(Bloomberg) -- Somalia’s President warned he would take “all necessary measures” to defend his country should neighboring Ethiopia make further steps toward securing direct passage to the Red Sea via Somaliland, a breakaway region of Somalia.

Speaking shortly after he officially invalidated Ethiopia’s agreement with Somaliland to lease a sea corridor, Hassan Sheik Mohamud called on Somali civilians both abroad and at home to defend the nation against any incursion. While Somaliland unilaterally declared independence in 1991, Somalia still considers it part of the country. 

“It is essential that all Somalis living as far as Minnesota, Jijiga in Ethiopia, Nairobi, and Somalis living within the country defend your country equally,” he told parliamentarians on Sunday, referring to places with a significant Somali diaspora. “That is the only thing that will unite us.” 

He then travelled to hold talks with Eritrea President Isaias Afwerki to try and shore up regional support. 


Mohamud’s comments mark a step up in the rhetoric during an increasingly tense standoff between Somalia and Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous country. Under the Jan. 1 deal, Ethiopia would lease a sea corridor from Somaliland for 50 years, enabling it to establish a military base and commercial facilities — an advance Somalia considers unacceptable.

In exchange, Somaliland would get an unspecified share of state-owned Ethiopian Airlines Group, the continent’s largest and only consistently profitable carrier.   

Ethiopia “will not be able to grab a portion of the independent Somali territory, and we will take all necessary measures to defend it,” Mohamud said, adding that Somalia is seeking assistance from unspecified foreign actors.

Egyptian Support

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi reiterated his government’s “unwavering support for Somalia’s sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity,” in a message delivered by a delegation that met with Mohamud on Sunday in Mogadishu, the Somali capital. Egypt has long been engaged in a standoff of its own with Ethiopia over a giant dam being built on the Nile River. 

Djibouti, in its role presiding over a regional bloc, urged Somalia and Ethiopia to de-escalate tensions and begin talks. However, the head of Ethiopia’s defense forces met with his Somaliland counterpart to discuss military cooperation in Addis Ababa on Monday, according to a report carried on Ethiopia’s state television broadcaster.

Thousands of people protested against the maritime deal in Somalia’s Awdal region at the weekend, while Somalilanders rallied in favor in the central city of Burao.

Several Arrests

Security forces in Somaliland have arrested several prominent critics of the deal, including Sheik Mustafa Omar, a renowned Islamic scholar living in the capital, Hargeisa, who recently delivered a sermon urging people to oppose the accord.

While Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi said Ethiopia will officially recognize his territory as a sovereign state, Addis Ababa has said the issue is still being assessed.

Somaliland unilaterally declared independence in 1991 from Somalia after the eruption of a civil war. Since then, it’s been pushing for international recognition that would allow it to source funding and aid. The deal with Ethiopia would allow it to achieve that.

(Updates with meeting with Egyptian officials in fifth paragraph.)

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