Saturday, March 28, 2020
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Ethiopia’s Destabilization of Somalia Takes a New Dangerous Turn

By Abdullahi Mohamed Sheikh Ali

In its January 2017 edition, under the topic “The commotion surrounding Somalia’s transition”, the Center for Dialogue, Research and Cooperation (CDRC) – with known ties to the top echelons of Ethiopian Intelligence Services and the ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) – issued a hastily put together report aimed at influencing Somalia’s 2017 elections. The Center’s analysis on the 2017 Somalia elections reflects Ethiopian government’s position.

PM Hailemariam Desalegn (left) and President Hassan Sheikh

Ethiopia’s active support to President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is not a surprise. Despite its initial fear of Somalia’s Islamist politicians, Ethiopia found them more malleable once they come to power than secular politicians and has been working closely with the Dam Jadiid faction in recent years. Politicians with Islamist roots are intimidated by labels such as ‘extremist’ and “sympathizers of terrorists’ and are very susceptible to Ethiopian blackmail.

The surprise is why Ethiopia chose to openly campaign for Hassan Sheikh and openly oppose Omer Abdirashid Sharmarke this time, when in the past, it used to rely on behind-the-door maneuvers.

The current Ethiopian rulers from the Tigray minority ethnic group closely follow the public mood in Somalia and historically have always gone against it. The national mood is for a change; there is an overwhelming sense of disappointment with Hassan Sheikh’s four years of tenure. In Hassan Sheikh, TPLF thinks it has a weak candidate who will remain beholden to it because it supported him in a time of need. The public endorsement of the incumbent may be a sign of panic after behind-the-scene schemes failed to deliver results. It could also be an attempt to once again blackmail the international community and Somali parliamentarians to follow Ethiopia’s writ or face a backlash.

Ethiopia’s opposition to Sharmarke has nothing to do with Sharmarke the person. Rather, it is trigged by his rejection of Ethiopia’s “Hassan-Omer” continuity agenda. The agenda itself was a ploy to outwit Sharmarke: the real continuity plan Ethiopia is working on is a Hassan Presidency with Hussien Abdi Halane – former Minister of Finance – as a Prime Minister. It may also be a last-ditch attempt to malign and damage the only candidate, according to Ethiopia’s calculations, with a real chance of beating Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.

Debating the validity of Ethiopia’s opinion on the winning chances of different candidates is unnecessary. What is important is to note that the attacks against candidates will not stop with Sharmarke. Ethiopia will go on the offensive again with fresh gossips and political narratives against other candidates, such as Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo and Sheikh Sharif, if it sees them as a threat to its preferred candidate, as we get closer to the election.

Sharmarke is not the issue. The issue is Ethiopia’s attemptto pick President for Somalia; this time blatantly.

The thrust of Ethiopia’s analysis of the 2017 Somalia elections, articulated through CDRC, boils down to three arguments: 

Daarood President cannot rule Mogadishu

This is coming from the same Ethiopia that ten years ago, under a much more polarized environment, supported a Daarood President – Abdullahi Yusuf – and fought against a Hawiye-dominated Islamist movement to bring him to Mogadishu. Back then, Ethiopia supported a Daarood President who could not land in Mogadishuwithout Ethiopian tanks; ten years later, it is opposing a Prime Minister and other Daarood candidates who work and live in Mogadishu. Ironically, while Ethiopia is busy reminding Somalis of the 1991 inter-clan mayhem, one of the candidates from the Daarood community, Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, is more popular in Mogadishu than he is in his home region – Gedo. This is enough refutation of Ethiopia’s analysis of the reality in Mogadishu. In plain terms, Ethiopia is working counter-clock to the wishes of the Somali people.

Ethiopia’s longstanding destabilization policy is anchored on endorsing and implementing political strategies that arealways contrary to the Somali national sentiment. What is bad for Somalis must be good for the ruling Tigray minority. That seems to be the logic. The rationale of TPLF’s support to Hassan is in tune with this established modus operandi. It is as if TPLF always thinks that opposing what Somalis like is the easiest formula to implement its strategic vision of keeping Somalia in turmoil forever so TPLF can remain as an indispensible ally to the international community in a never-ending “war on terror” in the Horn of Africa.

