Somalia is to hold an emergency meeting on Tuesday, January 2, the day after the announcement of an agreement between Ethiopia and Somaliland allowing Ethiopia to have access to the sea via a port located on the territory of this separatist region of Somalia.

The surprise deal was signed as Somalia and Somaliland agreed last week to resume negotiations to resolve outstanding issues, after years of political tension and deadlock.

The agreement between Ethiopia and the self-proclaimed Republic of Somaliland – born from the secession from Mogadishu in 1991 and which is not recognized by the international community – “will pave the way for realizing the aspiration of Ethiopia to secure its access to the sea and diversify its access to maritime ports,” said Monday a statement from the services of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on X.

It allows Ethiopia to acquire an unspecified part of the port of Berbera, on the edge of the Red Sea, a few months after Abiy Ahmed’s declarations affirming that his country must consolidate its right to access to this sea, which had caused concern in the region.

“Regional stability at risk”

In response, the Somali government “will convene an emergency meeting on Tuesday to discuss and make decisions regarding the agreement reached by the administration of Somaliland, the northern region of the country, and Ethiopia”, announced on X television Somali State Television, SNTV.

There was no immediate reaction from President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, but his predecessor Mohammed Abdullahi Mohamed, known as “Farmajo,” said on X that it was a “serious concern for Somalia and the whole of Africa”. Berbera is an African port on the southern coast of the Gulf of Aden, at the entrance to the Red Sea which leads to the Suez Canal.

“The actions of the Ethiopian government today constitute a blatant disregard for international norms and legal frameworks, representing a blatant violation of Somali territorial sovereignty,” the Somali president’s special representative for Somaliland, Abdikarim Hussein Guled, criticized Monday on X , also denouncing a “unilateral act which endangers regional stability”.

The national security adviser to the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Redwan Hussein, clarified on Monday that Ethiopia would have access to a leased military base on the Red Sea as part of the agreement.

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A former British territory, Somaliland unilaterally declared its independence from Somalia in 1991, when the country was plunging into chaos from which it has still not emerged. Although it has its own institutions and issues currency, Somaliland, which has 4.5 million inhabitants, has never seen its independence recognized by the international community.

Somali authorities and the breakaway region of Somaliland announced talks last week mediated by Djiboutian President Ismaël Omar Guelleh, the first of this kind since the failure of the last talks in 2020.

Ethiopia, the second most populous country in Africa, found itself without its own access to the sea following the independence of Eritrea in 1993, following a long conflict. It enjoyed access to an Eritrean port until the two countries fought a war in 1998-2000, and since then Ethiopia has channeled most of its trade through Djibouti.

By 2018, Addis Ababa had already acquired 19% of the port of Berbera, according to DP World, a company that manages the operations of this Somaliland port. It owns 51%, and Somaliland owns the remaining 30%.