Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud visited Eritrea on Monday and was welcomed by Eritrean President Isaias Afwerk in Asmarai. Mohamud’s visit comes just days after a controversial agreement between Ethiopia and the breakaway region of Somaliland, raising tensions in the Horn of Africa.
Mogadishu vehemently rejects the deal, which grants landlocked Ethiopia access to the Red Sea through Somaliland.
Mohamud’s arrival in Asmara, confirmed by both his office and the Eritrean information ministry, coincided with pictures of him being welcomed by Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki. The official agenda included “strengthening ties & fostering cooperation,” leaving observers to speculate on its true purpose in the context of regional turmoil.
On Saturday, Mohamud nullified the Ethiopia-Somaliland agreement, deeming it an “illegal Memorandum of Understanding” that violated Somali sovereignty. The deal awarded Addis Ababa port access in Berbera in exchange for recognizing Somaliland’s independence. Mogadishu considers this an “act of aggression” and appealed to the international community for intervention.
Mohamud’s swift action underscores Mogadishu’s commitment to preserving its territorial integrity. He emphasized that the law represents a firm response against any encroachment on Somali soil. The agreement has drawn widespread condemnation from Somalis within and outside the country, as well as concerns from foreign nations.
Somaliland, declared independent in 1991 but lacking international recognition, saw the deal as a path to legitimacy. Somaliland president Muse Bihi Abdi initially celebrated the agreement, claiming it secured sea access for Ethiopia and formal recognition for Somaliland, including a share in Ethiopia’s state airline. However, facing internal and external pressure, Bihi later defended the deal by asserting that both parties benefited.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s Sea Access Quest Adds Fuel to the Fire
The simmering tensions in the Horn of Africa are partly fueled by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s public quest for sea access. In a recent speech, Abiy argued that Ethiopia’s landlocked status poses economic, demographic, and security challenges, necessitating control over a port. While downplaying the use of force, his pronouncements and those of state-run media have raised fears of potential conflict.
Ethiopia’s littoral neighbors, including Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia, have vehemently rejected Abiy’s claims, asserting their own sovereign rights over their coastlines. However, Eritrea’s concerns run deeper. Having gained independence from Ethiopia after a bloody conflict, it views Abiy’s port agenda as a potential threat to its hard-won territorial integrity.
The current situation in the Horn of Africa is fraught with uncertainty. Somalia’s strong reaction to the Ethiopia-Somaliland deal and Abiy’s unwavering pursuit of sea access raise concerns about potential escalation. While open conflict may not be inevitable, a return to the pre-2018 “no war, no peace” scenario between Ethiopia and Eritrea could have devastating consequences for the entire region.