Ethiopia’s move towards Somaliland has sparked debates in the Horn of Africa, but the focus is on trade and economy. The recent deal aims to diversify Ethiopia’s maritime access for economic objectives without harming Somalia’s interests. Ethiopia is one of the fastest-growing economies in the region and promotes regional integration. Turkey’s military and energy deals with Somalia are unfounded, as Ankara views Addis Ababa as a key country for influence in Africa. Dialogue between countries in the Horn of Africa is crucial for avoiding misunderstandings and spreading cooperation.

Below is an article By Dilara Aslan Özer for Daily Sabah

A deal between Ethiopia and Somaliland has sent waves of debates throughout the region, has even raised questions about the stability of the Horn of Africa, and resulted in a similar deal struck between Somalia and Türkiye recently.

However, arguments that the region might fall into turmoil due to Ethiopia’s move are overstated. Addis Ababa, with the deal, only eyes goals concerning trade and economy rather than political gains. The Landlocked country of more than 100 million with an impressive growth record has long been bent on access to the sea to boost its economy further.


“Ethiopia’s quest for access to the sea is deeply rooted in historical injustice, economic imperatives, and regional stability consideration,” an Ethiopian diplomatic source tells me, indicating that the country’s ties to the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden can be traced back to the Aksumite Kingdom.

With the change in the region brought about by the colonial era and Eritrea’s endorsing independence from Ethiopia in 1993, Addis Ababa lost its connection to the waters. To compensate, the Ethiopian government has engaged in “extensive discussion and dialogue with neighboring countries based on give and take, win-win, and the business model.”

The memorandum of understanding on Jan. 1 to lease 20 kilometers (12 miles) of coastline in Somaliland – a territory that Somalia says it owns, even though the northern region has enjoyed effective autonomy since 1991, is one of the many moves Ethiopia has pursued for trade concerns. Although not fully recognized, several countries have opened diplomatic offices in the Republic of Somaliland. The source pointed out that several countries signed similar commercial deals to develop and utilize ports with Somaliland. Moreover, Ethiopia and Somaliland also have pre-existing cooperation agreements, including a Customs Transit and Port Agreement and a deal that has granted Ethiopia 19% of the ownership of the Port of Berbera in Somalia.

The Restrained Power Of Somalia To Prevent The Somaliland-Ethiopian Deal
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and President of Somaliland Muse Bihe Abdi during the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding in Addis Abeba on January 1, 2024 (Photo: Ethiopia PM Office/Facebook)

“The recent deal’s sole purpose is to diversify Ethiopia’s maritime access for economic objectives and does not harm Somalia’s interests in any way.”

Thus, any bigger political ambitions and claims that Ethiopia is trying to annex part of Somalia are highly unlikely, while the recent developments have to be read from a trade perspective. It should also be remembered that nearly 3,000 Ethiopian soldiers are stationed in Somalia as part of an African Union peacekeeping mission fighting militants from al Shabaab, an al Qaeda affiliate – another indicator that the maritime deal’s purpose is not to harm Somalia politically.

Underlining support for Somalia’s territorial integrity, the diplomatic source said, “The peace of Somalia is the peace of Ethiopia.

Ethiopia as a catalyst

Ethiopia is one of the fastest-growing economies in the region and has made significant progress in the last 15 years. Although the COVID-19 pandemic, a two-year war in the northern Tigray region, and droughts, floods, and locust invasions in parts of the country have affected its economy adversely, the country’s potential promises for more. As part of its foreign policy, Ethiopia promotes regional integration and fosters peaceful relations with neighbors and beyond. Ethiopia has been one of the founders of the African Union. It aims to enhance cooperation and trade, especially in the Horn of Africa, which has experienced repeated conflicts and feeding humanitarian crises in drought-prone areas.

The diplomat said that Ethiopia is ready to share its experience and resources with regional countries on a win-win basis. He mentioned that the country has success with its flag carrier, Ethiopian Airlines, telecommunications, and hydropower, among other areas, but it lacks access to the seas and the use of ports without the necessary agreements.

Unpacking The Economic Objectives Behind Ethiopia-Somaliland Deal
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed addresses African heads of state during the 37th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Heads of State in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Feb. 17, 2024. (EPA Photo)

Key for Africa

Conversely, arguments that Türkiye’s military and energy deals with Somalia are aimed at Ethiopia are unfounded. Ankara views Addis Ababa as a key country for influence in Africa and has a close partnership with the country, while the leaders of Turkey and Ethiopia enjoy positive relations. Turkish businesses have become one of the largest private sector employers in Ethiopia, with approximately 200 Turkish companies. It is estimated that the total investment volume surpassed 2 billion dollars. In 2021, Ethiopia and Turkey also signed a Water, Military, and Financial Cooperation Agreement during a visit by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Somalia may have used the recent deal with Turkey as a balancing act against the Ethiopia-Somaliland deal and caused a war of words. Yet, Ankara’s purpose has been only strategic. It aims to foster ties with Mogadishu while continuing to have a mutually beneficial relationship with Addis Ababa.

Dialogue between countries in the Horn of Africa will be crucial in the upcoming period to avoid misunderstandings, reach win-win deals, and spread cooperation throughout the region, which has endured enough years of turmoil and conflicts.

With access to vital global trade routes, it is time for the Horn to realize its potential and open the way for prosperity. Ethiopia has to make clear it solely aims to trade, and Somalia should take a step to find a way to cooperate for the ports and give access to Addis Ababa in a manner that will also financially benefit Mogadishu. Türkiye, then again, will pursue cooperation in humanitarian fields, economy, trade, and military with both Ethiopia and Somalia, not aiming to endanger the balance.

Original title: Ethiopia, Somalia dispute won’t transform into turmoil for the Horn of Africa