Somaliland warns its citizens in Mogadishu as Ethiopia maritime deal fuels Horn of Africa tensions
Hargeisa (HOL) – Amid escalating tensions over a controversial maritime agreement with Ethiopia, the self-declared Republic of Somaliland has issued a stern warning to its citizens residing in Mogadishu, Somalia. Somaliland’s Ministry of Information Culture and National Guidance denounced accusations from the Somali government, which alleged intentions to harm journalists and protesters.
In a Wednesday press release, the Somaliland government stated, “We express concern over the actions taken by Somalia’s security agency, NISA, who have been targeting individuals of Somaliland origin or with a Somaliland dialect, under the guise of compassion. These actions are clearly aimed at sowing discord and division among the people of Somaliland.”
Somaliland’s statement referred to the plight of Abdibasid Mohamed Gani, a Somalilander whom two NISA officers allegedly attacked for expressing support for the Ethiopia-Somaliland memorandum of understanding.
The Somaliland government has urged its community and the media to be vigilant and recognize the trap set by “adversaries against Somaliland.” Additionally, it has called upon Somalilanders residing in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, “to be cautious of threats posed by Somali security forces and to closely monitor the actions of the Somali government, which is actively targeting the citizens of the Republic of Somaliland in that region.”
The contentious agreement, signed between Somaliland and Ethiopia, grants Ethiopia access to a leased military base on the Red Sea and has been met with widespread opposition in Somalia, with large-scale protests erupting in Mogadishu and other towns. Thousands, including key government officials such as Somalia’s Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre, demonstrated in Mogadishu on Thursday, condemning the pact as a violation of national sovereignty.
In Burao town, under Somaliland control, protests also emerged, with demonstrators voicing discontent against Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi and his administration’s decisions.
Ethiopia-Somaliland Agreement: A Strategic Move with Far-reaching Implications
The Ethiopian-Somaliland port deal, signed on January 1, 2024, in Addis Ababa, has not only strained Somalia-Somaliland relations but also prompted a diplomatic row between Somalia and Ethiopia. Somalia has recalled its ambassador to Ethiopia and sought international intervention, including the UN Security Council and the African Union.
The agreement has also raised concerns among regional players. Ethiopia, a landlocked nation seeking access to the sea, views the deal as a strategic move amidst its complex relations with coastal neighbours like Djibouti and Eritrea.
Djibouti, leading the regional grouping IGAD, expressed concern, emphasizing the importance of respecting territorial integrity. The European Union, African Union, and Arab League have urged Ethiopia to reconsider its decision.
Internal Reactions in Somaliland: Resignations and Criticisms
The deal’s implications extend beyond diplomatic spheres. Somaliland’s Defense Minister, Abdiqani Mohamoud Ateye, became the first political casualty of the agreement after he resigned in protest, criticizing the lack of cabinet consultation and expressing concerns over Ethiopia’s military presence in Somaliland. Ateye’s resignation highlights internal divisions within Somaliland’s political landscape.
Somaliland’s main opposition party, Wadani, also criticized the deal, pointing to a lack of transparency and public understanding. The party’s chairman, Hirsi Ali Haji Hassan, emphasized the need for clear communication and broader recognition, not just from Ethiopia.
Accusations from Somalia
The recent arrest of three journalists in Somaliland during a live debate on X (formerly Twitter) about the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Ethiopia has intensified international concerns over press freedom in the region. Mohammed Abdi Sheikh, Mohamed Abdi Abdillahi, and Ilyaas Abdinasir, were detained at the headquarters of Maan Media TV (MM Somali TV).
This incident has been vehemently condemned by the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJsomal), which highlighted not only the unlawful detention but also the physical violence against journalists and staff, alongside damage to equipment. Omar Faruk Osman, NUSOJ’s Secretary General, has criticized the Somaliland government’s actions, demanding the immediate release of the journalists.
These arrests followed warnings from Somaliland’s Minister of Information, Ali Hassan Mohamed, against discussing the MoU, a move seen as an attempt to suppress dissent.