Thursday, April 18, 2024
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Abiy Ahmed’s MoU with Muse Bihi Threatens Horn of Africa Stability

Dr. Abdurahman Baadiyow

Abiy Ahmed became Ethiopia’s first Prime Minister of Oromo descent in 2018. His efforts to resolve the border conflict with Eritrea earned him the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. Moreover, his rise to power significantly changed the traditional Ethiopian hegemonic politics of the Amhara and Tigray ethnicities. This shift offered a new breath of hope for the countries that suffered from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) bullying policies against the Eritreans and the Somalis. The shift of hope began with the postponement of the Ethiopian elections in 2020, sparking ethnic and political tensions. During the war in Tigray, gross human rights violations diminished Abiy’s reputation as a shining peacemaker. Since then, Ethiopia under Abiy Ahmed has shifted towards authoritarianism, media censorship, internet shutdowns, civil conflicts, and systematic persecution of opposition politicians.

PM Abiy Ahmed and President Muse Bihi

In this context, Somalia, embroiled in a prolonged civil war and historical conflict with Ethiopia, celebrated the rise of Abiy Ahmed, anticipating a potential change in Ethiopian policy towards Somalia. The expectation was centered on the prospect of more cooperative and constructive engagement between the two nations. Indeed, the last five years could be considered the dawn of a new era spurred by increased economic cooperation, such as Ethiopian Airlines flights to many regions of Somalia and the movement of goods and people between Somalia and Ethiopia. Also, the Somali state of Ethiopia enjoyed relative peace and played a crucial role in the broader Ethiopian power-sharing arrangements. The pinnacle of this cooperation was commemorated by the trilateral agreement involving Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea, which was signed in Asmara on September 5, 2018. The state leaders who signed this agreement were Abiy, Afeworki, and Mohamed Farmajo. This agreement emphasizes “Respecting each other’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.” Moreover, it reiterates,” The three countries shall work in coordination to promote regional peace and security.”

Somali people planned to construct many ports along its long coasts in that conducive environment. The new ports under development and construction include Gara’ad in Puntland, Hobyo in Galmudug, Adale in Hirshabelle, and Merca and Brave in the Southwest. All these ports were projected to be connected to the Somali-Ethiopian border to be used by landlocked Ethiopia. Therefore, the Somali Federal Republic and its people have no sensitivity against Ethiopia to collaborate in the business and security sectors. Moreover, there are already many non-ATMIS Ethiopian forces at the Somali-Ethiopian border regions to contain and fight al-Shabaab.

On the other hand, landlocked Ethiopia’s access to ports in the Horn of Africa expanded. For instance, Ethiopia announced a 19% share in Berbera Port in Somaliland in a joint venture with DP World. In May 2018, Ethiopia also signed agreements with Djibouti and Sudan, securing equity stakes in the ports of Djibouti and Sudan, respectively. These agreements give Ethiopia influence in port development and handling fees. Additionally, Abiy and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta agreed to construct an Ethiopian logistics facility at Lamu Port as part of the Lamu Port and Lamu-Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor project. Ethiopia had benefited from advantageous agreements with its neighboring nations by utilizing their commercial ports.

The pressing question arises: What motivates Ethiopia to pursue a policy that jeopardizes peace and stability in the Horn of Africa? What prompts Abiy Ahmed to exploit the fragmentation of Somalia and enter an MoU with the president of Somaliland? By entering this MoU, both Abiy Ahmed and Muse Bihi strategically align with the sentiments of their political agendas and ethnic/clan-based policies. Abiy Ahmed seems to capitalize on the persistent aspirations of Somaliland for international recognition, which has faced setbacks over the past 33 years. As such, this move can be seen as an attempt to leverage the desperation of Somaliland for diplomatic recognition. Thus, the deal is transactional and lacks any legal basis. Furthermore, Abiy Ahmed is also addressing the aspirations of his Oromo constituents in Ethiopia by providing a direct access route to the Red Sea. This move also resonates with the broader historical desire of Ethiopia to get an outlet to the Red Sea at the corridor between Somalia and Djibouti, adjacent to the Zaila area.

