Thursday, February 29, 2024
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A rejoinder: Somali Irredentism: Threat to the Security of Kenya and Ethiopia

By Dayib Ahmed

In the “Debunking the ‘Expansionist Threat'” narrative, the recent article presented by the First Secretary of the Somaliland separatist liaison in Kenya paints a concerning picture of Somali irredentism threatening regional stability. While acknowledging the complexities of African borders and ethnic identities, it is imperative to rigorously scrutinize the presented arguments and vehemently advocate for a deeper and more nuanced comprehension of the situation.

It remains difficult to grasp why a Somali individual might advocate for positions known to align with Ethiopia’s colonialist extremists, considering the deep historical and cultural bonds that unite the Somali people. This becomes even more perplexing when such view comes from a Somali individual who may have as with many other Somalis a direct bond with the ethnic Somalis in Ethiopia’s tumultuous history, including marginalization and human rights abuses.

While ethnic Somalis in Ethiopia and Kenya face widespread marginalization and limited opportunities, particularly in terms of political representation and socioeconomic advancement, Ethiopia’s engagement with this community presents a complex picture. Longstanding historical dynamics, territorial disputes, and the politicization of ethnic identity all contribute to this complexity.

Furthermore, the Ethiopian government’s policies towards ethnic Somalis have been heavily criticized for perpetuating systemic inequalities and hindering inclusive development. This criticism is supported by well-documented evidence of human rights abuses in both Kenya and Ethiopia, including unlawful killings, torture, harsh prison conditions, and limitations on judicial independence. Reportedly, conflicts have also resulted in unlawful civilian harm and disappearances.

However, rather than exacerbating existing tensions and advocating for further discrimination against ethnic Somalis, efforts should be directed towards fostering dialogue and understanding between various stakeholders. This multi-faceted approach must respect the aspirations of all communities while recognizing the importance of upholding territorial integrity and international law. Additionally, addressing historical grievances, promoting regional cooperation, and investing in development opportunities that benefit everyone are crucial steps towards a more stable and prosperous future for the entire region.

Another hand Viewing conflicts like the 1977 war solely through the lens of Somali expansionism disregards the intricate tapestry of historical context that contributed to its eruption. This conflict emerged from a confluence of factors, including the arbitrary lines drawn by European powers during colonization, which disregarded ethnic and clan realities and sowed the seeds of future discord. Internally, Somalia grappled with authoritarian rule under Siad Barre, fueling dissatisfaction and grievances within various segments of Somali society. Including northern Somalia in this discussion, these internal dynamics further complicated the situation and contributed to the escalation of tensions. The Cold War further exacerbated the situation, with the Soviet Union backing Ethiopia and the United States supporting Somalia, creating a volatile geopolitical landscape. Ultimately, perceived support by Ethiopia for separatists within Somalia triggered the full-blown war, leaving deep scars on both nations and unresolved issues that continue to resonate today.

Furthermore, labeling all Somalis as expansionist paints a dangerously inaccurate and insensitive picture. The reality is far more multifaceted, with many Somalis actively pursuing peaceful coexistence and cooperation with their neighbors. Highlighting isolated incidents or statements without acknowledging the diverse perspectives and aspirations within Somali communities creates a misleading and harmful narrative.

Framing solutions solely around recognizing Somaliland as a means to curb a perceived “expansionist threat ” not only oversimplifies the complex issue at hand but also disregards Somalia’s legitimate right to self-determination. Additionally, such an approach risks further marginalizing Somalis in the region and failing to address the root causes of instability. Finding lasting solutions requires a multi-pronged approach that acknowledges historical grievances, fosters regional cooperation, and seeks solutions that consider the concerns of all communities involved. Upholding the territorial integrity of all nations, including Somalia, is a bedrock principle enshrined in international law, reflected in Article 2(4) of the UN Charter. However, this principle is not absolute. The right to self-determination, also recognized in international law, allows communities within existing states to pursue autonomous forms of governance under certain conditions. These conditions, outlined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, emphasize peaceful and democratic processes.

Upholding the territorial integrity of all nations, including Somalia, remains paramount. However, this principle needs to be balanced with acknowledging the aspirations of communities within those borders, as outlined in international law on self-determination. Such discussions, however, require careful consideration of the complexities involved, particularly in countries like Ethiopia and Kenya.

