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Ethiopian PM’s Declaration Amidst Rising Somalia Tensions – What’s Really Happening?

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Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has reassured that his nation harbors no ill intentions towards neighboring Somalia amidst escalating tensions over territorial disputes. In a parliamentary address, Prime Minister Abiy emphasized Ethiopia’s commitment to regional stability, asserting, “Ethiopia does not wish any harm” upon Somalia.

The remarks follow Somalia’s allegations against Ethiopia, accusing the landlocked nation of attempting to annex parts of Somali territory to secure access to the sea. The contentious issue arose when Ethiopia entered into a controversial agreement with the breakaway republixc of Somaliland last month. Under the agreement, Somaliland, a region Somalia considers part of its sovereign territory, agreed to lease a section of its coastline to Ethiopia.

Somalia vehemently denounced the deal as an act of aggression, prompting President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud to call for national defense preparedness and refuse dialogue with Ethiopia unless the agreement was revoked.

Protests erupted in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, with massive demonstrations against the deal, underscoring the public’s fervent opposition to perceived territorial encroachments. Diplomatic efforts have been underway to de-escalate tensions, with calls for the recognition of Somalia’s sovereignty over its entire territory.

In an attempt to allay concerns and foster amicable relations, Prime Minister Abiy portrayed a narrative of fraternity between Ethiopia and Somalia, despite historical conflicts, including a devastating war in the 1970s.

Highlighting the shared sacrifices made by Ethiopians in support of Somalia’s peace efforts, Prime Minister Abiy underscored the profound bond between the two nations. While acknowledging efforts to stoke conflict between Ethiopia and Somalia, Prime Minister Abiy reiterated the potential regional benefits of sea access, characterizing it as crucial for economic development.

The issue of sea access has been a focal point for Ethiopia, with Prime Minister Abiy previously describing it as an “existential issue” for his country. On January 1, Prime Minister Abiy signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi, signaling mutual intent for cooperation.

Although an MoU represents a statement of intent rather than a legally binding agreement, it underscores Ethiopia’s pursuit of strategic partnerships in the region. As part of the MoU, Somaliland expressed readiness to grant Ethiopia access to its coastline for commercial purposes and potentially lease a section for naval operations. However, Ethiopia’s recognition of Somaliland’s independence remains unconfirmed.

Somaliland, having declared independence from Somalia in 1991, operates as a self-governing entity with functional institutions, although its sovereignty has yet to be internationally recognized. Amidst diplomatic maneuvers and public outcry, the resolution of the Ethiopia-Somalia-Somaliland dispute remains a critical issue shaping regional dynamics and relations in the Horn of Africa.

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