Addis Ababa (Agenzia Fides) – Tensions are increasing in the Horn of Africa in connection with the agreement between Somaliland and Ethiopia on access to the Red Sea (see Fides 3/1/2024) and the internal situation in Ethiopia. With the agreement signed on January 1st, Addis Ababa will receive the lease of about 20 km of the Somaliland coast for 50 years (with the establishment of a naval base) in return for Ethiopian recognition of this area, separated from the rest of Somalia and not yet recognized by any other State.
On January 6, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud promulgated a law hastily approved by the parliament in Mogadishu that “abolishes the illegal agreement” between Ethiopia and Somaliland.
The approval of the law “is an example of our commitment to protect our unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity under international law,” the Somali president wrote on X, the former Twitter. Even in Somaliland itself, the January 1 agreement was not unanimously approved. The defense minister, Abdiqani Mohamud Aateeye, resigned in protest against the pact with Addis Ababa, describing Ethiopia as “enemy number one of Somalia”. It should be noted that he was talking about Somalia, not Somaliland, which suggests he shares a common vision with the rest of the country, at least when it comes to relations with its powerful neighbor. Eritrea, which contributed significantly to the suppression of the insurgency in the Ethiopian conflict region of Tigray by flanking Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s Ethiopian troops, also views Ethiopia’s naval ambitions with fear, and indeed the Somali president in Asmara was promptly replaced by Eritrean President Afwerki.
Tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea have increased since the signing of the peace agreement between Addis Ababa and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in November 2022. Tensions between the two countries are linked to instability in Ethiopia. The government in Addis Ababa accuses Eritrea of wanting to torpedo the agreements for 2022 because it refuses to completely withdraw its armed forces from Tigray. Eritrea’s influence in Ethiopia has grown at the moment and tensions have come to a head over its alleged support for the Amhara rebels, who are challenging the Ethiopian federal government’s plans to disband and disarm its armed forces in order to integrate and unify Ethiopia’s various armed forces (see Fides, 8/8/2023). In the war against the TPLF there was an alliance between Eritrea, the Amharas and the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed from the Oromo ethnic group. When hostilities between the Ethiopian government and the TPLF ceased, the Ahmed-Amhara-Afwerki alliance collapsed. The Amharas and Eritrean President Afwerki view the peace agreement as a “stab in the back” and see it as a shift in Ahmed’s alliances towards the TPLF, which poses a significant threat to both the Amharas and Eritrea. The latter now fears possible encirclement from the sea once Addis Ababa manages to rebuild its navy by stationing it in Somaliland. Remaining in the background are the external sponsors (from the Persian and Arabian Gulf countries to major world powers) who have an interest in controlling the African side of the Red Sea, whose shipping is threatened by the Houthis’ actions in Yemen. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 9/1/2024)