Ethiopia’s Controversial Port Deal with Somaliland: A Forecast

On January 1, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and President Muse Bihi Abdi of Somaliland signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) allegedly granting Ethiopia access to 20 kilometres of coastline near the port of Berbera for 50 years. In exchange, Somaliland reportedly gains a stake in Ethiopian Airlines and the possibility of recognition.

Ethiopia’s controversial port deal addresses a longstanding desire for direct access to the sea. But the deal Addis Ababa struck with the region of Somaliland, rather than with federal government of Somalia has raised concerns. President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud of Somalia asserts that the deal violates international law. As he noted, Somaliland lacks global recognition as an independent state and is part of Somali territory. The fallout of the port deal has implications for relations between the two countries, the future of Somaliland, and the threat of terrorism in the Horn of Africa. 

Key Judgement 1. The international community will likely support Somalia’s sovereignty and raise questions about compliance with international law and sovereignty. 

Key Judgement 2. Somalia will likely pursue a military confrontation with Ethiopia should the Ethiopian Government decide to move forward with the port deal.

Key Judgement 3. Leveraging the port deal, Al-Shabaab will likely expand operations against Ethiopia in the near term. 

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