Berbera Port-China deal – change in the Horn?

Somaliland media sources and other rumours, including on Twitter, have suggested (12 Aug) that a deal on Somaliland’s Berbera port is imminent with China and Ethiopia. According to Somaliland media, Somaliland President Ahmed M. Silanyo, leading a high-level ministerial delegation, is in Beijing for his first China visit. Ethiopian officials are rumoured to be en-route to China for the announcement. This recent story on Somaliland media gives more details.
Berbera Port sits in a very strategic location on the Red Sea and plans to become a major port in the region for Somaliland, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Somalia. It could offer effective competition to Djibouti. last week reported presidential spokesman Abdullahi M. Dahir said the visit will focus on foreign investment, trade and development: “The aim of our trip is to seek foreign direct investment (FDI) projects from China in the fields of energy, mineral exploration and Agriculture. We are also going to seek assistance from China to implement water projects and other key infrastructures including transportation requirements (airports and roads).” The report added that the President was due to stop over in Addis Ababa for key talks with Ethiopian officials over a number of topics including the “Berbera corridor”, security and trade.
In March the same news source reported that the Somaliland Government plans to privatize the port and was holding discussions with Chinese firms. The Somaliland Foreign Minister, Dr Mohamed Abdullahi Omar had visited Beijing, China, after a visit via Addis Ababa over the port and other key areas, including security, and has apparently made several visits to China. The report says: “Both governments are pushing for foreign firm to invest in the port. According to sources close to the Government a number of firms expressed interest including the Hong Kong based, Hutchison Port Holdings (HPH), France’s Bolloré Africa Logistics and Holland-based, APM Terminals.” The latest report suggests that “Somaliland might lease the port to the global port operator and Hong Kong-based Hutchison Port Holdings (HPH) who might team up with another Hong Kong-based firm, PetroTrans Company Ltd, an oil and gas exploring giant which already won concession to explore oil in Ethiopia’s Ogaden region. The Chinese company plans to build gas transport infrastructure and processing facilities in Berbera where it will export.”
In February The Reporter newspaper in Ethiopia reported that Samson Wondimu, corporate communications head with the Ethiopian Roads Authority, said the Ethiopian and Somaliland governments were trying to secure the funds from the EU that would be used to rehabilitate the 245 kilometre long Togochale (boarder town)-Berbera road. Some 50 kms from the Ethiopian border, the road is rough and the asphalt road begins near the capital city, Hargeisa and goes up to Berbera.
The ageing asphalt road from Hargeissa to the port is in a very poor condition and it needs urgent rehabilitation. Berbera is an alternative gateway to Ethiopia and currently is said to be mostly used for food aid. But the Ethiopian Government plans to import parts of the country’s import via Berbera. The port also needs to be developed and it needs a substantial amount of investment.
According to Somaliland press, the first phase of the project, already approved by the EU, will be to conduct a study on how to develop the Berbera Corridor, a 850 km road. This could connected to a North-South (Cairo-Gaborone) highway. The news reported: “The second phase will be finding a reliable contractor for the job and investors. At the moment, its at the second phase and both Ethiopia and Somaliland have been in talks with a Chinese firm in Addis Ababa that is already constructing roads and highways in Ethiopia.” Mr Samson said the Ethiopian Government was finalizing work on the Jijiga-Togochale 67 km. road construction project launched 3 years ago with local construction firm, Akir Construction, due to finish soon.
Somaliland has been operating peacefully and democratically as a self-declared separate state since May 1991 and has been pushing for international recognition ever since. One key obstacle could be the African Union’s failure to take an African lead in opening this debate.
Kuwait reportedly recently gave Somaliland $10 mln to develop the airports.


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