The Habesha: Latest Ethiopian News, Analysis and Articles

English French German Hebrew Swedish Spanish Italian Arabic Dutch

Ethio-Somaliland MOU is Not Peaceful and Not Reliable

By Amanuel T. Muhzun

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali with Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in Addis Ababa in the beginning of January 2024. The agreement proposes a lease of twenty kilometres of maritime space on the Indian Ocean near the port of Berbera for fifty (50) years concession to landlocked Ethiopia for commercial and naval use, in exchange for a promise to recognize Somaliland as a sovereign state and provide stakes in Ethiopia’s lucrative state-owned enterprises.

Ethiopia lost formal access to the Red Sea when its Eritrea Province seceded in April 1993. Furthermore, the disagreement and destructive wars between the two governments forced Ethiopia to use the ports of Djibouti since 1998 at expensive rates. Both governments failed miserably for decades to deal with each other’s differences and lost the inalienable interests between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The continuity of that unfortunate circumstance has been causing a geopolitical repercussion and the suffering of peoples of these sisterly nations.

At the end of nineteenth century, the mainland Somalia and Somaliland became Italian and British colonies, respectively. In 1960, both Somalia and Somaliland gained their independence from Italy and Britain, and they reunited as the republic of Somalia with its capital Mogadishu. That history has similarity in some way to the reunification of Eritrea with mainland Ethiopia in 1952 after over 50 years of Eritrea under Italian colony and 10 years by British UN mandate administration, whereas five years of Italian colonial rule in Ethiopia.

Somaliland has declared its own independence in 1991 amid the tribal based civil wars in Somalia and its previous dissatisfaction with the mainland. No country has recognized the move of Somaliland for a sovereign status, although many countries do recognize its special existence within Somalia proper. Thereby, Somaliland is still a formal part of Somalia.

This de facto state has shown democratic and institutional capacity for peaceful transfer of government power and increasing economic progress. The autonomous administration prints local currency and has forged relations with several countries in the world in economic cooperation. Somaliland issues its own passports accepted by few countries and has council offices in some countries, while it hosts such representations in its own territory.

The MOU is facing international disapproval

The people and Government of Somalia proper are strongly expressing the desire and commitment to keep Somaliland part of sovereign territory of Somalia. Somalia has been known by many as a failed state because of several decades of tribal and administrative conflicts, such as the case of Somaliland and Puntland. Somalia is now making slow recovery, but it is still in difficulty with the Al-Shabaab rebellion in the country and more beyond that circumstance.

Somalia fears that the intension of Ethiopia to recognize Somaliland as a sovereign entity would be followed by other countries. Yes, it makes sense! But Somaliland with its capital Hargeisa is desirous for official secession from its motherland Somalia, at the expense of Ethiopia’s confrontation with its neighbour Somalia.

Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh signed a law in early January 2024 to nullify the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Ethiopia and Somaliland. His government officials and several elite intellectuals have made related diplomatic campaigns by publishing articles and through other means of communications to preserve the territorial sovereignty of Somalia.

Hassan Sheikh made a quick visit in January 2024 to Eritrea and Egypt among other tours to strength relations. Eritrea’s President Isaias Afewerki visited Egypt upon the invitation of President Al Sisi through his Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry who visited Eritrea. In Mid-March 2024, Somalia’s Hassan Sheikh visited Eritrea for the second time since the current crisis with Ethiopia upon the invitation of Isaias Afewerki. Egypt, Eritrea, and Somalia have little economic trade with one another. Türkiye and Qatar are also supportive of Somalia, among other countries. Türkiye has a big military base in Somalia proper since 2017 and provides training to Somali military forces.

Several media outlets including Reuters of February 2024 reported the Somali President Hassan Sheikh vowed his country will “defend itself” if Ethiopia seals an illegal maritime deal with Somaliland to setup a naval base and recognize the territory as an independent state.

As the MOU controversy is intensifying, Somalia on April 04, 2024, expelled Ethiopia’s Ambassador in Mogadishu and recalled its Ambassador from Addis Ababa saying it is for consultation. The Somali Government is strongly accusing the Ethiopian Government of interfering in its internal affairs.

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had a visit to Kenya in the end of February 2024, while Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh made his second visit to Nairobi on April 11, 2024. Both leaders mentioned the disputing issues of the MOU and have discussed it with Kenya’s President William Ruto.

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) covering East Africa and the Horn states with Kenyan Government together are trying to mediate the heated arguments between Ethiopia and Somalia. A regional maritime treaty to accommodate Ethiopian needs that includes naval set up proposed by Kenya.

