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Ethiopia's finance minister visits Somaliland as Egypt eyes military base in the region

By Abuga Makori , Garowe Online

HARGEISA, Somalia - A high-level delegation from Ethiopia on Wednesday arrived in Hargeisa, the administrative capital of Somaliland, a top official told Garowe Online, just a few days after Egypt expressed intentions to establish a military base in the northern breakaway region of Somalia.

Last week, an Egyptian delegation visited Somaliland for three days where they held closed-door meetings with President Muse Bihi Abdi. Insiders said Cairo had proposed to establish a military base in Somaliland, a move which angered Ethiopia, which has been at loggerheads with Egypt over the construction of Grand Renaissance Dam along the Blue Nile.

Bashe Omar, Somaliland's official representative to Kenya, confirmed the trip by Ethiopians to Hargeisa, adding that they will hold bilateral talks with Muse Bihi, but could not admit or deny possibilities of discussions on Egypt's plans to set the military base.

"The delegation from Ethiopia is lead by the minister of finance Ahmed Shide. But obviously the two sides will discuss the important relationship between the two countries," said Omar, who previously served as Somaliland's envoy to the United Arab Emirates.

Last week, Somaliland only narrowed details of the Egyptian delegation's meeting to bilateral talks which involved ministries of foreign affairs, investments, fisheries, and livestock. However, the establishment of the military base is said to have dominated the talks.

Egypt is keen to have Ethiopia stopped from filling the Grand Renaissance Dam, and the move almost plunged the two countries into a deadlock. However, a meeting brokered by the African Union reached a compromise on Tuesday, with Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed confirming the positive outcome.

"Fruitful meeting on the GERD facilitated by Cyril Ramaphosa in the endeavors to strengthen African Solutions to African Problems. I appreciate my brothers Sudan PM Hamdok and Fattah el-Sisi for common understanding reached on continuing technical discussions on filling," he noted.

Ethiopia's interest in Somaliland

Traditionally, Ethiopia has closely worked with Somaliland from matters trade to security, and it played an instrumental role in helping Hargeisa to declare independence from Mogadishu in 1991 following years of civil war that left thousands of people dead and others displaced.

Addis Ababa and Hargeisa partnered with the DP World along with the United Arab Emirates to construct the strategic port of Berbera, which connects the Horn of Africa and the rest of the world. Ethiopia owns 19 percent of the port's shares.

The fact that Ethiopia is a landlocked country, it has been depending on Berbera port to export and import goods, hence the ties with Somaliland. The DP World, a major world freight company, owns 51 percent of the shares while Somaliland owns 30 percent shares.

And it's the port project, which Ethiopia played a key role in construction, which triggered the decision by the United Arab Emirates to build a 250-kilometer dual carriageway between the city of Berbera and the Ethiopian border town of Togwajale.

A few months ago, Ethiopia also brokered a meeting between Somaliland and Somalia with the help of Djibouti. It is Dr. Abiy Ahmed and Djibouti President Ismael Omar Guelleh who persuaded President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo and Muse Bihi to drop their hard stance for constructive dialogue.

A technical committee that was formed in Djibouti would deliver a report whose implementation could play a key role in the recognition of Somaliland. But the Egyptian delegation exerted anxiety in Addis Ababa, even though Mr. Bashe Omar had dismissed a possible fallout between Somaliland and Ethiopia.

"Somaliland and Ethiopia have a warm and historical tie that is anchored on matters trade and Security Cooperation. We are continuing to enhance our cooperation on trade, infrastructure development, and education," he had said in a tweet.

Somaliland's stand on Egypt-Ethiopia crisis

With the Grand Renaissance Dam at the epicenter of the crisis between Addis Ababa and Cairo, Somaliland was quick to exude confidence that an amicable solution would be reached, even before the meeting that was chaired by Ramaphosa on Tuesday where a temporary solution was reached.

Deputy Foreign Affairs minister Liban Youssouf Osman had on Sunday said the two nations should consider having a dialogue for the sake of unity, adding that Hargeisa will "forever" support negotiations at the expense of aggressive diplomatic missions.

Somaliland, he said, is ready to mediate the crisis, which has threatened the stability of the North and the Horn of Africa regions in recent months. Hargeisa's approach is different from that of Somalia, which has already backed Ethiopia's approach to the matter.

“Somaliland can mediate since it has a good relationship with both countries,” said Osman, who is a close ally of President Muse Bihi Abdi, the leader of the northern breakaway region of Somalia, which seceded in 1991 after decades of civil war.

Osman dismissed claims that Ethiopia is against close ties between Egypt and Somaliland, adding that “We can deal with any country for our own interests, it is our business.” Over the weekend, Ethiopia questioned the motive of a recent trip by senior officials from Cairo to Somaliland.

According to Osman, Egypt has the experience and the know-how which can be extremely beneficial to develop the Somaliland mining sector, as the country is abundant with mineral resources. Cairo, he added, is influential in pushing for the much-needed recognition.

“Egypt can play a major role in our international recognition, as it is a major country in Africa and the Arab World, which can help push our case for recognition in both the African Union and Arab League,” he added.

Somaliland, he believes meets most of the requirements of a sovereign democratic state, adding, “We have held free and fair elections, and we have our own currency, security forces, and passports.” Also, Somaliland’s independence claim is consistent with a longstanding norm of the African Union and its predecessor that colonial-era borders should be maintained.


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