“Stakeholders”: Engage the guest (Addis Ababa), Ignore the host (Mogadishu)

According to Ethiopia, “there is a need for all stakeholders – Somalis, as well as theregional and international community –to come together to chart the wayforward so that the achievements in Somalia will not unravel”.

Ethiopia is in effect urging for “stakeholders” – regional and international community – to agree on the next President before the election day. Somalis are only added to the stakeholders for political correctness. In the preceding paragraph, Ethiopia is explicit about who it thinks is not consulted among the ‘stakeholders’. It is calling upon the International Community to engage Addis Ababa; there is no reference to Somalis and Somalia Parliament.

Since the International Community’s role in Somalia is to facilitate the process through which Somalis can elect their next leaders – an ongoing process – the call for engagement with Addis Ababa, at a time Ethiopia is publicly campaigning for one candidate, can only be a call for international endorsement of its candidate to the detriment of a democratic process and the sovereign right of the Somali Parliament. What is sought is not consultation; it is dictation.

Unable to influence political processes in Somalia as much it would have liked, Ethiopia is lashing out at Kenya and the International Community for not lining behind its subversive policies towards Somalia. We have seen a manifestation of that in the Galmudug presidential election in the summer of 2015. Ethiopia’s preferred candidate—Ahmed Abdisalam Aden—garnered a mere 12 votes of the 89-member Galmudug Parliament. Same in Hirshabeelle, where its favorite man was rejected by the regional parliament. Time and again, Ethiopia’s henchmen are defeated in ballot boxes all across Somalia. Even in the new Federal Parliament, in which President Hassan Sheikh used all gerrymandering tactics to produce a choir, their first real democratic vote was to deny Farah Sheikh Abdulqadir, contrary to CDRC’s false insertion, who’s widely considered the President’s key ally, his wish to become first Deputy Speaker of the Federal Parliament.

Overblown Al-Shabaab resurgence narrative

The third strand of Ethiopia’s argument is an emphasis on Al-Shabaab resurgence narrative. Ethiopia’s exaggeration of its role in the fight against Al Shabaab and the importance of its military presence in Somalia, and its call for regional and international actors to adopt a collective approach betray a mounting political desperation and anxiety on its part. This is understandable.

Firstly, the regime in Addis Ababa is under siege: Amhara, Oromo and other groups fed up with the minority Tigrayans domination of the national politics and economy are protesting violently.

Secondly, regional countries and the international community have gotten sick and tired of Ethiopia’s politics of blackmail vis-à-vis Somalia.The international community wants to see a political progress in Somalia commensurate to its efforts and investments. Ethiopia constantly frustrates these efforts by pursuing parallel objectives.

Thirdly, most Somalis resent Ethiopia’s military presence in their country and actually want them to leave Somalia. Ethiopia has been using the presence of its military on Somali soil to arm-twist Somali politicians who go against its interests as well as to browbeat a weary international community into acquiescing to its policies on Somalia.

Fourthly, Ethiopian soldiers in Somalia – and mainly the predominantly Tigrayan commanders – earn hard currency and want to stay in Somalia as long as possible. This monetary consideration, in a context that has developed into a war economy, in many instances supersedes publicly stated national security concerns. The Ethiopian military needs a prolonged stay in Somalia more than the timeframe Somalis or international community would have liked; more so now that the Ethiopian economy is in a free fall.

All of these factors are unsettling for a regime that found the “war on terror” narrative as a providential escape from domestic troubles since 2006 and depends on a continuation of this status quo for its survival.

The onus is on the Somali Federal Parliament to prove that Somalia is a sovereign country; not an extension and appendage of Ethiopia.

Abdullahi Mohamed Sheikh Ali
Email:[email protected]


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