Unveiling Ethiopia-Somaliland MoU and its implications

Originally Published at: Addis Standard

At the core of the current debate surrounding the recent Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Ethiopia and Somaliland lies three major interests: Somalia’s unity, territorial integrity, and sovereignty; Somaliland’s pursuit of de jure recognition of its de facto independence and sovereignty, alongside Ethiopia’s renewed long-standing aspiration to regain access to the sea. Rooted in the region’s history, these issues have evolved to encompass a tangled mix of internal political dynamics, geopolitical significance, and international legal repercussions.

Clearly, the controversy is not merely about the lease agreement for a port or navy base. Several states, including China and the USA in Djibouti, and the UAE in Somaliland, have established similar arrangements for ports and military bases. What is new about the MoU is Ethiopia’s consideration of conferring formal recognition on Somaliland as an independent state.

To ensure Africa’s voice is influential and respected by great and regional powers, and its concerns and aspirations are considered by the international community, Africa’s positions should be based on three core principles: 

Pragmatism: The AU and its member states should eschew dogmatic or idealistic stances in favor of a practical approach that prioritizes the tangible improvement of living conditions in Africa. 

Dynamism: The AU and its member states must be ready to quickly adapt their policies in response to changing regional or global circumstances, including revising foreign or maritime policies and enhancing African countries’ capabilities.

A collective unified voice: Given the diversity and fragmentation in the AU and its 55 member states’ approach to partnerships with extra-continental actors, a unified stance is crucial. This collective action is vital in augmenting their agency and shielding Pan African and regional decision-making from external interference. The AU must continue to issue common African positions, now extending this practice to partnerships with extra-continental actors. This involves defining shared interests, building overlapping consensus, and steering a common rule-based effort. Such a unified voice would amplify Africa’s agency and international clout, helping to counterbalance the asymmetries in international relations. It might require the AU to assert sovereignty over foreign affairs: while member states can enter agreements with third parties as sovereign entities, they should commit to a unified stance and act in unison, ensuring these agreements align with a commonly agreed position. These broad continental issues call for a Pan-African transformation, necessitating national introspection and a revamp of the AU’s interventionist and integrationist mandate. 

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