IGAD stance sparks fierce backlash in Somalia, dissatisfaction in Ethiopia
The African Union and its ‘sitting-on-the-fence’ approach to diplomatic feuds are at a crossroads as regional tensions in the Horn and its seat in Addis Ababa threaten to erupt.
A statement from Moussa Faki, AU chairperson and former Prime Minister of Chad, released three days after a controversial deal was signed between Ethiopian and Somaliland officials, “stresses the imperative to respect unity, territorial integrity and full sovereignty of all African Union member states including the Federal Republic of Somalia and the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.”
It is the latest crisis in the Horn warranting a response from the AU, and comes in light of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) and Muse Bihi, president of Somaliland, on New Year’s Day.
The agreement would see Ethiopia lease for 50 years a 20 kilometer stretch on the coast of the breakaway Somali territory, where the federal government wants to place a military base and a commercial port facility.
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The “historic” deal entails Ethiopia’s recognition of Somaliland as a sovereign state – the first since the latter unilaterally declared independence from Somalia in 1991 – and stakes in Ethiopian Airlines or Ethio Telecom.
The agreement has drawn fierce backlash from Somalia. An emergency cabinet meeting in Mogadishu in the days following the announcement of the deal condemned the move as a “clear violation” of Somalia’s sovereignty.
Mogadishu has also recalled its ambassador to Addis Ababa as tensions continue to escalate in the Horn.
The situation has forced statements from governments and international organizations over the past week.
The Somali government called for the AU to “convene urgent meetings” to demonstrate their objection to the deal. The much-anticipated address from the AU said it “urges the two brotherly countries to engage without delay in a negotiation process to settle their differences in the most constructive, peaceful and collaborative manner.”
The AU has opted for a neutral approach, with Chairperson Faki calling for “calm and mutual respect to de-escalate the simmering tension between Ethiopia and Somalia,” urging them to abstain from an action that could further deteriorate their relationship.
Nonetheless, the relationship has been deteriorating rapidly.
Mogadishu has accused the Ethiopian government of “an act of aggression.”
“[The agreement] is an infringement by Ethiopia into our national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud during an address to the Somali parliament.
“No party or country will be affected by this MoU,” reads a statement from the Ethiopian government. “There is no broken trust nor have any laws been transgressed.”
The AU’s response came in tandem with comments from the Spokesperson of the US State Department.
“[The US] joins other partners in expressing our serious concern as well about the resulting spike in tensions in the Horn of Africa,” said Matthew Miller.
Following comments on the statement’s vagueness, Miller iterated that the US “recognizes the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Somalia within its 1960 borders.”
Somalia had two borders in 1960: one when Somaliland declared independence on June 26, 1960 and became a country that no less than 35 countries recognized. The other when Somaliland voluntarily unified with Somalia five days later on July 1, 1960.
Pundits have raised questions about which border the US official was referring to in his comments.
The tensions have also forced a response from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional eight-member bloc working on development and governance in East Africa.
IGAD faced heavy criticism from the government of Somalia immediately after Executive Secretary Workneh Gebeyehu (PhD) issued a statement on Wednesday.
Workneh, a former Ethiopian Foreign Minister, said he is “diligently monitoring the situation and recognizes the potential implications for regional stability,” expressing his “deep concern regarding recent developments between Ethiopia and Somalia.”
Mogadishu immediately accused the Executive Secretary of bias towards Ethiopia and called on him to “immediately apologize, withdraw the statement and take the appropriate action.”
Well-placed sources at the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs disclosed to The Reporter that the Ethiopian government is also displeased with IGAD’s stance.
“The MoU should not be a concern for anyone. It is a development partnership commendable for regional integration in the Horn,” a Foreign Affairs official said on condition of anonymity.
The Arab League, European Union, Egypt, Turkiye, and the UK (barring a few of its politicians), and several other governments and organizations have expressed opposition to the deal between Ethiopia and Somaliland.
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