Berbera and Zeila, two of the Horn of Africa’s ancient trading cities, have long attracted the interest of global powers because of their strategic location near the Bab el-Mandeb Strait connecting the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. This location makes Somaliland’s coastal ports among the region’s most valuable real estate and an alternative to Djibouti as a key player in terms of trade, development, energy, and water security for the Red Sea and Horn of Africa.
Richard Burton, the British explorer, recognized the importance of Berbera port back in 1896, writing:
In the first place, Berbera is the true key of the Red Sea, the centre of East African traffic, and the only safe place for shipping upon the western Eritrean shore, from Suez to Guardafui. Backed by lands capable of cultivation, and by hills covered with pine and other valuable trees, enjoying a comparatively temperate climate, with a regular although thin monsoon, this harbour has been coveted by many a foreign conqueror. Circumstances have thrown it as it were into our arms, and, if we refuse the chance, another and a rival nation will not be so blind.
A new geopolitical rivalry in the Red Sea
Somaliland’s ports still remain the object of international interest and rivalry today, although the foreign powers involved have changed. On July 1, according to an official statement, Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said Taiwan had agreed to establish ties with Somaliland based on “friendship and a shared commitment to common values of freedom, democracy, justice, and the rule of law."
Less than a week later, however, Somalia’s federal government, led by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, aligned itself with China to prevent a Taiwanese-Somaliland nexus that would have clear geopolitical ramifications for the Horn of Africa.
While China and Somalia rebuffed and condemned the new strategic bilateral ties between Somaliland and Taiwan, the U.S. National Security Council has blessed Taiwan’s venture into East Africa, sending a clear message to China that the U.S. stands with Taiwan. This is a significant blow to the Chinese government, which has used its international influence and “development-trap diplomacy” in recent decades to rally support among African and Middle Eastern states for its efforts to suppress Taiwan’s presence in the international sphere.
Egypt, Ethiopia, and Somaliland
On July 12, a high-level delegation from Egypt traveled to Somaliland. Although an Egyptian delegation had visited in 2019, angering Somalia, this year’s trip comes at a critical time as Ethiopia and Egypt have locked horns in their dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). The Egyptian delegation’s visit prompted protests from the Ethiopian government, and Egypt's growing bilateral ties and cooperation with Somaliland are giving Ethiopia GERD problems of its own — as in gastroesophageal reflux disease.
It is important to note that Ethiopia has a 19 percent stake in the port of Berbera, which is managed by the UAE’s DP World with a 51 percent stake, while Somaliland holds 30 percent. In May 2019, Ethiopia signed its first military cooperation agreement with France, which covers joint air cooperation and includes assistance for Ethiopia’s efforts to build up its naval forces — although where the landlocked country plans to dock these naval forces remains unclear. Joking aside, Ethiopia’s naval endeavors are driven by two main factors: first, concerns over the future of Djibouti’s port, which the IMF categorizes as at a “high risk of debt distress,” comparable to the Sri Lankan port of Hambantota, which was built with Chinese financing and which Beijing took control of after Colombo failed to meet its debt obligations; and second, to protect 11 state-owned commercial vessels managed by the Ethiopian Shipping & Logistics Services Enterprise (ESLSE).
Scramble for fragile Somaliland
Although Somaliland is relatively peaceful compared to Somalia, its lack of international recognition makes it fragile and susceptible to being drawn into regional disputes as it seeks allies, bilateral ties, and eventual recognition. This has been the case with the Gulf states, where it has sided with the UAE and Saudi Arabia. In part as a result of this fragility and desire to secure more allies and improve bilateral ties, Somaliland now finds itself in the middle of multiple disputes among other states, including Ethiopia and Egypt and China and Taiwan.
Taken together, the current domestic instability in Ethiopia and its tensions with Egypt over the GERD, combined with the global superpower competition in the Horn of Africa and Red Sea, are a recipe for conflict that could trigger the largest refugee influx in African history. This could destabilize Somaliland and with it key international maritime trade routes, making it vulnerable to insecurity and terrorism that directly affects both Ethiopia and Djibouti, with which it shares its western border.
To reduce future geopolitical uncertainty and security risk in the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea, it’s in the best interest of the international community to take the following steps:
Consider recognizing Somaliland; Praise Taiwan-Somaliland relations instead of giving in to Chinese pressure and potentially keeping at bay Russia, which also has a keen interest in establishing a military base at Berbera port; and Include Somaliland in the Red Sea Council and help it develop its own navy. Guled Ahmed is a Non-Resident Scholar with MEI, a renewable energy and water infrastructure expert, and an entrepreneur. The views expressed in this piece are his own.
militias related to eastern burco clan has declared its objective in western sanaag in response to the injustices that is happening in the secessionist clan enclave of somaliland. they have declared they will contact the federal government of somalia.
first of all i wanna say that i was born and raised in hargeisa, growing i always hated how some of our people tried so hard to be arabs but what they dont know is that arabs hate somalis. i personally experienced this when i when to saudi arabia as somali people are constantly called african go back to your country. one time a friend told me about a story of him that happened to him, he came late to prayer so some him and his freinds decided to do jamac on their own and this arab guy said he would lead, so he lead but it turns his quran was poor and and the somali guy exited prayer and told him let me lead instead but the arab guy told him that he is african and cant lead him. theres more examples which i would rather not talk about enough of that and back to somaliland i think that our flag doesn't represent somali people why it looks too arab as theres the arabic language all over it instead of our own language even on our emblems its arabic and english and no somali which is very embaressing. which i wish would be changed and am not saying that we should take the shahada of the flag but what am saying is we should write it in our language or use the emblem that is on other muslim countries flags like pakistan and turkey.... i would like you to post alternative flags somaliland should use. here is mine
Jubaland; Although being a relatively new state in terms of Somalia's independence seems as if its in search of pure and utter autonomy.
But the question is why? Can Somalia ever surrender its southern coast and second largest port to Kenya?
Though let's be honest, in terms of independence, Jubaland's urge and determination in search of self-governance and pure sovereignty can only mean WAR and DISASTER up North. This would mean Somaliland would need to fight even harder for recognition. Not only will the air up north be rigged in deep pessimism, but Jubaland's stance for independence will ruin the dream, that of course....never was-