Ethiopia says despite its trade relations with Somalia’s breakaway enclave of Somaliland, it does not support the sovereignty of the self-declared republic. Ethiopian foreign minister Seyoum Mesfin says Somaliland deserves to be rewarded for creating peace out of anarchy, but no one should confuse Ethiopia’s trade links there as recognition of its bid for nationhood. Last year, the Ethiopian government sent a formal delegation to the former British Somaliland and signed deals to boost cross-border trade and use the Berbera port. Many saw the agreements as a tacit recognition of Somaliland’s much-rebuffed bid for sovereignty.
Matt Bryden is the director of the Horn of Africa Project of the International Crisis Group. He told English to Africa reporter Ashenafi Abedje that today’s statement by the foreign minister doesn’t change the Ethiopian position on Somaliland. He says Ethiopia “has long maintained a de facto relationship with Somaliland, falling short of full diplomatic recognition.” He says this includes close cooperation on a number of trade and security issues.
Bryden says recognizing Somaliland is a decision to be made collectively by the African Union and not by individual member states. He says he sees no contradiction in Ethiopia actively trading with Somaliland and not officially recognizing it. Bryden says Ethiopia is simply pursuing its national interests, which he says include “having a stable and cooperative neighbor, and having access to the Gulf of Aden.” He adds Ethiopia also requires a relationship with southern Somalia.
The ICG official says Somaliland may gain recognition as an independent state at some point in the future. He says the breakaway republic’s claim to recognition is “consistent with the AU charter.” Bryden adds, “Having once been an independent state, Somaliland’s claim to independence is probably stronger than that of territories such as Eritrea and Western Sahara, that are already members of the AU.”