The alarm bells are ringing as Ethiopia’s unrelenting quest for port access raises the troubling specter of the annexation of Somaliland’s strategic Zaila port. While this may sound like a far-fetched scenario, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, appears driven by a grand delusion, repeatedly asserting that landlocked Ethiopia has an unquestionable “right” to secure a port. When this ambition is viewed against the backdrop of Somaliland’s current vulnerabilities, it paints a deeply concerning picture.
Upon assuming office, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed embarked on a mission to secure port access for landlocked Ethiopia. He initially won multiple port concessions from Somalia’s former President, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Farmajo, and forged similar agreements with Eritrea’s Isaias Afwerki and Djibouti’s Ismail Omar Guelleh. However, these agreements failed to materialize, and Ethiopia even lost its 19% stake in Somaliland’s Berbera port, which Somaliland’s Finance Minister, Dr. Saad Ali Shire, attributed to ‘non-payment’.
Despite these setbacks, Abiy’s determination to secure port access remains unshaken. Following a tumultuous period marked by the devastating civil war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, Abiy has revived his port ambitions, reiterating Ethiopia’s “right” to a port and subtly alluding to Somaliland’s underutilized and underdeveloped Zaila port.
What is most disconcerting is Abiy’s rhetoric on this matter. He frames Ethiopia’s lack of port access as an inherent injustice and even as an existential threat, suggesting a zero-sum game mentality where Ethiopia must obtain a port at all costs. This assertive stance raises legitimate concerns about his intentions and, more importantly, the potential implications for the fragile Horn of Africa, particularly Somaliland.
Eritrea has already responded forcefully to Abiy’s grand delusion and the fact that it is run by an actual mad man makes the price too high. Djibouti, although tiny and militarily weak, it enjoys the protection of the French and is a host to the United States Africa Command among other militaries which makes it another unattainable prize. That leaves Somaliland and realistically the most attractive option that Abiy may be eying.
Somaliland, at the moment is at its lowest point since regaining independence, is grabbling with a host of formidable challenges and political tumult. The Bihi government’s unyielding thirst for power, coupled with its obsession with the unabashed pillaging and sell-off of state assets, has only worsened the situation. To compound the issue, Bihi is surrounded by a group of former NGO drones masquerading as diplomats, whose recent blunders include Museveni’s outspoken opposition to Somaliland’s sovereignty. It is highly likely that these individuals will advise Bihi to entertain any proposition from Abiy and spin it as an acknowledgment of Somaliland’s status.
While the potential annexation of Zaila by Ethiopia remains unrealistic as annexing an area and then building a port is a pipe dream, Abiy’s unrelenting and dangerous pursuit of port access and Somaliland’s internal issues signal the need for vigilance. As the geopolitical landscape and regional dynamics continue to evolve, it is of utmost importance to closely monitor these developments any overtures from Abiy to sign any sort of deal that places Ethiopian forces on Somaliland’s soil.
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