Posts falsely claim Ethiopian government terminated port lease agreement with Somaliland

Early this year, Ethiopia signed an agreement with Somaliland, a breakaway region of Somalia, to use the territory’s Berbera port. The deal set off diplomatic tensions between Ethiopia and Somalia, with Turkey recently mediating between the two countries. Amid the declining relations, a letter featuring the logo of the Ethiopian prime minister’s office has been circulating on social media with claims that leader Abiy Ahmed had terminated the lease following diplomatic pressure. However, this is false: the agreement has not been axed and Abiy’s office dismissed the letter as a hoax.

The English-language post was published on X and reads: “Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed made a decision today to cancel the Memorandum of Understanding with Somaliland.”

Screenshot of the false post, taken on July 92, 2024  

This decision, the post claims, was made on June 26, 2024, after “Ethiopia consulted with UK, US, and G7”. The date is significant to Somaliland as the anniversary of its proclaimed independence.

A purported letter with the logo of the prime minister’s office was included in the post and details the alleged cancellation of the original memorandum of understanding.

The reason given was a lack of recognition for Somaliland’s sovereignty by the international community — which is universally true (archived here). 

Similar posts were shared on Facebook here and here

Diplomatic tension

On January 1, 2024, Abiy signed (archived here) an agreement with Somaliland’s leader Muse Bihi Abdi in Addis Ababa allowing Ethiopia to use the breakaway territory’s port in Berbera.

The Ethiopian government said that “the Memorandum of Understanding shall pave the way to realise the aspiration of Ethiopia to secure access to the sea” (archived here). 

Regional map of East Africa showing the port of Berbera, in the separatist territory of Somaliland, with which Ethiopia has made an agreement to have sea access (VALENTINA BRESCHI / AFP)

But, in April 2024, Somalia expelled the Ethiopian ambassador to Mogadishu and recalled its own from Addis Ababa after accusing its neighbour of “bluntly interfering” in its internal affairs in connection to the port deal (archived here).

The United Kingdom and United States have called for the Horn of Africa neighbours to de-escalate the tensions and resolve their differences through dialogue (archived here). Ethiopia and Somalia fought two wars in 1964 and 1977. 

On July 1, 2024, Ethiopia and Somalia held initial talks in Ankara under the mediation of the Turkish government in order to break the impasse (archived here). The talks are set to resume on September 2, 2024 in Ankara. 

The Ethiopian foreign ministry said in a press release that the two governments had agreed to continue with talks in order to solve the existing problems and ensure regional stability (archived here). 

However, the claim that the Ethiopian government terminated its agreement with Somaliland is false. 

No announcement

Online searches revealed there have been no credible reports in line with this claim, nor had the government made any announcements about an end to the agreement. 

Abiy’s office dismissed the claim in a statement published on its official Facebook page (archived here). 

“The Office of the Prime Minister advises the public to be cautious of fake content that is currently circulating online pertaining to an MOU with Somaliland,” the office said, calling the letter a “hoax”. 

“We urge everyone to remain vigilant against such fake content that misuses our official logo,” it added. 

Somaliland’s ministry of foreign affairs re-published the statement by Abiy’s office on its official X account (archived here). 

AFP Fact Check previously debunked a similar claim related to lease deal between Ethiopia and Somaliland. 

Is there content that you would like AFP to fact-check? Get in touch.

Contact us