In exchange for this and granting that country stakes in its national airline, Ethiopia will receive commercial-military port rights that’ll finally resolve its landlocked dilemma that’s been in place since Eritrea’s independence in 1993. In the intervening three decades, Somaliland proved that it has all the characteristics of a sovereign state by defending its existence, improving its people’s livelihoods through socio-economic development, and successfully managing its own armed forces, among other factors.
Ethiopia had been reluctant to change the geopolitical status quo through formal recognition of this reality despite cultivating ties with Somaliland but reversed its position in pursuit of the greater regional good related to resolving its aforesaid dilemma and the domestic-international problems that it entails. Prime Minister (PM) Dr. Abiy Ahmed wouldn’t have done this had any of the surrounding states accepted his proposal to swap stakes in his country’s national companies for commercial-military port rights.
They remained influenced by the regional security dilemma into perceiving his proposal as a threat, especially after the pro-government online Eritrean community fearmongered (possibly with the involvement of their country’s intelligence) that Ethiopia was plotting to annex its neighbors. Instead of containing Ethiopia and perpetuating its landlocked dilemma like that information warfare campaign intended, it backfired by compelling Ethiopia to negotiate with Somaliland out of an absence of choice.
No matter how upset this makes Somalia, the only ones to blame are itself and the other countries that rejected PM Abiy’s proposal, but Mogadishu is more at fault than anyone else for creating the conditions under which Somaliland separated in the first place and then failing to resolve their dispute till now. As it presently stands, Somalia is struggling to defend itself from Al Shabaab and restore the state’s writ over several highly autonomous regions that are sometimes at odds with the federal government.
This conflict-beleaguered country therefore isn’t in a position to regain sovereignty over Somaliland, which it should accept as soon as possible in order to avoid wasting more financial and military resources in what would certainly be a doomed-to-fail attempt at trying to change this reality. The military dimension of the latest MoU with Ethiopia coupled with UAE’s investments in Somaliland’s port of Berbera that Abu Dhabi would also likely protect with force if needed work against Somalia’s plans.
The growing convergence of Ethiopian-Emirati military interests in Somaliland can also ensure regional security by creating a deterrent against pirates from neighboring Somalia’s Puntland State. They’re no longer anywhere near as much of a threat as they used to be, but it’s still alarming that they hijacked four fishing boats over the last month. The Federal Government of Somalia was powerless to stop them, both then and now, and it’ll likely remain equally powerless for the foreseeable future.
It’s therefore imperative that responsible stakeholders in the region counteract this threat, which Ethiopia and the UAE could eventually do as their growing convergence of military interests in Somaliland approaches its seemingly inevitable conclusion of a trilateral alliance. If independence-aspiring South Yemen officially returns to the geopolitical map, such as if its Emirati ally recognizes this after it’s declared and then Ethiopia follows suit, a new quadrilateral security alliance could form.
That structure could in turn sustainably ensure the region’s security from unconventional threats like those posed by Puntland’s pirates, but it’s premature to expect South Yemen to declare independence anytime soon since the Yemeni War and the unofficial Emirati-Saudi rivalry complicate its plans. In any case, even the emerging trilateral alliance could suffice for fulfilling this role, and it’s unrealistic to imagine that Somalia will win a war against all three if it decides to wage one after the MoU was signed.
Egypt and Eritrea, which want to contain Ethiopia through proxy war means, might try to push Somalia into undertaking such a suicidal decision. Mogadishu would do well to ignore whatever such pressure they put upon it since those two would only want to fight Ethiopia to the last Somali exactly as NATO is trying to fight Russia to the last Ukrainian. The best course of action is for Somalia to accept the new military-diplomatic realities and negotiate Somaliland’s divorce in a dignified way.
The recent talks between their leaders in Djibouti could serve this purpose if the political will exists on Mogadishu’s side to do so, though that remains questionable after the Cabinet’s reaction to their breakaway region’s deal with Ethiopia that came right afterwards. In that event, the next best scenario is for Somalia to remain committed to resolving their disagreements through purely peaceful means following the latest example set by Venezuela and Guyana after their leaders’ talks in St. Vincent.
Since Ethiopia and the UAE just joined BRICS, that bloc or one of its members like Russia – which enjoys excellent relations with those two and is rapidly expanding ties with Somalia – could offer to mediate if Mogadishu felt like the recent talks in Djibouti were toxified by the subsequent MoU. Whether there’s a “dignified divorce” or if the “cold peace” remains, what’s most important is that Somalia doesn’t let itself be misled by Egypt and Eritrea into waging a war over this issue that it’s doomed to lose.