By Mohamed Hagi (PhD)
Prior to examining all facets of the Somaliland-Ethiopia deal from various viewpoints, it is important to clarify that Ethiopia possesses the sovereign right to recognize Somaliland. The factors that led Nauru to acknowledge Kosovo in 2008 could perhaps enable Ethiopia to recognize Somaliland. Nauru is a tiny sovereign nation in our universe, boasting a population of 10,000 and a land area of 21 square kilometers. There is no specific legal provision within international laws and standards that prohibits a sovereign country to recognize another. Like Nauru, Ethiopia has the legal and sovereign ability to acknowledge Somaliland, regardless of Somalia’s refusal, as Ethiopia is an independent nation with the authority to make sovereign choices. If Nauru declined and resisted Serbia’s unlawful claims, why not Ethiopia?
The Somaliland-Ethiopia deal had profoundly become a sea change to the geopolitical dynamics of the Horn of Africa region. This op-ed thoroughly examines the aspects of this deal highlighting its benefits for both parties involved. Additionally, I will look into the complexities surrounding Somalia’s opposition exploring its dynamics and disruptive strategies. The op-ed is an attempt to capture the essence of geopolitical dynamics in the horn and dispel any misunderstanding regarding implications emanating from the Somaliland-Ethiopia deal. It illuminates the fact that the agreement could be readily executed if Ethiopia recognises the impotent nature of Somalia and its empty rhetoric.
Unique Characteristics of the Deal
The agreement between Somaliland and Ethiopia possesses a unique nature that sets it apart from other traditional deals. The deal encompasses a huge win-win situation. Ethiopia, driven by its security objective, gains access to the Red Sea marking a shift from being a landlocked country. In return, Ethiopia recognizes Somaliland – an important step towards Somaliland’s quest for long-awaited global acknowledgement. A development capable of pushing Somaliland up the notch from its unrecognized status to that of partial recognition status of Kosovo. Kosovo’s circumstance is so exceptional due to the EU’s recognition. Kosovo is acknowledged by over 20 member states of the European Union. Thus, if Ethiopia, a nation of 120 million people, the most influential in East Africa and the largest in the region in terms of economy and military strength, acknowledges Somaliland, other nations will likely follow suit.
Similarly, Ethiopia stands to benefit from this deal in many ways. Notably gaining access to sea transforms Ethiopia from a passive observer into a key player in regional affairs. Ethiopia’s strategic presence in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea enables it to engage in discussions on security with global players such as the United States, China, UK, EU and Russia. Through involvement in security matters, Ethiopia enhances its standing and solidifies its position as a regional force. Moreover, the deal carries significant economic gains for Ethiopia. Access to maritime channels enables engagement in both offshore and onshore commercial endeavors, signifying a fundamental change in Ethiopia’s economic dynamics. By engaging in marine affairs, Ethiopia can establish a foundation for negotiating commercial agreements, thereby enhancing its impact on regional economic issues.
As a result, Ethiopia grants diplomatic recognition to Somaliland, which has important strategic prospecting. The acknowledgment of Ethiopia acts as a crucial initial stage for the possible inclusion of Somaliland in the African Union, an achievement that has been difficult to attain for many years. Being the second most populous country in Africa, the first strongest economy in Eastern Africa and host of the AU, Ethiopia’s endorsement greatly enhances the legitimacy of Somaliland on the continental stage, making it difficult for other African states to refuse recognition. Somaliland possesses a robust legal and humanitarian case in regard to its quest for recognition. The non-recognition of Somaliland is solely a political matter. Once Ethiopia resolves this political issue, the recognition of Somaliland will become inevitable.
The strategic importance of Ethiopia to Somaliland goes beyond diplomatic advantages. Ethiopia’s recognition as a neighboring nation and the main driving force behind a significant portion of Somaliland’s economy creates opportunities for cooperation and regional engagement. The ability to enter the African Union headquarters in Ethiopia presents Somaliland with new possibilities to participate in diplomatic initiatives that were previously unattainable. The endorsement from Ethiopia serves as a spur for other governments who are willing to acknowledge Somaliland, reducing their hesitation to be the first to grant recognition.