The signing of this MoU carries far-reaching implications, acting as a catalyst for the resurgence of Somali nationalism and fostering a collective sense of unity in response to the perceived renewed threat from Ethiopia. The unity of the Somali nation in addressing this issue has gained considerable strength. President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud nullified the MoU after the two houses of the parliament passed unanimously legislation rejecting the MoU. This proactive measure of the Somali government was accompanied by efforts to garner support on an international scale. The government engaged with key subregional organizations, including the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Arab League (AL), the East African Community (EAC), the African Union (AU), the European Union (EU), and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), mobilizing their support to avert the potential conflict looming in the Horn of Africa. Furthermore, Somalia has brought the matter to the attention of the United Nations Security Council, underscoring the significance of the situation. The response from the international community has been resounding, with widespread support expressed for safeguarding Somalia’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence. This concerted effort on the diplomatic front demonstrates a commitment to preventing encroachment on Somalia’s autonomy and ensuring regional stability in the face of emerging challenges.

PM Abiy Ahmed’s assessment of Somalia’s ability to defend itself appears to be a miscalculation. Somalia, while characterized by a weak state structure, possesses a resilient and robust society with vibrant diasporic communities that have the potential to challenge Ethiopian diplomacy on the global stage. The strength of the Somali people, particularly in the face of external aggression, should not be underestimated. Somalia’s societal strength is evident in its diasporic communities, which contribute significantly to its economy and wield influence in international forums. These communities can act as formidable advocates for Somali interests, countering Ethiopian diplomatic efforts and amplifying Somalia’s voice on the global stage. Moreover, Somalia’s population has not gone through the disarmament and demobilization process. It continues to be armed at length, a testament to the nation’s capacity to withstand external threats, including any potential aggression from Ethiopia. The international legal framework also supports Somalia’s territorial claims, providing a solid foundation for the country’s stance in any dispute.

The MoU between Ethiopia and Somaliland has inadvertently revitalized and emboldened al-Shabaab, a group significantly weakened since 2023. It is a potent rallying point for al-Shabaab, providing them with renewed motivation and impetus for mobilization. In response to the deal, al-Shabaab’s spokesperson, Ali Mohamud Rage, asserted that it flagrantly violates Somali sovereignty, labeling it “illegal” and issuing a stark warning, predicting bloodshed in protest of its implementation, drawing a parallel with the situation of the Jews in Palestine. The repercussions of this opposition are anticipated to manifest in an expansion of al-Shabaab’s operations, likely targeting both Somaliland and Ethiopia.

PM Abiy Ahmed’s pursuit of territorial gains from Somalia may prove futile, as the people of Somaliland overwhelming reject ceding Somali land to Ethiopia, in particular clans residing the designated area adjacent to Zaila. This internal disagreement poses a significant challenge to Abiy’s venture’s success, potentially hindering his realization of his objectives. Equally noteworthy is the skepticism within Ethiopia itself, where many scholars and politicians view Abiy’s undertaking as a risky move that could jeopardize the country’s desired development and democratic progress. This internal dissent raises questions about the wisdom and potential consequences of Abiy’s actions, further complicating the geopolitical landscape in the Horn of Africa.

In conclusion, the MoU inked between Abiy Ahmed and Muse Bihi is dangerous, presenting a considerable threat to Somalia, Ethiopia, and the broader Horn of Africa populations. This agreement not only jeopardizes the stability of the strategically vital Horn of Africa and the Red Sea region but also carries the potential to trigger a conflict with extensive repercussions. Given these escalating tensions, it becomes imperative for the international community to intervene proactively to prevent the impending conflict and counteract the bellicose policies pursued by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. A united front of intellectuals, scholars, peace activists, and politicians is urgently needed to oppose the MoU and protect both nations’ social, political, and economic well-being. Through this collaborative effort, Somalia and Ethiopia can forge a new path toward a stable and prosperous future that upholds their cultural heritage, political stability, and economic development.

Dr. Abdurahman Baadiyow
Email: [email protected]

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Professor Baadiyow is a senior advisor to the president of Somalia for peace and reconciliation.

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Related articles:

1-Calculated ambiguity: A sovereign port, access to the sea or a naval base? By Prof Ezekiel Gebissa

2-The historical search for a sea outlet and leadership legacy By Faisal A Roble

3.Ethiopia and Somaliland deal: A declaration of war against Somalia By Hassan Zaylai


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