OP-ED: Ethiopia-Somaliland MoU Stirs Dispute, Tests African Territorial Unity


In a move that has sent shockwaves across the African continent, Ethiopia recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Somaliland, an autonomous region in northern Somalia. This agreement, which focuses on developing maritime facilities and enhancing bilateral relations, has raised significant concerns about the violation of the cardinal principles of the African Union (AU) regarding respect for the territorial integrity of member states. 

The AU, since its inception, has been instrumental in maintaining the colonial-era borders to prevent disputes among African nations. Ethiopia, as the host nation of the AU, is expected to be a custodian of these principles. However, this recent agreement with Somaliland, a region that declared its independence from Somalia in 1991 but is not internationally recognized as a sovereign state, seems to contradict these expectations. 

Somalia has historically respected the territorial integrity of Ethiopia, despite having historical claims over certain regions. This respect was anticipated to be mutual. The Federal Government of Somalia in Mogadishu has expressed disappointment and concern over Ethiopia's decision to engage in an agreement of a seemingly sovereign nature with Somaliland's local authorities, violating the sovereignty of the federal government of Somalia. 

The Federal Government of Somalia along with Legal experts and international observers have pointed out that this action represents a breach of international law, including the AU Constitutive Act and the United Nations Charter. The fear is that such moves could set a precedent for other countries, leading to instability and potential conflicts in a continent that has strived to maintain unity and respect for established borders. 

Ethiopia, known for its diplomatic acumen as the seat of the AU, could have pursued its interests through more appropriate channels. Diplomatic experts suggest that Ethiopia should have engaged in direct discussions with the federal government of Somalia regarding its interests in maritime facilities, respecting the sovereignty of the Somali government.

This development poses a serious challenge to the principles of Pan-Africanism and solidarity, principles that have been the bedrock of African international relations post-independence. It calls for urgent attention from African leaders and the international community to reaffirm their commitment to the foundational principles of the AU and UN.

Ethiopia, if acting in good faith, could have pursued a more diplomatic and respectful approach. It might have engaged the Somali government in discussions about Ethiopian interests in maritime facilities within Somalia. Such a course would have respected the sovereignty of Somalia, allowing its authorities in Mogadishu to consider and decide on such matters. 

Regrettably, This approach not only jeopardizes the stability and unity of the African continent but also sets a dangerous precedent for international relations within the region. The AU and the international community must address this situation with the urgency and seriousness it warrants, to uphold the principles of territorial integrity and mutual respect that are vital for the sustained unity and prosperity of Africa. 

The Somali Federal Government has significantly defeated the terrorist group Al Shabab, a key milestone in Somalia's enduring fight against terrorism. While this achievement is momentous, there are rising apprehensions that the recent Memorandum of Understanding between Ethiopia and Somaliland may spark renewed regional discord, echoing the tensions that arose after Ethiopia's military invasion of Somalia in 2006.

Historians and political analysts recall that the 2006 invasion by Ethiopia played a crucial role in the emergence of Al Shabab. The militant group capitalized on the chaos and nationalistic sentiments that arose from the foreign intervention, allowing them to gain traction and support.

In a recent statement, Al Shabab's official spokesman, Ali Mohamud Rage, strongly condemned the agreement between Ethiopia and Somaliland. The group, despite its weakened state, views the MoU as a breach of Somali sovereignty and territorial integrity. 

Experts warn that this agreement might potentially create a vacuum, similar to post-2006, that could be exploited by remnants of Al Shabab or other insurgent groups. The situation is particularly delicate given the region's complex history and the fragile balance of power. 

The AU is under pressure to address this development and ensure that the principles of territorial integrity and respect for sovereignty remain paramount in the continent's diplomatic engagements.

Ismail D. Osman: Former Deputy Director of the Somalia National Intelligence & Security Agency (NISA). Specializing in writings on Somalia, the Horn of Africa's security, and geopolitical landscapes with an emphasis on governance and security. Contact: osmando@gmail.com. Twitter: @osmando.

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