The Other Side of the Red Sea Conflict

Demonstrators hold banners and flags in support of Somalia’s government on January 3 following a port deal signed between Ethiopia and the breakaway region of Somaliland.

The Other Side of the Red Sea Conflict

A crisis is brewing in the Horn of Africa.

Many are focused on Iran’s pushes at Red Sea trade through its Houthi proxy. But Iran isn’t the only country pushing its way to the Red Sea coast. Ethiopia just made a move that could destabilize the already volatile Horn of Africa—and it revolves around a country that, on paper, doesn’t exist: Somaliland.

Ethiopia announced on January 1 it will recognize Somaliland as a country and give its government a stake in Ethiopian Airlines. In exchange, Somaliland will give Ethiopia control over a 12-mile stretch of its coastline to develop a naval base.

Somaliland lies on the southern coast of the Gulf of Aden. Nominally a part of Somalia, it declared independence in 1991. For the most part, Somaliland controls its own borders and has healthier democratic traditions than some of its neighbors. Its military, while small, has kept the country safe from threats like piracy and the terror group al-Shabaab. For all intents and purposes, it is a functioning country. The only thing stopping this from being official is international legitimacy. Aside from Taiwan, no country recognizes Somaliland’s independence. Ethiopia’s declaration would change this.

Somalia is furious. Its government sees both the recognition of Somaliland and the construction of a naval base as violations of its sovereignty.

“As a government,” Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud tweeted the following day, “we have condemned and rejected the illegal infringement of Ethiopia into our national sovereignty and territorial integrity yesterday. Not an inch of Somalia can or will be signed away by anybody. Somalia belongs to the Somali people. This is final.”

There is little Somalia can do about this. Ethiopia has thousands of troops stationed in Somalia, helping the government fight off al-Shabaab, which controls large sections of the country.

The Horn of Africa is no stranger to invasions, civil wars, uprisings and coups starting from the smallest of catalysts. Why is Ethiopia willing to rock the boat? And where will it lead?

Ethiopia became landlocked in the 1990s after Eritrea declared independence and took all of Ethiopia’s Red Sea coastline with it. Since becoming Ethiopia’s prime minister in 2018, Abiy Ahmed has tried to regain access to the sea. In 2018, he made a similar deal with Eritrea, where Eritrea allowed Ethiopia influence in its ports in exchange for reopening of relations.

Eritrea-Ethiopia relations have since soured. Eritrea helped Ahmed fight Tigray rebels in a major civil war that ended in 2022. Despite the war being over and the Tigray Region being relatively stable, Eritrean troops won’t leave Ethiopian soil. Some analysts suspect Ethiopia may go to war with Eritrea soon.

Ethiopia has an estimated 120 million people, Africa’s second-most populous country. The civil war hit hard and the country needs trade links to help with recovery. The underlying reasons that caused the Tigray uprising still exist, making a resumption of hostilities a very real possibility. Some estimate the war may have claimed as many as 600,000 lives, making it among the deadliest conflicts of this century. Ahmed was able to keep the war effort afloat, in part, by purchasing foreign weapons. He might be desperate to secure a maritime lifeline.

The Somaliland deal could show that Ahmed sees no chance of reconciliation with Eritrea, that he has abandoned hope in gaining access to Eritrea’s Red Sea coast, and that war with Eritrea is in the works.

Either way, expect a lot of instability in the Horn of Africa.

A prophecy in the book of Daniel illuminates Ethiopia’s current trajectory. “And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him: and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over. … He shall stretch forth his hand also upon the countries: and the land of Egypt shall not escape. But he shall have power over the treasures of gold and of silver, and over all the precious things of Egypt: and the Libyans and the Ethiopians shall be at his steps” (Daniel 11:40-43).

This prophecy features two end-time power blocs soon to clash. Biblical and secular history show the king of the north to be a united European power. Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry has for decades pointed to radical Islam led by the Islamic Republic of Iran as the fulfillment of the king of the south. Notice that Daniel lists Ethiopia among the countries the king of the north conquers.

“[Y]ou need to watch Libya and Ethiopia,” Mr. Flurry writes in The King of the South. “They are about to fall under the heavy influence or control of Iran, the king of the south. That is why they are subdued in the king of the north’s victory. … Whoever heavily influences or controls Ethiopia will undoubtedly also control the small areas of Eritrea and Djibouti on the Red Sea coastline. These areas only recently became independent of Ethiopia. Also, I believe the Bible view is that these small areas are a part of Ethiopia.”

Iran’s activation of its Houthi proxies shows how much it values control of the Red Sea. It also shows how much control Iran already has. If Iran gets control of both Yemen and the Horn of Africa, it would be a game changer in this crucial flashpoint.

But Iran mainly spreads its influence through exporting its Islamic revolution. Ethiopia, in contrast, is a majority Christian nation. Ahmed is a Pentecostal. There are plenty of African countries that would seem more likely to flock to Iran than Ethiopia. The most likely way Iran could get an entryway into Ethiopia would be if total chaos gripped the Horn of Africa. Total chaos like the Somaliland recognition may lead to.

Such a crisis hitting the Horn of Africa isn’t comforting. The region is home to well over 100 million people who have suffered extremely tough times. But the same Bible that prophesies of Ethiopia’s imminent geopolitical shift also prophesies of the crisis’s conclusion. The prophecy continues into Daniel 12, which leads to the Second Coming of the Messiah and the utopia promised with it (verses 1-3).

To learn more, request a free copy of The King of the South.