Somalia’s Disruptive Strategies
Although Somalia has limited capacity to obstruct the Somaliland-Ethiopia deal, it employs a consistent approach, albeit in different manifestations, to undermine the agreement. Somalia’s disruptive strategy is primarily based on outspoken resistance, where they express strong disagreement and issue warnings about the potential for regional violence resulting from the implementation of the pact. Somalia presents a twofold contention: first, that the Somali people, including those in Somaliland, would strongly oppose the agreement, leading to military war with Ethiopia, which may potentially escalate among Somalis residing in Ethiopia as well. Second, Somalia posits that the agreement will provide favorable conditions for the recruitment of Al-Shabaab, impeding current endeavors to counteract the activities of this extremist organization. Both of these assumptions are unsubstantiated and devoid of any empirical support.
President Bihi was warmly received by a multitude of Somalilanders in Hargeisa upon the signing of the deal. As the president makes his strategic maneuver, tens of thousands of individuals are gathered at his residence and extend their warmest welcomes and commendations. In addition, most of the intellectual establishment in Somaliland perceives this agreement as a breakthrough and one that has emboldened it with enormous political, economic and military resources. Nonetheless, as Somaliland is a democratic country people have freedom of expression and can air their views freely.
Consequently, some argue that the agreement should explicitly prioritize the issue of recognition above all other matters. Others argue that the deal can only be enacted by presenting it to parliament and subjecting it to public scrutiny. Nevertheless, all of these opponents concurred with the notion of Ethiopia recognizing Somaliland, which, in turn, would lead to the establishment of robust security and economic cooperation. This cooperation would also facilitate the provision of a military base to Ethiopia. Hence, Somalia’s claim that Somalilanders are opposed is completely unfounded.
Moreover, Somalia’s assertion that the agreement will enhance the capabilities of Al-Shabaab and other extremist organizations lacks foundation. Unfortunately, some nations accept this rhetoric without questioning its justification. How does the agreement between Ethiopia and Somalia empower Al-Shabaab? If Ethiopia’s access to Somali territory via land and sea is the reason, as Mogadishu asserts, then that argument is illogical and without foundation. Because, if that is the case, tens of thousands of Ethiopian troops are already engaged in combat with Al-Shabaab within Somalia. If the tranquil lease between Ethiopia and Somalia is infuriating Al-Shabaab and enabling it to recruit more insurgents, then why not now that Ethiopian troops are engaged in combat within Somalia?
This proposition is highly illogical and challenging to procure. Somalia intends to convey the exact contrary message: the agreement does not confer authority upon Al-Shabaab. They are threatening to extend their assistance to Al-Shabaab. Somalia’s utilization of the phrase “enemy of my enemy is friend” is accurate. Such is the evidence that the President of Somalia delivered a sermon within the premises of Villa Somalia mosque, promoting extremism as a means to fight the Somaliland-Ethiopia deal. The Interior Minister of Somalia, Ahmed Moallim Fiqi, has referred to Ethiopia as an adversary seeking to build churches in Somaliland. He has called on the people of Somaliland and the Islamist factions in Somalia to fight against Ethiopia. In this context, it is Somalia that actively encourages the recruitment of its own people to join extremists, rather than the opposite. Nevertheless, although Somalia vehemently rejected the arrangement and engaged in a persistent propaganda effort against the deal, it is evident that the people of Somaliland wholeheartedly endorsed the deal.
Assessment of Somalia’s Assertions
As for the alleged Somalia events, they serve as a great story; however, its authenticity should be questioned. Somalia lacks the legal basis to assert its territorial claim over Somaliland. Hargeisa and Mogadishu have been separated more than they have been together. Their union was fraught with troubles even from the first day. This argument is grounded in the historical context of two nations. Particularly, events such as the attempted coup of 1961 and its following consequences—the long civil war that destroyed the Somali Republic in 1991. However, the internal relations of Somalia are radically different from those which prevail in Somaliland. With the passage of almost thirty years, Somaliland has emerged as a democratic and politically balanced country. However, Somalia is still a failed state with many other foreign forces in close vicinity of Villa Somalia. Up to date, Somaliland has successfully conducted eight general elections which most international observers considered as free and fair.
