Turkey hosts mediation talks between Somalia and Ethiopia

Published: July 2, 2024

Ankara seeks to ease tensions between its East African allies by brokering a deal that could provide sea access to landlocked Ethiopia.

Turkey is holding mediation talks in Ankara this week between Somalia and Ethiopia to resolve a dispute between two African countries over the latter’s plans to recognise the breakaway territory of Somaliland and build a port there, two sources familiar with the discussions told Middle East Eye.

Ankara has cultivated strong relationships with both countries over the years through extensive security cooperation.

A memorandum of understanding signed on 1 January permitted landlocked Ethiopia to establish a naval base on Somaliland’s coast.

In response, Mogadishu announced its readiness to go to war to prevent Addis Ababa from recognising the breakaway state. Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud called on Somalis to “prepare for the defence of our homeland”.

In a countermeasure to Ethiopia’s move, the Turkish government signed a defence and economic cooperation agreement with Somalia in February. This agreement authorised Turkey to build, train and equip the Somali navy and reportedly to defend Somalia’s territorial waters.

Sources familiar with the talks indicated that Turkey’s actions served as a deterrent to Addis Ababa, which sought to de-escalate tensions in May.

“Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent former president Mulatu Teshome Wirtu as his special envoy to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara in May to lay the groundwork for mediation,” one source told the media.

“Erdogan instructed the relevant Turkish agencies to study the issue.”

Mohamud also visited Ankara in June during Eid al-Adha, meeting Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, who had Erdogan’s full support to facilitate trilateral talks.

“Somali and Ethiopian foreign ministers and their delegations were scheduled to meet in Ankara on Monday,” the source said.

A deleted post on X by the Somali foreign ministry on Sunday said that the foreign minister and his delegation had left for Ankara to participate in talks mediated by the Turkish government.

“The Federal Government of Somalia is committed to its firm principles of protecting its territorial integrity,” the now-deleted post read.

The Turkish foreign ministry has not responded to a request for comment.

A second source revealed that the main issue under discussion is finding a mutually acceptable deal that could grant sea access to Ethiopia, a historic rival of Somalia.

“Somalia could offer access to Addis Ababa for a port close to Ethiopia, which in return could withdraw from the agreement it had signed with Somaliland,” the second source said. It was not immediately clear which port could be provided to Ethiopia.

The sources suggested that Abiy and Mohamud might visit Turkey in the near future if the deal progresses positively.

“If the deal collapses due to Addis Ababa’s maximalist demands, it may undermine Turkey’s prestige in the region and potentially damage Ankara’s strong relationship with Ethiopia,” the first source warned.

Turkey’s sale of armed drones to Ethiopia in 2021 played a significant role in Abiy’s efforts to defeat Tigray forces in Ethiopia’s civil war.

Ankara’s ties with Somalia, which began in 2011 when Erdogan visited famine-stricken Mogadishu, have evolved from a soft power initiative to alleviate hunger into a comprehensive security and commercial partnership. Somalia now hosts Turkey’s largest overseas military base.