Somaliland and Somalia have adopted different approaches to their relationship with neighboring Ethiopia

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The differing attitudes toward Ethiopia between Somalia and Somaliland reflect deep-rooted historical, political, and territorial factors.

Somalia and Somaliland have adopted different approaches to their relationship with neighboring Ethiopia. Somalia has historically been reluctant to engage in peace agreements with Ethiopia, while Somaliland has pursued a more positive and cooperative relationship.

On January 1, 2024, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Somaliland President Musa Bihi signed a memorandum of understanding, which caused considerable outcry in Somalia. The agreement was seen as beneficial to both Ethiopia and Somaliland, providing economic and security advantages.

Past attempts at peace between the Somali Republic and Ethiopia have faced significant challenges.

On September 4, 1968, Mohamed Egal, the Prime Minister of the Somali Republic—a union between Somaliland and Somalia that was never formally ratified—signed a peace deal with Ethiopian Prime Minister Aklilu Habte-Wold. (Note: Prime Minister Egal was from Somaliland and later became the President of the Republic of Somaliland.) Shortly after signing the peace deal with Ethiopia, the President of the Somali Republic, Abdirashid Shermarke, was assassinated in Lascanod on October 15, 1969. This assassination is believed to be related to the peace deal with Ethiopia and the discontent among the Somalia political elite over a Prime Minister from Somaliland making deals with Ethiopia.

On July 7, 1969, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia visited the United States to meet with President Richard Nixon at the White House. During this visit, he also met with Henry Kissinger, then the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs, who was interested in understanding the Emperor’s concerns and what assistance Ethiopia might need from the U.S. government. In a memorandum written by Kissinger, Ethiopia was described as the U.S.’s closest friend in Africa. During a briefing to President Nixon, Kissinger noted that the relationship between Ethiopia and the Somali Republic had improved, entering a phase of détente due to the pragmatic approach of Prime Minister Mohamed Egal.

A significant event leading to this détente was the visit of Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Egal to Ethiopia from September 1–4, 1968, which broke the deadlock between the two countries. According to the communiqué signed on September 4, 1968, by Prime Minister Egal and Ethiopian Prime Minister Aklilu Habte-Wold, Ethiopia agreed to relax emergency measures on September 16, 1968, and return confiscated Somali vehicles with compensation for damages. Additionally, Ethiopia allowed flights between Mogadishu and Hargeisa to overfly Ethiopian airspace. The two governments agreed to negotiate cultural, telecommunications, and trade agreements, and established a joint ministerial consultative committee for periodic discussions on issues between the two countries.

Despite this peace deal, the relationship between Ethiopia and the Somali Republic did not undergo a lasting shift. The Somalia political class, primarily from the Puntland and Gedo regions, was unhappy with a politician from Somaliland making deals with Ethiopia. This dissatisfaction culminated in the assassination of Somali Republic President Abdirashid Shermarke on October 15, 1969, in Lascanod, followed by a subsequent military coup that overthrew the civilian government led by Prime Minister Egal. The military and political elite that seized power were predominantly from the Puntland and Gedo regions, marking the beginning of a period of instability in Somalia, which still leaves Mogadishu unsafe and 90% of Somalia under the control of a terrorist group. Meanwhile, Somaliland has remained safe, progressing in democracy and development.

Lastly, Somaliland and Ethiopia share a historical relationship, while Somalia and Ethiopia have complex and often antagonistic relationships

In contrast, Somaliland, which emerged from the former British Somaliland Protectorate, has pursued a different approach. Seeking stability, economic cooperation, security collaboration with Ethiopia, and international recognition, Somaliland has actively cultivated good relations with Ethiopia. This strategy is driven by a desire for economic partnerships, regional security, and broader engagement in the Horn of Africa.

Ultimately, the differing attitudes toward Ethiopia between Somalia and Somaliland reflect deep-rooted historical, political, and territorial factors. While Somalia’s view of Ethiopia as a natural enemy has left a legacy of mistrust, Somaliland’s pragmatic approach underscores its focus on stability and regional cooperation, seeing Ethiopia as a neighbor and a partner.