Thursday, April 18, 2024
Wardheer News
  • Opinion

Ethiopia’s Sovereign Access to the Sea: A Potential Catalyst for the Revival of Somali Nationalism and Its Impact on Stability in the Horn of Africa

By Mohamed Rage Hassan


Ethiopia lost access to its territorial sea when Eritrea withdrew from the union following the ascent to power of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of opposition movements that came to power through armed means. With Eritrea gaining independence from the rest of Ethiopia, the country became landlocked. Despite arguments by several scholars that Ethiopia did not suffer significantly from the loss of its seaport, as its economy continued to grow and it effectively isolated itself from the forces of globalization, the government played a crucial role in regulating the economic system through prudent macroeconomic policies, ensuring sustained growth.

During the tenure of the TPLF-led government, Ethiopia achieved remarkable economic success, emerging as one of the fastest-growing GDPs in Africa. This success caught the attention of international financial institutions, leading to collaborative efforts between these institutions and the Ethiopian government in various economic infrastructure investment projects, involving substantial amounts, reaching millions if not billions of dollars. However, the primary objective of these international financial institutions was to encourage the Ethiopian government to promote public-private partnerships and, inevitably, privatize key services in alignment with the globalization principle

Ethiopia’s strategic pursuit of sovereign access to the sea holds the potential to reignite Somali nationalism, thereby posing challenges to stability in the Horn of Africa region. Historically, there was a nationalist sentiment among the Somali people, aspiring to have a unified nation-state. However, the artificial borders demarcated by colonial powers left some Somalis under the control of Ethiopia and Kenya, making it difficult for them to unite under one flag. The present aspirations of the Ethiopian government might lead to adverse consequences if it persists in the implementation and establishment of its sovereign seaport and naval base. It is crucial to consider the potential impact of this decision.

Over the last thirty years, Somalis, who have encountered numerous challenges, appear to be making steady progress in the past decade. Certain issues faced by the Somali people are believed to be orchestrated by the Ethiopian government, which undermined both state-building and peace-building initiatives during periods of statelessness in Somalia. Scholars who have critically examined this containment policy employed by Ethiopia to perpetuate the political conflict and state fragility in Somalia have concluded that Ethiopia views a strong centralized government in Somalia as a threat. This is rooted in the fear that such a government might assert territorial claims over the Somali regional state in Ethiopia, similar to what President Siyad Barre did in the late 1970s. Consequently, Ethiopia’s strategy involves keeping Somalia weak and divided to counter the potential resurgence of Somali nationalism and the concept of irredentism. Presently, it appears that Prime Minister Abiy is cultivating a sense of nationalism while persuading his people that he is acting in their best interest.  

From a historical standpoint, it is not possible for Ethiopia to annex additional Somali territory and sea, as it has already annexed the Hawd and reserve area, now recognized as the Somali regional state in Ethiopia. This annexation took place through the Anglo-Ethiopian treaty in 1948, where control was transferred from the British colony to Ethiopia. The Somali people residing in that region have not forgotten the oppressions they endured under successive Ethiopian governments. If you were to ask individuals in the area, they would express a feeling of being under Ethiopian colonization. In the event that the Ethiopian government, recognized as a regional power, tries to oppress the independent Somali people, it seems that the Horn of Africa region could descend into turbulence and devastating conflict. The Somalis in the region are likely to unite to protect their remaining independent territory.

The growing sense of nationalism among Somalis, resulting from Prime Minister Abiy’s declared intent to underscore Ethiopia’s desire to access the seaport that it owns and manages, could intensify their commitment to both asserting the Somali region in Ethiopia and protecting their territory against any attempts of annexation from the Ethiopian side. The Ethiopian government typically relies on an agreement with Djibouti for over 93 percent of its exports and imports. Both the Somali people in Somaliland and Somalia appreciate agreements that adhere to international seaport leasing and economic cooperation. However, what many Somalis find unacceptable is the overt ambition of Aby’s government.

Several Ethiopian scholars refute this ambition, suggesting that Aby’s government is using this move to distract the Ethiopian people who are currently grappling with significant issues, particularly an economic crisis leading to currency depreciation. This article seeks to examine the implications of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by the Ethiopian government and the president of Somaliland, lacking legitimacy, in Addis Ababa. It delves into the potential consequences, exploring how such an agreement could fuel nationalism and the regional impact if any form of confrontation were to occur.

2. Potential Catalyst for Somali Nationalism

To be more specific, the Somali people have endured numerous wars throughout both pre-modern and modern history. These conflicts can be succinctly attributed to three main factors: firstly, nationalism, as Somalis have sacrificed their lives for nationalistic ideals across different historical periods; secondly, Islam, which has evolved into a more fundamentalist stance, yet Somalis are deeply committed to preserving their religion and are willing to fight for it; and thirdly, clan loyalty, with many Somalis engaging in conflict in the name of their respective clans. It seems that Aby and the Ethiopian government are well aware of the significance of clan conflicts and divisions in Somalia and Somaliland, making them more volatile. In this current intervention, where Aby Ahmed is planning to effectively annex a part of the Somali region, is reigniting a sense of nationalism. It is important to note that Somali nationalism is borderless, with ethnic Somalis worldwide contributing their efforts to resist Abiy Ahmed’s actions.

