- Written by Kalkidan Yveltal
- BBC News, Addis Ababa
The Ethiopian government has announced it has taken the first legal steps towards a path that could one day give the landlocked country access to the sea.
The country has signed what is known as a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the self-declared Republic of Somaliland to use one of its ports.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has previously said maritime access is an existential issue for the country.
His comments in October caused tensions across the Horn of Africa.
There were fears that this was an attempt to steal land from Ethiopia’s other neighbor, Eritrea, but they were quickly quashed by authorities.
Details of Monday’s deal with Somaliland were not made public, but a statement from Mr. Abiy’s office said it “paves the way to realizing Ethiopia’s aspirations to secure access to the sea.” Talks leading up to the memorandum of understanding have focused on the port of Berbera in Somaliland.
Memorandums of Understanding are not legally binding, but are considered statements of intent and can lead to treaties that impose obligations on the parties that sign them.
Nevertheless, Addis Ababa portrays this development as a major diplomatic victory.
At the signing ceremony, Abdi said the agreement includes a provision for Ethiopia to recognize Somaliland as an independent country at some point in the future.
Somaliland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement: “This historic agreement ensured maritime access for Ethiopia’s navy and in return formal recognition of the Republic of Somaliland, marking an important diplomatic milestone for our country.” It is stated that.
The newspaper quoted Abdi as saying the approval was obtained “in exchange for 20 kilometers (12 miles) of sea access for the Ethiopian Navy, leased for 50 years.”
Ethiopia has not commented on this aspect of the agreement.
Somaliland separated from Somalia more than 30 years ago but is not recognized as an independent state by the African Union (AU) or the United Nations.
There was no response regarding the announcement from Somalia, which considers Somaliland part of its territory. However, state broadcaster SNTV reported that an emergency cabinet meeting would be held on Tuesday to discuss the issue.
When Eritrea left in the early 1990s, Ethiopia lost access to the sea. With a population of over 100 million people, it is the most populous landlocked country in the world.
Until now, Ethiopia has used the port of neighboring Djibouti for most of its imports and exports.
In 2018, Ethiopia and Somaliland signed an agreement in which Addis Ababa will own a 19% stake in Berbera Port and UAE logistics company DP World will hold a 51% stake.
However, this fell through in 2022 because “Ethiopia was unable to meet the necessary conditions to acquire the shares by the deadline,” Somaliland authorities reportedly announced at the time. .