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Parliamentary Resolution ratchets up tensions in the Horn of Africa

Tuesday March 13, 2018

FILE PHOTO - Somali Parliament

Mogadishu (HOL) - The Somali parliament voted on Monday to declare the contentious tripartite port deal involving DP World, Ethiopia and Somaliland "null and void", declaring it a threat to sovereignty.

A near-unanimous 168 lawmakers of the 170- seat parliament voted to strike down the deal.

In a resolution affirming the decision, Somalia's lower house declared that the deal was unconstitutional and therefore automatically "null and void".

"It is only the Federal Government of Somalia that can engage in international deals."

"All ports and airports in the country are national property and... no one can privately claim ownership," declared Parliament.

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The resolution also banned DP World from working in Somalia, saying the Dubai-operated company intentionally violated the sovereignty of Somalia.

"The DP World company intentionally violated the sovereignty of Somalia, so this company is banned completely from operating in Somalia," parliament said.

The company currently manages Bossaso port in semi-autonomous Puntland, as well as Berbera.

In a television interview last week, DP World CEO Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem dismissed Somalia's rejection ‘mere statements’ by saying Somalia has nothing to do with the affairs of Somaliland which has been independent over two decades ago.

“The decision of the Federal Government of Somalia does not concern DP World,” said Sulayem. “Somaliland is an independent country for more than 28 years and makes its own decision and its parliament approved this project.”

It is unclear how Mogadishu would enforce the proposed ban, nor whether President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed will assent to it. However, in a twitter post from the verified Villa Somalia account, The President said ""I warn foreign countries and foreign companies that it can not violate the sovereignty and unity of the Somali people."

In his throne speech opening the third parliamentary session, Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo warned foreign countries and companies against violating the sovereignty and unity of  Somalia.  the President said Somalia was ready for engaging in trade and investment projects with the world but only in a legal manner.

"Whoever wishes to engage investment in Somalia should seek the permission from the legal institutions of the government. Somalia's foreign policy is based on neutralism and mutual respect," he told the opening session of parliament."I am warning companies and countries not to cross the line and put to question the sovereignty of Somalia".

Somaliland's president Muse Bihi Abdi has taken a firm stance towards Somalia over the port, saying Somalia's claim to Berbera port was tantamount to a declaration of war.

"Somaliland has the right to decide what deals to engage in, without consulting anyone," he said in a televised address after the deal was announced.

Somaliland's foreign minister, Saad Ali Shire, defended both the initial deal with DP World, signed in 2016 and the recent buy-in by land-locked Ethiopia.

"The deal was bilateral, one initially between DP world and Somaliland, and both of them have the right to sell their shares if the other side agrees. That is the basis under which Ethiopia is allowed to join". he told reporters in Hargeisa on Sunday.

The stakes have been raised considerably for DP World and Ethiopia after Djibouti cancelled the 30-year concession awarded to DP to operate the Doraleh Container Terminal. Landlocked Ethiopia - which has a population of over 100 million - relies heavily on the Doraleh Port and the Berbera port for trade.

Djibouti’s then signed a deal with Singapore-based Pacific International Lines to increase the amount of cargo handled at the port.

DP World called the move an illegal seizure of the terminal and said it had begun new arbitration proceedings before the London Court of International Arbitration, which last year cleared DP World of all charges of misconduct over the concession to run the terminal. 

Parliament's near unanimous passing of the resolution banning DP World highlights growing rivalries in the strategic Horn of Africa region over the control of ports and recognition of sovereignty.

The deal has angered Somalia, which is recovering after decades of civil war does not recognize Somaliland's long-standing claim of independence. Somalia also has a turbulent history with its neighbour Ethiopia.

A spokesman for DP World did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

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