In the Horn of Africa, a region historically scarred by conflict and political instability, a recent Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Ethiopia and the self-declared independent region of Somaliland has ignited a significant debate.

This agreement, ostensibly about access to the sea and economic cooperation, highlights the delicate balance between territorial integrity, sovereignty, and the quest for regional stability and prosperity.

At the heart of this controversy is Somalia’s vehement opposition to the MOU, which it views as an encroachment on its sovereignty and a divisive force against its internal cohesion. Somalia’s stance goes beyond diplomatic protest, placing an emphasis on national boundaries and the recognition of legitimate governance structures.

This situation presents a complex web of regional aspirations, economic ambitions, and the perennial quest for stability. Landlocked Ethiopia views access to the sea as crucial for its trade and growth. Somaliland, seeking international recognition and economic development, sees Ethiopia as a vital partner. Yet, the Somali government, striving for unity and sovereignty, perceives these overtures as undermining its territorial integrity.

Aspirations of the region

The dilemma facing the Horn of Africa is emblematic of broader challenges confronting nations today: how to navigate the interplay between sovereignty, economic development, and regional stability. The path forward, while fraught with challenges, also offers opportunities for a reimagined partnership that respects territorial integrity, fosters economic cooperation, and builds a foundation for lasting peace and prosperity.

First and foremost, the principle of territorial integrity must be sacrosanct. Ethiopia’s economic ambitions and Somaliland’s quest for development should not come at the expense of Somalia’s sovereignty. It’s imperative that Ethiopia publicly reaffirms Somalia’s territorial integrity as a precursor to any dialogue or cooperation. Such a gesture would not only allay Somalia’s concerns but also set a tone of respect and mutual recognition that is essential for constructive engagement.

Any agreement or cooperation that fails to consider internal dynamics risks exacerbating tensions and undermining stability

Moreover, Somalia’s willingness to facilitate Ethiopia’s access to its maritime resources signals a readiness for cooperation. This overture, however, is predicated on the understanding that such cooperation respects Somalia’s sovereignty and is routed through the federal government in Mogadishu. This approach not only underscores the importance of formal governance channels, but also highlights the potential for economic partnerships that benefit all parties involved.

The internal cohesion of Somalia, particularly in regions claimed by Somaliland, like SSC-Khatumo and amidst the resistance in areas such as Awdal, underscores the critical need for a dialogue that includes all stakeholders. The aspirations of these regions for unity and a federal system within Somalia highlight the complex dynamics of national identity, governance, and autonomy. Any agreement or cooperation that fails to consider these internal dynamics risks exacerbating tensions and undermining the very stability it seeks to promote.

The strategic interests of the Gulf countries, including the United Arab Emirates’ investments in ports such as Berbera and Bosaso, add another layer to the regional equation. These interests, while economically motivated, must be navigated with a keen awareness of the political and security implications for the Horn of Africa. The involvement of external actors necessitates a balanced approach that respects national sovereignty while fostering economic development.

Furthermore, the role of international peacekeeping efforts, such as the African Union Mission in Somalia (ATMIS), and the recent defence and naval agreement between Turkey and Somalia, underscore the international dimension of Somalia’s security and stability. The gradual drawdown of ATMIS troops highlights the need for Somali forces to assume greater responsibility for security, a transition that requires support, training, and resources to ensure a stable environment conducive to economic development and governance reform.

Dialogue, peacemaking

In this context, the path forward for Ethiopia and Somalia requires a multifaceted approach. Dialogue, underpinned by a respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, is the cornerstone of this process. Such dialogue should aim to address the immediate concerns surrounding the MOU while laying the groundwork for broader cooperation on economic development, security, and regional stability.

The international community, particularly entities like the African Union and the United Nations, as well as peace making organisations such as the European Institute of Peace, can play a constructive role in facilitating this dialogue, ensuring adherence to international norms, and supporting the implementation of agreements. Their involvement can lend legitimacy, provide technical expertise, and help mediate differences, thereby contributing to a positive outcome for all parties.

The MOU between Ethiopia and Somaliland, and Somalia’s response, offers a critical moment for reflection and realignment in the Horn of Africa. By prioritising dialogue, respecting sovereignty, and recognising the mutual benefits of cooperation, the parties involved can navigate the current challenges towards a future marked by stability, prosperity, and peace. This requires a commitment to understanding, flexibility, and a shared vision for the region’s future — a vision that acknowledges the interconnectedness of our destinies and the importance of working together for the common good.

As we contemplate the path forward, let us be guided by the principles of respect, cooperation, and a steadfast commitment to the well-being of all the people of the Horn of Africa. The cost of failure for the people of the region will be high. Extremist elements, such as Al-Shabaab, will exploit economic and political insecurity.  It is within our grasp to transform this moment of contention into an opportunity for collaboration, setting a precedent for how nations can work together to overcome challenges and build a future marked by peace and prosperity.

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Source: Africa Report

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