The current state of events in Somalia serves to emphasize its intrinsic vulnerability. Somalia is considered one of the most vulnerable states worldwide in terms of its military, economic, and social aspects. It has remained a failed state for decades. The nation’s lack of control is highlighted by the delicate security situation, which is marked by the presence of international forces. Somalia faces significant economic challenges, as it lacks the necessary stability and infrastructure to actively engage in regional affairs. The social and political structure is severely divided based on clan affiliations, hindering the achievement of national cohesion and collective efforts. Given this, it is indisputable that Somalia, a fragile and fragmented nation, is incapable of securing its territory or asserting an illegitimate claim to Somaliland, the most tranquil and fully-fledged democracy in the Horn of Africa region.
The Insignificance of Somalia’s Opposition
Essentially, Somalia’s opposition to the Somaliland-Ethiopia accord lacks a solid foundation. The agreement extends beyond the territorial jurisdiction of Somalia, similar to situations such as Kosovo, where objecting governments like Serbia were unable to prohibit international agreements involving Kosovo. The complexities of Somalia’s patrilineal social system, marked by conflicting clan interests, makes its opposition more fragmented than based on true national issues.
The strategy employed by Somalia, which focuses on highlighting possible conflicts and recruiting for Al-Shabaab, is fundamentally incorrect. The deal’s ramifications, both in terms of geography and diplomacy, extend beyond the sphere of Somalia’s influence. The claim that the Somali people, including those living in Somaliland would strongly object to the agreement is undermined by the distinction of politics and history, between Somalia and Somaliland. This is because Somalia has no jurisdiction or control, over Somaliland.
In the context of the Horn of Africa the agreement between Somaliland and Ethiopia holds importance and marks a pivotal moment in the region’s geopolitical dynamics. The distinctive aspect of the agreement, distinguished by Ethiopia’s acquisition of maritime access in return for diplomatic recognition for Somaliland, presents significant potential for both entities. The opposition in Somalia, which is focused on economic desires entrenched in clans, and expressed through disruptive techniques, does not possess the essential elements needed to hinder the deal. The inherent vulnerabilities of Somalia, in terms of its military, economic, and social aspects, highlight its lack of capacity to exert influence over the Somaliland-Ethiopia agreement. In other words, it is important to acknowledge the factual evidence that the agreement extends outside Somalia’s jurisdiction.
Ultimately, Ethiopia’s commitment to implementing this agreement increases its likelihood of success. Ethiopia has the legal right to acknowledge Somaliland, as doing so is the sole means by which Ethiopia can gain maritime access. Sovereign nations are legally authorized to grant recognition to other nations. No provision of international law impeded Ethiopia’s recognition of Somaliland. In 2008, both Nauru and the United States accorded Kosovo equal recognition. Nauru is a 21-kilometer-square country in Micronesia, located in the Central Pacific, with a population of 10,000. Serbia criticized the recognition, but it has no legal standing to oppose it; its condemnation is merely a futile gesture with no consequence. Regarding the recognition of entities, sovereign nations are free to do as they please; no international law can impede them. Ethiopia has every legal basis to recognize Somaliland.
Under international law, Somalia has no sovereign legitimacy over the Republic of Somaliland; therefore, any repetition by certain nations and regional organizations of Somalia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity determines an act of outright aggression. Ethiopia has to secure its Sovereignty and Territorial integrity, and warn these entities not to meddle with Ethiopia’s rightful sovereign decisions. Given that both Nauru and the United States recognized Kosovo without approval from Serbia, what precludes Ethiopia to do the same? Ethiopia is now tasked with implementing the agreement, as it has the potential to achieve significant goals for both countries in terms of economic development and regional stability.
With the international recognition of Somaliland and the establishment of Ethiopia’s access to the sea, the region is poised to experience enhanced stability and economic expansion. It is Ethiopia’s responsibility to take action and achieve these common goals, guaranteeing a significant and positive future for the Horn of Africa. Failure to reach this agreement would result in Ethiopia perpetually being landlocked, thereby putting Somaliland’s endeavor to gain recognition at risk. Conversely, the implementation of the agreement would be advantageous for Somaliland and Ethiopia across political, economic, and security dimensions. AS
Editor’s Note: Mohamed Hagi (PhD) is a diplomat, politician and academic, currently serving as the Chief Representative of the Republic of Somaliland to Taiwan.