Somaliland defense minister quits over port deal with Ethiopia
Somaliland Defense Minister Abdiqani Mohamoud Ateye has resigned in protest over the breakaway African state’s agreement granting port access to landlocked Ethiopia. He accused President Muse Bihi Abdi of failing to consult with cabinet ministers and claimed that he had learned about the deal from the media, Africanews reported on Monday.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Somaliland’s president signed a memorandum of understanding last week granting Addis Ababa access to the Red Sea port of Berbera for 50 years, as well as permission to build a naval base.
However, the agreement has sparked protests across the Horn of Africa, with Somalia, which regards Somaliland as part of its territory, condemning it as an act of aggression. Somaliland split from Somalia in 1991, but it is not internationally recognized as an independent state.
Mogadishu outright rejected the January 1 deal, claiming it lacked legal authority, with government spokesman Farhan Jimale stating, “Somaliland is part of Somalia, and no deal is valid without Somalia’s approval.”
Ethiopia’s Ambassador to Somalia Muhktar Mohamed Ware is said to have left Mogadishu on Sunday after Somalia recalled its envoy to Addis Ababa earlier in a row over the port deal.
Ethiopia, which officially joined the BRICS+ group on January 1, is the most populous landlocked country in the world. Unlike its neighbors Eritrea and Djibouti, the East African nation has no direct access to the Red Sea, one of the world’s major trade crossroads. Addis Ababa has relied on the port of Djibouti for more than 85% of its exports and imports since it became landlocked following Eritrea’s secession in 1993.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has repeatedly stated that his government’s desire to secure access to the Red Sea is a necessity, not a luxury, for Ethiopia’s growing population.
The deal with Somaliland would see 20km (12 miles) of sea access leased to Addis Ababa for five decades, and also provides for the construction of a military base on the coast. In exchange, Ethiopia would recognize Somaliland as an independent country at some point in the future, President Abdi reportedly stated on the day of the signing.
However, Addis Ababa clarified on Wednesday that part of the memorandum “includes provisions for the Ethiopian government to make an in-depth assessment towards taking a position regarding Somaliland’s efforts to gain recognition.”
On Sunday, Somaliland’s defense minister allegedly accused Prime Minister Abiy of attempting to acquire the coastline without proper negotiations.
“Abiy Ahmed wants to take it without renting or owning it,” the Associated Press quoted Ateye as saying in an interview with local media.
While the US has expressed concern about reports that Ethiopia would recognize Somaliland’s independence, Türkiye and Egypt have stated that they remain committed to Somalia’s territorial integrity.
The African Union has called for calm and mutual respect “to de-escalate the simmering tension” between Somalia and Ethiopia.