Somaliland’s changing diplomatic dynamics

Yashvi Agarwal,

Research Intern,


On the contrary, Ethiopia's relationship with Somaliland has been friendly over the past years, before the reign of PM Abiy Ahmed. Although their relationship has always been non-formal, these two countries have a close and cordial diplomatic relationship and share a vital border. Their cross-border trade and security cooperation have also been fair. After the appointment of PM Abiy as PM of Somalia, the relations changed. Egypt's a believer of unification and regional integration. He is a great friend and ally of Somalia, and Somaliland was ignored. But with the growing dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia over water sharing of the Nile and the issue of GERD, Somaliland plays an important role. Now, both countries, Egypt and Ethiopia, are trying to win the support of Somaliland. In July 2020, is option delegation arrived at Somaliland and the press statement released stated that both the parties have discussed bilateral trade and investment in the area of livestock and fisheries. Egypt has also agreed to invest in various other sectors, including education and medicine.

Both Egypt and Ethiopia have long been interested in having a Naval base in Zaila, Somaliland. The strategic position of Somaliland at the coast of the Gulf of Aden has proved to be advantageous for the state.

Ethiopia has tried for more than two decades to get Somaliland to lease its Zaila in exchange for formal recognition. Still, Somaliland never agreed as it views this as a security threat to its sovereignty. Whereas, Egypt wants to have a base in Zaila to keep an eye on Ethiopia and to have a direct presence in the Horn of Africa. After Egypt's establishment of diplomatic relations with Somaliland, Ethiopia also sent its delegation on July 21 led by Finance Minister Ahmed Shide. The GERD dispute has shown Ethiopia that it cannot ignore the strategic position of Somaliland. If it does, it may invite the rivals to form strong relations with Somaliland. Ethiopia must figure out a way to balance its ties with Somalia and Somaliland.

Somaliland-Taiwan Diplomacy

Somaliland and Taiwan share a special bond as they share the same problems and concerns. Both are unrepresented, unrecognized, face threats from their neighbours (Somalia in case of Somaliland and China in the case of Taiwan), both support the western world, are strategically located. But Taiwan is far more developed and more significant economic power than Somaliland.

Taiwan's strong diplomatic relations with Somaliland enables it to keep an eye on China's naval bases in Djibouti and to have its representation in the Red Sea area. This is troublesome for China as it does not want Taiwan to expand its ties. The Horn of Africa is a strategic location for China for its BRI project. Therefore, China's aim of having the most outstanding strategic power in the Horn of Africa is in trouble. The Djibouti naval base is essential to China to have its representation in the Red Sea. China is a supporter of the 'One Somalia' policy and does not want Taiwan to have diplomatic relations with it. China considers Taiwan to be a part of its territory and thus, does not recognize the ties between Taiwan and Somaliland.

Concerned by the power that Taiwan may get with its relations with Somaliland, China has offered a deal to Somaliland of conditional investment in infrastructure. China has agreed to develop the ports, airports, industrial Park, educational institutions and health care facilities in Somaliland if it decides to cut off its diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Somaliland has declined the deal because it understands the importance of good relations with Taiwan. Good ties with Taiwan mean good relations with the U.S. and foreign direct investment.

The U.S. appreciated the efforts of Taiwan to engage more in Africa. Taiwan is essential for the U.S. as it allows the U.S. to keep a close eye on China, and in case of a war, Taiwan can be of great use. China has invested a lot in the African continent, and many countries in Africa owe an outstanding public debt to China, therefore, giving China soft power over them. Two such examples are Ethiopia and Djibouti. Djibouti's 58% public debt is owed to China. This gives China the ability to influence the policies of Djibouti and to have its many naval bases in the country. However, because Somaliland does not have recognition and because no one supports it, it has no debt towards China. As a result, China cannot control the policies and diplomatic relations of Somaliland. Therefore, it is helpless when it comes to Taiwan-Somaliland growing ties.

Somaliland benefiting from US-China rivalry

On the other hand, China has a big influence on the African Union (A.U.), and powerful African countries like Ethiopia. China can use this influence to stop Somaliland from getting international recognition. Also, China is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) has veto power to prevent any future recognition of Somaliland. The importance and tension in the Red Sea are growing. In such a case, the regional players and the major world countries want to have a physical presence in the area through naval bases. The rise of Djibouti is evidence of the growing importance of the Red Sea. The factors that played a significant role in the increase of Djibouti are- the political and economic absence of Somalia, the lack of international recognition to Somaliland and the sanctions on Eritrea. This lead to the emergence of Djibouti as a major player in the Horn of Africa. It did not have any competition for over three decades. But now, Somaliland can be one. Somaliland could be used as an alternative maritime, and military partner should U.S. fears about China's dominance over Djibouti significantly heighten. D.P. World, a UAE-owned port operator, has invested in and started developing the Berbera port in Somaliland, which can end the monopoly of Djibouti over Ethiopia's trade. Therefore, it is clear that Somaliland is rising in its essential, although the countries supporting it are doing so for their motives.


Somaliland growing diplomatic relations with Taiwan may be beneficial for it, but they also have some terrible consequences. By supporting Taiwan, Somaliland may become a target of China. It has been the policy of China to keep Taiwan as diplomatically isolated as possible. With the scenario changing now because of Somaliland, China may feel threatened and may take some serious actions against the African de facto nation-state. Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry of China, said in a statement issued on August 19, "those going against the trend to challenge the one-China principle will get burned and swallow the bitter fruit."

Also, the budding relations between Taiwan and Somaliland may increase the tension in the African region. It increases insecurity in the area. Somaliland can also become the epicentre of the cold war between the U.S. and China. China may pull out its companies from Somaliland and cause an economic loss to the country. It may also increase its support of Somalia and strengthen it and may suggest Somalia take control of Somaliland.

There is also involved the risk of Balkanization in the Horn of Africa as a consequence of Somaliland's recognition. Separatism in the African area may also grow. The plans of oil and gas pipelines connecting Ethiopia and Djibouti may suffer if cheaper alternatives are found in Somaliland through the strategically located port of Berbera.

The other African nations may be averse of Somaliland because it is causing an increase in tensions in the region. They may not support Somaliland's quest for recognition at international platforms like WHO. The support from other African countries is very crucial for Somaliland. Other resistant states in Africa may also start following the footsteps of Somaliland. This would deepen the political crisis and prolong the instability in the region. The growing tensions and rivalry between the U.S. and China for control and influence in the Horn of Africa may pose a security threat to the African nations. The large belt of unmined minerals and large stocks of oil and gas in Somaliland may invite other countries for investment, and some big, powerful government may try to take control of Somaliland for its rich resources.

Both Somaliland and Taiwan must be careful in their premature diplomatic relations. They both have more to lose by playing against giants like China. Their efforts for recognition might snatch their sovereignty and independence with the involvement of other major countries, all looking for opportunities to establish themselves in the Horn of Africa and exploit the natural resources of the dark continent.

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