Group Seven (G7) countries during their meeting in Capri, Italy from 17 to 19 of April 2024 expressed concerns between Ethiopia and Somalia on the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The G7 has warned the disputing parties to avoid further escalation and follow the African Union framework and the United Nations Charter to resolve conflicts. The Reporter News stated.

The MOU has been opposed in the outset by international organizations, such as the United Nations (UN), African Union (AU), IGAD, European Union (EU), and the Arab League including Saudi Arabia. Countries, such as the United States (US), China, Türkiye, and Egypt have strongly opposed the intent of the MOU. Those countries and many others have announced their support to Somalia`s territorial sovereignty.

The MOU has been unwelcomed by the international community because of its content proposing to recognize Somaliland as Sovereign state. The United Nations Charter and countries in the world in general stand against secession for geopolitical reasons, the stability of nations and populations, as well as the aftermath related to secession.

Continental and regional organizations do not allow secession, because there are many movements across the globe causing instability by claiming independence without enough evidence. There should be a series of reasonable facts showing public resentment that are not elite based disgruntlement to support secession or independence.

Scrambling for landlocked Ethiopia’s market

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) state-owned Dubai Worldwide Port Operations (DP) had a great joint venture with Djibouti in providing Ethiopia maritime services for commercial and life essentials.

Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has leased the Port of Berbera since 2016, when its Dubai Port (DP) World Operations was forced to discontinue the large concession in Djibouti due to the swaying competition with China Merchants Port Holdings. Somaliland which is a resource barren autonomous region of Somalia knows very well how small Djibouti has become a prosperous country through its port services to Ethiopia.

According to several sources such as DP reports, in 2017, there was an offer for Ethiopia to buy 19% commercial stake in the Port of Berbera in Somaliland, providing Ethiopia develop 260 kilometres road from Berbera to its border. That proposal was on the table again in mid 2018, soon after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power. During the proposed agreements, UAE and Somaliland were allotted 51% and 30% shares in that Port, respectively. That is to say, the de facto Somaliland has shown more interest to provide maritime access to Ethiopia and benefit from port services.

The neighbours, Sudan, Kenya, and Somalia are also ready to provide Ethiopia with port services to scramble its large markets in the Horn of Africa, to which the unfortunate Eritrea could have benefited the most. These countries are taking advantage of the poor relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea because they know there is no opportunity waiting forever.

Regarding Somaliland, the Somalia proper likes to manipulate such windfall opportunity for its own economic benefit in the first place and would like to allow Ethiopia to have a maritime lease. Alternatively, Somalia would like to see its Somaliland in autonomous status benefit from Ethiopia’s economy by providing port services to the latter.

According to several media reports such as, on April 03, 2024, the Ethiopian Foreign Minister Mesgana Arega and other Government officials received Puntland’s delegation led by Minister of Finance Mohammed Farah Mohammed in Addis Ababa to discuss bilateral issues. Puntland is willing to provide maritime access for Ethiopia and to have close relations as well as economic integration. The Puntland self-administration in Somalia is now protesting a constitutional amendment proposal by the central Government.

Responsibility to stabilize the greater region is crucial

The Horn of Africa has been one of the most conflict-ridden zones in the world for several decades. The peoples in this region are poor because of social and political instability which limits to use their natural resources. The lack of peaceful transfer of power and accountability in governance, as well as intellectual integrity to influence populations has made the region vulnerable to foreign intervention and escalating conflicts.

Somalia and Ethiopia must respect each other’s sovereign territory which has official recognition by the international community, such as the African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN) Charters. The neighbouring countries, Ethiopia and Somalia do have prior responsibility to understand each other for peace and cooperation.

There have always been directly or indirectly influential factors in this greater African region related to the Nile Basin and geopolitics of the Red Sea seeking mutual policies to share concerns and prevail stability. Economic and security cooperation in those focal points and the Indian Ocean are important geopolitical regions, among other international relations.

More regional conflicts can exacerbate ethnic and tribal tensions; poverty and cost of living; migration of people including brain drain or human capital; uncertain future for the youth generation; and so on. Love your neighbours!

Re-examining the MOU

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia as well as other military and civil officials have made numerous statements in public that the populous country needs a reliable access to any waters through reciprocal negotiations including swap for resources. Obviously, the concerned Ethiopian brothers and sisters as well as the public at large want to gain a reliable access for mutual progress, preferably the convenience of the Red Sea.

Strategic and well managed sea access has influence on world political gesture, as well as to the growth of national economy through large global markets. When it comes to a potential see access, there should be full understanding for a permanent economic and geostrategic interests and looking beyond that horizon.

Although many Ethiopians say the MOU is better than nothing, most of the public seem uncomfortable with its motives because Somaliland wants the first blessing to secede from mainland Somalia at the expense of Ethiopia and more regional conflicts. Exaggerated or unnecessary propaganda about the MOU may influence and disappoint more to the people of Ethiopian Somali.

