Grain from U.S. aid is unloaded from a ship and bagged at the Port of Berbera in Somaliland, Aug. 31, 2021. (AFP Photo)


Türkiye could act as a mediator should a recent controversial port deal between Ethiopia and the self-declared Republic of Somaliland spiral into a regional crisis, according to an expert in international politics.

The two sides signed a deal on Jan. 1 to grant landlocked Ethiopia commercial and military access to the Red Sea in return for recognition of Somaliland as an independent nation.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s stated ambition to secure access to the Red Sea is a source of tension between the Horn of Africa nation and its neighbors. It has raised concerns of a fresh conflict in the region.

Mehmet Özkan, author and a foreign policy expert currently serving in the Joint War Institute and the National Defense University, doubted the deal would cause a major crisis as feared but pointed out Ankara could employ its good offices to smooth the tension thanks to well-established relations with all sides involved.

“Türkiye already has a Foreign Ministry envoy acting as a mediator in diplomatic negotiations between Somalia and Somaliland and doesn’t want this process to be undermined at any rate,” Özkan told Daily Sabah.

Ankara enjoys a close economic, diplomatic and military friendship with Somalia and Ethiopia.

In Somalia, Turkish nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and companies are extensively active in education, energy and finance. Since President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited the country in 2011, Türkiye has built an 80,000-square-meter (861,112-square-foot) embassy in Mogadishu, its biggest embassy in Africa.

Humanitarian organizations helped avert a famine in 2022 when Somalia witnessed one of the worst droughts in four decades. A pair of Turkish and Somali companies are also building a biogas power plant in Mogadishu to be completed by the end of this year.

Türkiye pledged full support to establishing peace and stability in Ethiopia after clashes between federal forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) broke out in 2020. When the war ended, the Turkish Maarif Foundation immediately opened a school in Tigray. The Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) has also opened its first office in Africa in Ethiopia to deliver humanitarian aid and cultural projects.

After the port deal was announced, Türkiye, Egypt and other allies pledged their support for Somalia. Ankara reaffirmed its commitment to the country’s territorial integrity, emphasizing it as a “requirement of international law.”

“Türkiye naturally took Somalia’s side because it’s what international standards require,” Özkan said. “But also because Somalia stood by Türkiye on many critical issues, including the aftermath of the 2016 coup attempt and the 2017 Gulf crisis between the UAE and Qatar.”

Özkan believes Ankara’s support of Mogadishu will not affect bilateral relations with Ethiopia or Türkiye’s economic and political interests in eastern Africa.

“Currently, Ankara has a clear, legitimate stance in line with international law and this won’t change,” he said.

Access to sea


Somalia, which considers Somaliland part of its territory, rejected the New Year’s Day deal that would allow Ethiopia to lease 20 kilometers (12 miles) around the port of Berbera, on the Gulf of Aden with access to the Red Sea, for 50 years for its navy and commercial purposes.

Somaliland, a former British protectorate that seceded from Somalia in 1991, said Ethiopia would, in return, become the first country to recognize it as an independent nation at some point in the future.

The Ethiopian government has defended its decision to sign the deal by saying the agreement with Somaliland “will affect no party or country.”

Ethiopia lost its Red Sea ports in the early 1990s after the Eritrean War of Independence, which lasted from 1961 to 1991 and ended with Eritrea gaining independence from Ethiopia and leading to the establishment of two separate nations.

The separation resulted in Ethiopia losing direct access to the Red Sea and key ports.

Somali President Hassan Sheik Mohamud signed a law nullifying the agreement on Saturday as Mogadishu sees the deal as an assault on Somali territory and has warned it would endanger stability in the wider Horn of Africa region. Mohamud then asked people to prepare for the defense of the country and recalled the ambassador from Ethiopia on Tuesday to hold “deliberations” on the issue.

Abiy said in October that Ethiopia’s existence was “tied to the Red Sea,” adding that if countries in the Horn of Africa “plan to live together in peace, we have to find a way to mutually share with each other in a balanced manner.”

In the meantime, the army chiefs of Ethiopia and Somaliland have been discussing military cooperation, further fueling concerns of fresh tension breaking out between Ethiopia and Somalia, which withstood an Ethiopian occupation from 2006 to 2009 during the Somali civil war.

Source: Daily Sabah