Somaliland’s defense minister has resigned to protest his government signing an agreement to allow landlocked Ethiopia to access Somaliland’s coastline.

“Ethiopia remains our number one enemy,” Abdiqani Mohamud Ateye said in an interview with local television on Sunday.

(I'm aware that Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia in 2006, but is that the reason for resentment in Somaliland? Did Ethiopia invade Somaliland too?) Anyhow, what's the reason why some Somalilanders (rather than Somalis further south) regard Ethiopia as their primary enemy? Did (at least) the Somaliland politicians who expressed such views explain their reasoning in more detail?

  • I imagine there might be some al-Shabaab/ICU fans in Somaliland too, but they probably wouldn't be holding important positions in the Somaliland government. Commented Mar 25 at 9:23
  • BTW, Somaliland blamed the recent fighting in Las Anod on al-Shabaab. OTOH, the SSC-Khatumo (Garad Ali) seem to disagree, blaming Somaliland. Commented Mar 25 at 10:25
  • N.B. some American analysts say this is "China moving in" by force in (Western-aligned, they claim) Somaliland. I'm not sure that's the reasoning of local Somaliland politicians though. Commented Mar 25 at 11:33
  • The Chinese presence in Africa has collapsed over roughly the last five years by almost every measure.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Mar 25 at 20:30
  • Is there some other country that would be a more plausible candidate? Somalia (reconstructing from anarchy) and Yemen (in the midst of a civil war and separated from it by sea) are its only other neighbors and neither of them have their acts together. Also, it bears mentioning that Somaliland is not an internationally recognized government and is considered to be part of Somalia's territory by every other nation of the world and is fighting a civil war in its own boundaries. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somaliland
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Mar 26 at 3:21

1 Answer 1


This is a partial answer, but apparently former minister Ateye hails from the Awdal region of Somaliland where the Ethiopian base is reportedly going to be. And the locals/clan there don't/doesn't seem as excited as the rest of Somaliland about this deal.

Members of the Issa clan — considered one of the four founding clans of Somaliland alongside the Isaaq, Dir and Darood — organized demonstrations against the MoU in Lugahey and Saylac. Clan elders accused the Somaliland president of selling Issa land in exchange for diplomatic recognition and threatened to go to war with the Somaliland government unless they withdrew the deal.

It's also somewhat interesting (although perhaps not as relevant today) that the Issa allied themselves with the Italians against Ethiopia around WW2. Wikipedia also claims that the Ethiopian army massacred some Issa in the 1960s and 1970s, but does not cite any sources for that (claimed) fact. I suppose that's related to the (first) Ogaden war--the Ogaden region of Ethiopia borders Somaliland to the South. There's also the intersting issue that (according to Wikipedia) some Issa were "Greater Djiboutians" more than they were Somalilanders at that point:

During the Ogaden War, influential Issa politicians envisioned a Greater Djibouti or "Issa-land", where Djibouti's borders would extend from the Red Sea to Dire Dawa. That dream however was dashed towards the end of the war as Somali forces were routed from Ethiopia.

Funnily enough though, the source cited in Wikipedia for that last claim, actually says the opposite of what Wikipedia does with respect to the Italian invasion (and its aftermath) [but otherwise is correctly cited for the 'Greater Djibouti' aspiratoins of the Issa]:

The Issa peculiarity for acting independently of the other Somali clans was exhibited in the mid-1930s, when they took the part of Ethiopia against the Italians. All other [Somali] groups collaborated actively with the Italian invader. In 1947 all of the Somali clans in the Ogaden and the Reserved Areas, with the exception of the Issa, petitioned British authorities not to have their lands surrendered to Ethiopia. [...] Issa clan leaders met in Zeila in September 1960 and called for the establishment of an Issa state. The results of this earlier declaration, combined with the nationalist ideas launched by Mahmoud Harbi in the 1950s, caused the French administration of French Somaliland to install Afar-based administrations during the period 1960-1976. The sense of separatism and independence which characterizes Issa culture also explains why it was relatively easy for the Djibouti government to resist the entreaties of those who would have had the country join with the Somali Democratic Republic.

I guess [some] African history is still a mystery.

And if one reaches in the depths of history... the Britannica Guide to Africa tells us that

During the 14th and 15th centuries, the Solomonid monarchs expanded their state southward and eastward. By then Muslims dominated Ethiopia’s trade, which exited via Mitsiwa in Eritrea or through Seylac on the northern Somali coast.

The Solomonids permitted Muslim business activities in return for submission and taxes. In 1332 Ifat, a large Muslim polity with its port at Seylac, fed up with being a Christian vassal, declared a holy war against Ethiopia and invaded its territory, destroying churches and forcing conversions to Islam. The Ethiopian emperor, Amda Tseyon, fought back hard, routed the enemy, and carried the frontier of Christian power to the edge of the Shewan Plateau, overlooking the largely Muslim-inhabited Awash valley.

And the "the last great ruler of Ifat" was (ahem) killed in the siege of Zelia (Seylac) by an army led by an Ethiopian emperor. (His successor reclaimed the region though, and in fact expanded it.)

So, I suppose, in some quarters, it's pretty much like giving your ancient capital (or at least the coast right next to it) to your ancient enemy.

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