On January 23, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud spoke to Al Jazeera and warned that Ethiopia should not attempt to fulfil a controversial memorandum of understanding (MOU) it signed with the breakaway region of Somaliland on New Year’s Day.
Under the preliminary agreement, Somaliland would lease landlocked Ethiopia 20km (12 miles) of its coastline around the Port of Berbera for commercial and military purposes for 50 years. In return, Ethiopia would give Somaliland an undisclosed ownership stake in state-owned Ethiopian Airlines and, according to Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi, formally recognise the
Ethiopia has refuted Abdi’s interpretation of the nonbinding accord and instead said it only agreed to undertake an “in-depth assessment towards taking a position on the efforts of Somaliland to gain recognition”.
Nonetheless, Mohamud made it clear that he views the signing of the “illegal MOU” as a declaration of war, irrespective of the details of the obligations it puts on each party, and has urged his compatriots to “prepare for the defence of our homeland”.
However, he did extend an olive branch to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in his interview with Al Jazeera, declaring that Mogadishu stands ready to enter a fair Somali-led negotiation process to enable Ethiopia to lease a Red Sea port in a lawful manner.
After a devastating civil war and the violent overthrow of then-Somali President Siad Barre’s authoritarian government, Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in May 1991 but has so far failed to achieve international recognition.
In the wake of the New Year’s Day deal, a plethora of global actors – including the United Nations, European Union, United States, Arab League, African Union (AU) and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) – have reaffirmed their unequivocal support for Somalia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Some have gone a step further and rightly condemned Ethiopia’s underhanded actions.
“The memorandum constitutes a blatant attack against Arab, African and international principles and a clear violation of international law,” said Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit at a ministerial-level emergency meeting on January 17.
Sounding fully averse to the truth, Africa’s top diplomat on January 4 called for “calm and mutual respect to de-escalate the simmering tension between Ethiopia and Somalia”