) stretch of coastal land in Somaliland, giving the landlocked nation crucial access to the Red Sea through the port of Berbera.
In return, according to various reports, Somaliland will get shares in Ethiopian Airlines, Ethiopia’s flag carrier, and possibly formal recognition of its sovereignty, something that has remained elusive since the former British protectorate declared independence from Somalia in 1991.
As expected, Somalia has lashed out at the agreement, terming it a violation of its sovereignty and recalling its ambassador from Ethiopia.
Mogadishu has drawn support from major regional and international players, including the US, UK, EU and Türkiye.

  • Ethiopia has ‘right to access Red Sea’
    Ethiopia lost its Red Sea ports in the early 1990s after the Eritrean War of Independence, which ran from 1961 to 1991, when Eritrea gained independence.
    According to foreign policy analyst Midamba Noah, Ethiopia does have “a right to access the Red Sea, but they are going about it the wrong way.”
    “Ethiopia needs access to the sea. They cannot afford to be landlocked the way they are. It is a very strong state militarily and economically,” Noah, the former vice chancellor of KCA University in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, told Anadolu.
    “These things have to be negotiated. War will not resolve these issues.”
    The strategic significance of Ethiopia having access to the Red Sea “cannot be overstated,” he said.
    “The area not only serves as a vital gateway for Ethiopia to boost its trade capabilities, but also marks a crucial step towards reducing the nation’s dependency on other countries for maritime transit,” he explained.
    “The Red Sea, with its potential for increased economic opportunities, positions Ethiopia at the crossroads of regional trade dynamics, fostering self-reliance and bolstering the nation’s economic resilience.”
    Patrick Maluki, an expert on international relations, pointed out that Ethiopia has so far not officially recognized Somaliland as a sovereign state.
    According to him, Somaliland should have sought consent from Mogadishu before signing the deal.
    “This, right now, is not recognition. Somaliland should get into discussions with Somalia to determine what rights it can exercise within the confederation of Somaliland and Somalia,” he told Anadolu.
    “Taking Somaliland back to the situation of chaos that we have seen over the years will not be fair.”
  • ‘Regional dominoes tumble’
    Regarding Somalia’s strong reaction, Hassan Khannenje, director of the HORN International Institute for Strategic Studies, said it reflects “the complex dynamics of regional diplomacy.”
    This shows that there is a “need for constructive dialogue to address mutual interests and ensure enduring stability in the Horn of Africa,” he said.Egypt, a crucial player in the region due to its Nile River interests, has thrown its weight behind Somalia, pledging security and stability assistance.
    Experts warn that could have serious geopolitical implications, putting Egypt at loggerheads with Ethiopia, a fellow Nile Basin nation with whom it has cooperated on water resource management, as well as far-reaching consequences for diplomatic relations and water politics in the Horn of Africa.“As regional dominoes tumble in the Horn of Africa, the alignment of Egypt with Somalia marks a significant turning point in the delicate balance of power,” said Noah.
    “This geopolitical shift, fueled by divergent interests in the Nile River, not only amplifies tensions between Egypt and Ethiopia, but also sets the stage for a complex interplay of alliances that could reshape the entire regional landscape.”The analyst cautioned that in the face of escalating tensions and potential conflicts, there could be a looming risk of more humanitarian crises.
    This could result in disruptions to trade, widespread displacement, and other cascading consequences stemming from the prevailing instability, he added.
  • Future uncertain, diplomacy crucial
    All the experts warned that the Red Sea access deal has ignited a tinderbox, calling on Somalia and Ethiopia to focus on strategic diplomacy to avoid plunging the Horn of Africa into a new cycle of violence.“This can become an external war which will affect the greater Horn of Africa,” said Noah.
    “If I was Ethiopia right now, I would actively engage with IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development), African Union, and an emissary from the East African Community, like Kenya, and get dialogue going.”
    Maluki warned that “failure to address concerns diplomatically may lead to strained relationships among neighboring nations and key regional partners.”
    “In this delicate situation, the future is uncertain, making diplomacy crucial to navigate potential challenges and maintain regional stability,” he stressed.The analyst also warned of “grave economic consequences” for Ethiopia, saying that the situation could affect its critical trade relations and economic partnerships.​​​​​​​

By Andrew Wasike

Source: AA

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