Somalia rejects mediation with Ethiopia gov’t over Somaliland port deal

The Ethiopia-Somalia feud continues with Mogadishu claiming its territorial integrity has been violated by the deal.

Somali protest against Ethiopia-Somaliland port deal
Somali people march against the Ethiopia-Somaliland port deal at the Yariisow stadium in Mogadishu, Somalia, on January 3, 2024 [Feisal Omar/Reuters]

Somalia said on Thursday there was no room for mediation in a dispute with Ethiopia unless Addis Ababa cancelled a controversial deal with the breakaway region of Somaliland.

Tensions in the Horn of Africa have escalated after landlocked Ethiopia reached a memorandum of understanding with Somaliland on January 1 that gives it access to the sea.

“There is no space for mediation unless Ethiopia retracts its illegal MOU and reaffirms the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Somalia,” the country’s foreign ministry said in a statement posted on its official social media accounts.

The comment comes after the African Union’s conflict resolution body on Wednesday discussed the crisis and called on the two countries “to exercise restraint, de-escalate and engage in meaningful dialogue towards finding a peaceful resolution of the matter”.

The eight-country trade bloc Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) is also holding an extraordinary summit in Uganda on Thursday on the Ethiopia-Somalia feud, as well as the conflict in Sudan. All four countries are part of the bloc, along with South Sudan, Djibouti, Kenya and Eritrea.

Access to the sea

Somalia says its sovereignty and territorial integrity have been violated by the pact and has appealed for international support. Somaliland is a former British protectorate facing the Gulf of Aden which declared its independence from Somalia in 1991, a move not recognised by the international community.

Under the January 1 deal, Somaliland agreed to lease 20 kilometres (12 miles) of its coast for 50 years to Ethiopia, which wants to set up a naval base and a commercial port on the coast.

For years, Ethiopia, with a population of approximately 100 million people, has sought access to the sea after Eritrea broke away from Addis Ababa and formally declared independence in 1993 following a three-decade war. The Horn of Africa country currently relies on neighbouring Djibouti for most of its maritime trade.

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.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies