Ethiopia’s MoU with Somaliland: A Threat to Somalia’s Sovereignty and Regional Stability

This policy brief examines the Memorandum of Understanding signed between Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi on New Year’s Day 2024. The MoU offers Ethiopia a foothold in Somalia’s Gulf of Aden; in exchange, the breakaway region of Somaliland receives recognition from Addis Ababa. This has sparked serious political tension between Ethiopia and Somalia, as Somalia has accused Ethiopia of infringing upon its sovereignty. Somalia perceives Addis Ababa’s MoU with Somaliland as a continuation of Ethiopia’s centuries-old expansionist ambitions. This brief delves into Ethiopia’s historical quest for sea access, Somaliland’s secessionist aspirations, and the intricate dynamics of Ethiopia’s involvement in Somalia over the past three decades. It also highlights the implications of the MoU for Ethiopia, Somaliland, and Somalia and examines the broader impact on regional stability and the fight against al-Shabaab. Key concerns include the MoU’s potential to undermine the fragile state-building process in Somalia, to exacerbate regional tensions, and to embolden terrorist groups by providing them with a recruitment narrative.

The secrecy surrounding the agreement and the conflicting explanations offered by Ethiopian officials as to the nature and scope of the agreement and the terms of the MoU have further fueled suspicion among Somalis, not only in the Republic but also in Somaliland and in the diaspora. This brief calls for the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) to prioritize internal cohesion, intensify diplomatic efforts to affirm Somalia’s sovereignty, and take full advantage of the new partnership with Turkey for greater self-sufficiency. Additionally, this brief emphasizes the importance of a comprehensive strategy that balances negotiations with Somaliland with firm stances against external threats to Somalia’s territorial integrity.

Ethiopia’s MoU with Somaliland