Ethiopia has agreed on a joint investment in Somali ports in what could be seen as Premier Abiy Ahmed’s move to legitimize logistical deals initially questioned by Mogadishu.
After a meeting in Mogadishu on Saturday, President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed ‘Farmajo’ and PM Ahmed said they will be investing in major infrastructure projects including ports and roads.
“In an effort to attract and retain foreign investment to the two countries and the Horn of Africa Region, the leaders agreed on the joint investment in four key seaports between the two countries, and the construction of the main road networks and arteries that would link Somalia to mainland Ethiopia,” a Communiqué from the meeting said.
The two said they will constitute a designated joint technical team to craft the details and timelines for the project.
The ports were not named in the dispatch but Ethiopia’s latest move could be seen as correcting the controversy it created earlier in the year by buying a stake in the Port of Berbera in Somaliland.
Ethiopia would own 19 percent but that deal drew the ire of Mogadishu with MPs saying it had violated the Provisional Constitution as well as the sovereignty of Somalia.
Somalia demands that all deals made by Somaliland and region of Puntland with foreign entities be endorsed by Mogadishu.
And though Somaliland argues the long-term framework is yet to be created, MPs in Mogadishu nullified the deal.
The Ministry of Ports and Marine Transport said in a statement that the government was not party to the agreement which it termed as defective.
“This so-called agreement is both defective and detrimental to the sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Somalia and the unity of the country,” Somalia’s Ports and Marine Ministry said in March.
Somaliland MPs had in 2016 approved the concession for Emirati firm DP World to own 51 percent of the Port of Berbera. The Dubai firm was also to invest about Sh44 billion and run the Port for the next three decades.
In March, Ethiopia bought 19 percent of the stake, meaning Somaliland would retain 30 percent.
But President Farmajo’s administration did not like being left out.
With Ethiopia accessing the sea and importing 95 percent of supplies through the Port of Djibouti, the latest move by Premier Ahmed could be seen as a way of securing and widening access to the ports.
On Saturday, the leaders vowed to respect each other’s sovereignty, perhaps in reference to the controversy that erupted in March.
“The two leaders unequivocally stated their mutual respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, political independence and the unity of both nations and called upon all Somali actors to relentlessly work towards the unity and cohesiveness of Somalia,” they said.
Ethiopia, Kenya, Burundi, Uganda, and Djibouti are troop contributors to the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom), formed in 2007 to defend the government in Mogadishu and push back Al-Shabaab militants.
Now Amisom is suffering a cash crunch and foreign entities are attracted to breakaway regions.
In May, President Uhuru Kenyatta warned unnamed entities of frustrating unity efforts in Somalia. This came in the wake of the Berbera Port controversy.
On Saturday, Addis Ababa and Mogadishu were speaking of supporting economic development.
“Recognizing the potential for harmonious economic development for both nations, the two leaders paid singular focus to economic growth, wealth creation and promotion of investment between Somalia and Ethiopia in order to secure a prosperous future for their people, the countries of the Horn of Africa, and ultimately the African Continent.”
It will be interesting to see how Somaliland and Puntland who have had engagements with Middle East countries, especially the United Arab Emirates react to this.
The dispatch did not say whether the Ethiopian stake in the port would be redone or forgotten.