Mind you, Ethiopia has its own existential threat of ethnic related polarities because of its wrong constitutional structure including ethnically recruited parliament and disproportional land allocations manipulated by ethnic politicians that all require immediate reforms for equitable national platforms and public governance. The country has been contending with a vulnerable situation from inside and outside. So, the Ethiopian Government must genuinely work not to support secession in Somalia and in Ethiopia to stabilize both countries. As the saying goes, “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”

Ethiopians sense the ongoing rough arguments between their Government and the Government of Somalia, and they would agree that the MOU is not peaceful and reliable to achieve strategic interest for Ethiopia. Remember, Ethiopia is not acquiring a permanent sea outlet territory for commercial and naval purposes.

This big landlocked country is just entering into a wrong process of the MOU despite international warning and condemnations. This officially autonomous territory of Somalia does not have a guaranteed statehood status witnessing an independent entity to enter international treaty.

Ethiopia’s dilemma under the MOU is that the proposed lease of only 20 km long coastal Somaliland district for 50 years on the Indian Ocean, which is neither a guaranteed asset nor a dependable expenditure to the strategic needs of the lessee, Ethiopia.

Ethiopia may have to spend a large amount of money and social capital for infrastructural developments to attain its own maritime ground in the self-declared state of Somaliland. Nevertheless, the plan to establish all maritime requirements will take several years to work on with unanticipated challenges in investments and national stabilities, which may venture out into more economic and security hardship to Ethiopia.

Then, the MOU is short-sighted and irrelevant gesture or political transaction by the Government of Ethiopia intending to assuage or calm the public anger and divert attention amid civil war, ethnic polarity, and economic hazards in Ethiopia. Meanwhile, the MOU might have thought to increase Ethiopia’s access to offshore spaces through regional competition, while laying a stepping stone towards other goals.

The MOU could mean a geopolitical ploy of proxy mission to undermine or provoke the Red Sea State under the autocratic Government of Isaias Afewerki. The relations between the Governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea do not seem normal after the non-inclusive Pretoria Agreement of December 2022, where both nations are losing each other and suffering from geopolitical repercussions. There could also be other motives from within Ethiopia, or from abroad behind the troubling MOU.

However, the Ethiopian Government has great responsibility not to stand at the forefront to recognize Somaliland as a sovereign nation, and retreat from the undependability of the MOU. The issue of the MOU may become more controversial leading to emotional armed conflicts between Somalia and Ethiopian forces unless the document is re-examined and resolved in the current situation. Fail to do so, would eventually cause much more destabilized Ethiopia and Somalia in a region plagued by conflicts.

Finding a way out of the MOU

Ethiopian officials are hinting that their government may pull back from its promise mentioned in the MOU, which recognizes Somaliland as sovereign state. Yes, the Government of Ethiopia must re-examine its stance on the MOU by scrutinizing political and economic cost-benefit analysis. Ethiopians in general and the signatory Federal Government in particular must think twice about this unfriendly issue. Pulling back from the sensitive or contentious part of the MOU is the best idea to begin with.

The Somaliland de facto state has long been promoting its port of Berbera to savvy the opportunity with landlocked Ethiopia’s huge market. There is nothing wrong with that prospect providing an inclusive agreement with the Federal Republic of Somalia to bring regional peace and economic cooperation where the Ethiopian Government can play a significant role to coordinate all parties of interest.

Considering the whole elements expressed in this article, the MOU cannot be peaceful and reliable providing the condemnation of Somalia and disapproval of the international community. The economic and geopolitical loads of instability that populous Ethiopia has been facing is also a substantial reason not to proceed with the MOU.

That said, there is an exit door as MOU has similarity to unsecured financial promissory note. It is a proposal or intention which does not mean a fixed agreement to make a deal between parties in exchange of something. As such, the MOU can be terminated by notifying the other party to close files, because there is no binding agreement reached under this wrong initiative. Somaliland may have nothing to lose. Ethiopia must nullify that Memorandum of Understanding immediately and stabilize its own national sovereign territory in the first place.


Real Politics Focus on Real National Issues!


The writer can be reached at



2 thoughts on “Ethio-Somaliland MOU is Not Peaceful and Not Reliable”

  1. Ahmed Ali Hashi

    We, the people of Republic of somaliland couldn’t care less whether MOU agreement between Somaliland and Ethiopia succeeds or not!
    One thing is clear that no matter what, the independence and sacred sovereignty of Somaliland statehood is absolutely here to stay period!

  2. Very informative article!
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts in a very detailed and knowledgeable manner, people that are able to think logically and not with emotions or ignorance will appreciate it!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top