Ethiopia’s diverse tapestry features over 90 distinct ethnic groups, each with its unique cultural heritage and language. Similarly, Kenya boasts at least 42 different ethnicities enriching its national fabric. Therefore, any discourse surrounding self-determination must consider this multifaceted landscape, ensuring respect and inclusion for all communities’ aspirations.

While Somalia has a predominantly Somali population, advocating for its disintegration sets a dangerous precedent. Such actions could open a Pandora’s box of similar aspirations in other countries with diverse ethnicities, potentially destabilizing the region. Therefore, navigating these sensitive issues requires a nuanced approach that upholds established borders while acknowledging the legitimate and peaceful aspirations of all communities within them.

Secondly, attributing regional instability solely to expansionist narratives obscures deeper issues such as marginalization, poverty, lack of opportunity, and historical grievances. Sustainable peace and prosperity require a multifaceted approach: investing in regional development through infrastructure, job creation, and equitable resource access; political inclusivity, promoting good governance with transparency, accountability, and respect for human rights; and fostering constructive dialogue with open communication channels, safe spaces for diverse voices, and active listening to all stakeholders. Only by addressing these core issues within a legal framework can we build a stable and prosperous future for the entire region. Moving beyond simplistic narratives is crucial.

The recent article highlights the need for critical examination and advocacy for a more nuanced understanding of the situation. Viewing conflicts through oversimplified lenses, like solely blaming Somali expansionism, ignores the complex historical context and internal dynamics that contribute to their outbreak. Labeling entire communities with broad strokes, like calling all Somalis expansionist, is both inaccurate and insensitive. It fails to recognize the diverse perspectives and aspirations within these communities, hindering progress towards mutual understanding and constructive dialogue. Open dialogue that acknowledges this spectrum of views is crucial for fostering understanding and finding lasting solutions. By engaging in respectful discourse, we can create a platform for stakeholders to voice their concerns, aspirations, and grievances. It is through this inclusive approach that we can develop a deeper understanding of the underlying dynamics and pave the way for collaborative efforts towards a more stable and prosperous East Africa.

In conclusion, addressing the multifaceted issue of the “Expansionist Threat” in East Africa necessitates a nuanced approach that transcends simplistic narratives. Recognizing the intricate interplay of historical, political, and socio-economic factors is crucial to finding sustainable solutions. Dismissing these complexities in favor of oversimplified perspectives hinders progress. Therefore, fostering open dialogue and embracing diverse viewpoints are cornerstone elements of a comprehensive strategy. By creating a platform for all stakeholders to express their concerns, aspirations, and grievances, open dialogue promotes deeper understanding of the underlying dynamics and facilitates constructive engagement in seeking lasting solutions. Recognizing the spectrum of perspectives within Somali communities is equally crucial, as it ensures all voices are heard and considered in crafting effective solutions. Harnessing the vast economic potential of the Horn of Africa, with its rich natural resources and fertile agricultural land, requires enhanced regional cooperation. This collaboration can unlock opportunities for trade and commerce, infrastructure development, and investment, ultimately fostering economic growth and poverty reduction. By prioritizing regional cooperation, the Horn of Africa and the greater East Africa can unlock a path towards peace, stability, prosperity, and sustainable development for the entire region.

It is inaccurate and insensitive to label all Somalis as expansionist, as this overlooks the rich tapestry of viewpoints and aspirations that exist within these communities. Embracing this diversity fosters mutual understanding and paves the way for collaborative efforts aimed at achieving shared goals. Building a more stable and prosperous future for East Africa requires both respecting sovereignty and territorial integrity while addressing the root causes of instability. This includes acknowledging the legitimate rights of all nations, including Somalia, while simultaneously addressing historical grievances and promoting regional cooperation. Ultimately, embracing complexity and working collaboratively are key to achieving lasting peace and prosperity in the region. This necessitates a collective commitment to understanding, cooperation, and inclusivity.

By tackling shared challenges and seizing collective opportunities, nations in the Horn of Africa and East Africa can forge a more integrated, resilient, and prosperous future for their people. Through concerted efforts, they can unlock enduring peace and stability for generations to come, empowering all communities to thrive. Let us choose the path of understanding and cooperation, building a brighter East Africa on the pillars of peace, stability, and prosperity.

Dayib Ahmed
Email: [email protected]


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