In a bid to prevent the escalating tensions between Ethiopia and Somalia from spiralling into a full-blown war, the African Union’s Peace and Security Council (PSC) has deployed former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo for negotiation efforts.
The dangerous strain in relations between the two neighboring countries emerged after the secessionist region of Somaliland signed an agreement with Ethiopia on January 1rst, granting the latter control over a maritime port and a military base on the Red Sea.
Last week, Somalia declared its readiness to go to war.
This wouldn’t be the first time the two nations have clashed. In 1977, they disputed territory, and in 2006, Ethiopia invaded Somalia as part of the fight against terrorism.
By allowing Ethiopia access to its territory, Somaliland hopes to gain recognition for its status as an independent state, a claim it has asserted since 1991 when it broke away from the voluntary union of 1960 with Somalia.
Obasanjo faces a challenging task as the two countries engage in a delicate geopolitical dance. On Wednesday, Somalia turned away an Ethiopian flight bound for Somaliland, carrying representatives of the Ethiopian government.
The PSC has since stated that it “called on the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and the Federal Republic of Somalia to adhere to the fundamental principles of the AU and international law and draw inspiration from them in their bilateral and international relations.”
The African Union considers Somaliland a province of Somalia.
While designating Obasanjo, the PSC has also urged against interference by other countries in the matter. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) convened an extraordinary summit on Thursday in Kampala, Uganda, to discuss the issue.
However, Somalia has declared that it will not engage in any discussions with Ethiopia unless the latter reverses its January 1 agreement with Somaliland.
“The sovereignty and territorial integrity of Somalia have been violated by Ethiopia when it signed an illegal agreement with the northern region [the administration of Somaliland] of Somalia. That is why there is no room for mediation unless Ethiopia reverses its illegal agreement and reaffirms the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Somalia,” stated the Somali Ministry of Foreign Affairs.