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Berbera port triggers diplomatic row as Ethiopia acquires share

Just days after the announcement of a three-party joint venture in the development of the Port of Berbera, Ethiopia and Somalia are engaged in controversies and diplomatic rows in the self-declared Somaliland government.



Angered by the involvement of Ethiopia in the Port of Berbera, Mogadishu has issued repetitive denouncements against the port deal. Early this week, members of the Somalian parliament have voted to discard the contentious deal Ethiopia has entered with the Dubai-based DP World — buying 19 percent shareholdings of the Port.

Subsequently, Somalia went asking for the involvement of the Arab League to dissolve the deal stating, Somaliland is part of its territories and any deal with the self-declared republic of Somaliland should be considered as illegal. Somalia argued not only about the illegitimacy of the deal but also says the deal violates its sovereignty.



Officials of the Government of Ethiopia stepped in to counter-argue and said the deal is strictly business minded. Ahmed Shide, minister of Transport told a local TV this week that Ethiopia’s involvement in the deal meant no harm to Somalia’s sovereignty. He also said, Ethiopia is taking part in the port because it needs alternative sea outlets as the needs for the growing population arise every time.

Meles Alem, spokesperson with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, briefed the local media on Thursday and referred to the positions of the government. The legitimacy of investing in Berbera or other alternatives is purely economic, he said.

The ambassador of Somalia and his mission subordinates were not available for comment since they have left for Mogadishu. Geopolitical experts locally are saying the deal would not hurt Somalia’s political domain. The government in Mogadishu is allegedly planning got take the case to an international tribunal.



Abebe Ayente, a geopolitical analyst, told The Reporter that Ethiopia is not the first country to have been involved in the growing business interest in Somaliland. “Since 2012, many countries have flocked to Somaliland; so why is Mogadishu echoing concerns now?” Abebe asked.

Abebe said that Egypt, Russia and others including the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have been conducting some sorts of activities in Somaliland. Given the various political commitments and agreements both Ethiopia and Somalia have entered into over the years, Abebe said that the standoff is less likely to escalate into an international matter.

“It will be [Somalia’s reaction] a backdoor lobbying effort. There are countries in the Arab League which would indirectly influence Somalia at least to sound political concerns and I don’t think it will go further from that”, Abebe said.

It has been almost 21 years since Somaliland became a self-declared republic and expressed wills of economic developments with or without the recognition of the international community.

It is to be recalled that back in 2017, members of the Somaliland parliament have voted to allow UAE set up a military base at the Port of Berbera. A year before that, DP World signed a landmark 30 years concession to develop a USD 442 million multipurpose port facility. The joint venture agreement granted DP World a 65 percent control to manage and invest on the development of Berbera port.



Two years later, the silence from the Ethiopian side broke and made official that it has bought 19 percent stake as part of its plan to invest and develop in port facilities deemed alternative to the Port of Djibouti.

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