ASMARA, Eritrea —- Somalia’s president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed was received at the Asmara International Airport in Eritrea on Saturday by president Isaias Afwerki in yet another diplomatic milestone in the Horn of Africa region.
Eritrean Information Minister Yemane Gebremeskel, who tweeted images of the Somali president, known as “Farmajo”, exchanging a warm handshake with Afwerki, said the two leaders have already held a summit.
Gebremeskel added that Farmajo was in Eritrea for a three day state visit.
“Somalia is ready to write a new chapter in its relations with Eritrea. Regional cooperation is the key to progress in the Horn of Africa,” said Abdinur Mohamed, the Somali President’s director of communications.
Strained Somali-Eritrea relations
The two nations have not had diplomatic ties for nearly 15 years, in particular because of Asmara’s alleged support for the Shebab Islamists, affiliated with al-Qaeda and who are fighting to topple the Somali government.
Those accusations have meant that Eritrea has been under United Nations sanctions since 2009, including asset freezes and travel bans for political and military officials abroad, as well as an arms embargo.
But Asmara has always contested these accusations and the latest reports from UN experts show that there is no evidence of such support.
Eritrea-Ethiopia peace deal
The development in Eritrea-Somali relations follows the historic normalisation of relations between Asmara and Addis Ababa. The leaders of the two countries signed a joint declaration on 9 July ending nearly two decades of war since their last conflict in 1998-2000.
Ethiopia under reformist new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed already has asked that the U.N. sanctions on Eritrea be dropped, to which the U.N. secretary-general indicated that the sanctions could be obsolete.
Normalisation of countries amongst countries in the volatile Horn of Africa region is likely to be supported by several allies including the United States, China and the Gulf States located just across the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.
These influential countries are already jostling for influence in the African nations along one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, including both Somalia and Eritrea.