Ethiopia warns Egypt against setting up military base in Somaliland
ADDIS ABABA - Ethiopia has warned Egypt against plans to establish a military base in the secessionist state of Somaliland, arguing that such actions could destabilize the East Africa region, which has been enjoying relative peace safe for unending Al-Shabaab menace in Somalia.
The formal warning from Addis Ababa comes days after Garowe Online exclusively reported about the events at the Horn of Africa, exposing Ethiopia's displeasure over plans by Egypt to set up the military base in Somaliland, a strategic region which is on the verge of getting international recognition, three decades after declaring self-independence from Somalia.
Ethiopia's formal reaction comes a fortnight after an Egyptian delegation visited Somaliland where it held bilateral talks with President Muse Bihi Abdi in Hargeisa, where the setting of a military base is said to have prominently featured. The delegation was preceded by another one by Somaliland to Cairo early this year.
But while acknowledging that sovereign states have the freedom of relating with other nations and regions for integration purposes, Ethiopia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Ambassador Dina Mufti told the Daily Nation that such relationships should not be established at the "expense" of other countries.
"As a sovereign country, Egypt has a legitimate right to create relationships with any county in the region," he said. "If Egypt's intent to have a presence in the region would be a threat to a third country, that won't be appropriate."
Should Addis Ababa establish that such moves are being done at the expense of other countries, he added, the country will declare Egypt's moves as illegal and against the international peace and security as envisaged by several treaties signed or passed by the United Nations.
"In this case, we need to have concrete instances of what's happening...we hope it won't be at the expense of Ethiopia or any other neighboring countries because if so, it will be unlawful, against humanity and international peace and security," he noted.
For most times since the attainment of independence by most East and Horn of Africa nations, Ethiopia has enjoyed a cordial relationship with her neighbors. This includes Somaliland, which Addis Ababa played an integral role in pushing for its secession from Somalia.
It's not yet known if Somaliland has accepted Egypt's proposal, but the two have reportedly reached an agreement “on the exchange of high-level representation offices in Hargeisa and Cairo.” Somaliland has liaison offices in over 27 countries despite the fact that it's yet to be recognized.
While Somaliland has not yet issued a statement on the topical matter, Bashe Omar, Hargeisa's representative to Kenya, dismissed claims that Somaliland and Ethiopia could have their relationship significantly affected, over the latest concerns on Egypt's future plans.
"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," said Omar, who previously worked as Somaliland's chief envoy to the United Arab Emirates.
Shortly after Egyptian delegation visited Somaliland, Addis Ababa also dispatched a team led by Finance Minister Ahmed Shide to Hargeisa for bilateral talks between the two nations. But Amb Mufti rejects speculation that Ethiopia's visit was due to concerns over Egypt’s plan.
"These are routine schedules aimed to discuss bilateral relations between the countries and it has nothing to do with the Egyptian delegation's visit to Somaliland," added the envoy, adding that Addis Ababa and Hargeisa have traditionally cooperated for mutual benefits.
Incidentally, Ethiopia brokered talks between Somaliland and Somalia, which are currently ongoing in Djibouti. Before June's reconciliation meeting in Djibouti, Ethiopian Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed had organized a meeting between Abdi and President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo in Addis Ababa.
Egypt and Ethiopia have been at loggerheads over the filling of the Grand Renaissance Dam along the Blue Nile, with efforts by the US and the African Union to mediate the crisis often failing.
A fortnight ago, Ethiopia vowed to continue with Phase I of the plans after a virtual meeting that was chaired by South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Some observers say Egypt's interest in gaining a foothold in Eastern Africa has piqued after Ethiopia said it will stick to its plan to fill the mega-dam. Earlier last month, South Sudan rubbished reports that it has agreed to Egypt's request to build a military base in Pagak, a town bordering Ethiopia.
Hargeisa is on a charm diplomatic offensive and has already established formal cooperation with Taiwan, an East Asia island which is claimed by China. Last week, Ambassador Bashe Omar hinted at ongoing plans for Kenya to establish a liaison office in Somaliland.
The separatist state is working closely with economic heavyweights countries as it pushes the recognition efforts at the international level.
There were reports recently that the US could shift her military base from Djibouti to Somaliland due to China's presence in Djibouti, something that would tremendously help in Hargeisa's international recognition mission.