Ethiopian experts on Somali affairs might be drawing parallels to the 2006 scenario when Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia. However, it’s crucial to remember that the invasion of Somalia was part of the War on Terror project, with support from the United States. The narrative presented to the Somali people at the time was that Ethiopia intervened to strengthen the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and weaken terrorist groups. Nevertheless, Ethiopia ended up creating real fundamentalist elements in Somalia, as the organization it fought and dismantled was a moderate Islamist group, the ICU. Currently, it appears that the Ethiopian government is fostering a sense of nationalism. 

2.1 Analysis of how Ethiopia’s sea access may influence Somali nationalism

Nationalism is characterized by a strong allegiance to a specific ethnic or state identity. This fervent loyalty can occasionally lead to destructive conflicts, as individuals embracing this sentiment may clash with other ethnic groups or states they view as a threat to their nationhood. According to David Smith, Nationalism, when taken to an extreme, may fuel aggressive and militaristic behavior. The belief in the superiority of one’s nation can lead to the justification of expansionist policies, militarization, and even war in pursuit of national interests. However, when tracing the most notable factors contributing to Somalia’s collapse, it is often cited that Somalis faced severe repercussions from Somali nationalism, which led to the Ethiopia-Somalia war in 1977. Somalia aimed to challenge the AU and UN border demarcation rules established by the colonial rulers.

However, nationalism as a notion itself may have a positive and negative impact, in which the leaders of each country are required to take care in igniting the spirit of nationalism. It is evident that the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in 2006 resulted in the emergence of a complex blend of nationalism and fundamentalism, with the latter gaining significant traction. Prior to Al-Shabaab aligning itself with the global jihadist network led by Al-Qaeda, the sense of nationalism was already prevalent. However, the association with this network provided opportunities for individuals from various nations, particularly Ethiopia, some East African countries, and Westerners, to come to Somalia for Jihad purposes. Therefore, it is crucial for our neighboring country, Ethiopia, to avoid creating a conducive environment for both nationalist and terrorist sentiments, as neither of them has a solid foundation.

Currently, Somalis, whether residing in Somalia, Somaliland, Ethiopia, Djibouti, or Kenya, have uniformly expressed their dissatisfaction and condemned the Ethiopian government’s actions regarding the Somali territory. They are well aware of Ethiopia’s aspirations for control over the sea, which goes beyond leasing agreements. The Abiy government has been explicit about its intention to gain access to a seaport through various bold statements. The Somali people across the Horn of Africa, irrespective of their specific state affiliations, generally look to Mogadishu, the capital of the Somali ethnicity, for guidance.

The Ethiopian government needs to carefully consider that any attempt to seize control of the sea, if pursued forcefully, could lead to not only resistance from Somalis in Somaliland and Somalia but may also instigate tensions within the Somali regional state in Ethiopia, including areas like Jigjiga, Godey, and the shared borders with Oromo people, who some Somalis believe are involved in supporting this plan. A considerable number of individuals from the Oromo community have distanced themselves from Abiy’s intention to annex Somali territory in the Horn of Africa. They have made it clear where they stand on this issue. The Oromia Liberation Army is one of the groups that has expressed opposition to this move, highlighting the commitment of certain individuals in this region to avoid worsening the historical relationship they share with their Somali counterparts. 

2.2 Examination of historical sentiments and grievances

The region has a turbulent history, yet researchers have not adequately addressed the themes of domination and ethnic colonialism. The root cause of this domination and ethnic colonialism can be attributed to the historical existence of organized ethnic states, which played a significant role in the process of state formation. Examining state formation theories, Ethiopia aligns with the primary state formation theory, indicating that the Ethiopian people had an organized administrative structure predating the arrival of other populations in the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia is perceived to have transitioned into a modern state relatively quickly, particularly during the period when it fell under the control of Italian fascist. Somalis have encountered various conflicts with Ethiopian emperors throughout their history.

In more recent times, the Somali people faced threats during the reign of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, the Ethiopia-Somalia war, and the TPLF’s manipulation of Somalia’s political conflicts. Lastly, the invasion in which the Ethiopian troops invaded the Somali capital Mogadishu was also marked as very brutal and humiliating.

2.3 Possible reactions from the Somali population

Somali people’s response typically hinges on how the Abiy government seeks to pursue its intention of occupying the coastal land in the Awdal region of Somaliland. Currently, the public is actively rejecting this deal by voicing their concerns to decision-makers. On the other hand, Al-Shabaab is attempting to exploit the public outcry over the sea issues.

If Abiy attempts to use force, the reaction is expected to be similar. Some states in the region, notably Eritrea, have pledged to join the fight when it starts. The Egyptian government is also prepared to assist the Somali people in confronting Ethiopian forces. Lastly, Turkey is anticipated to contribute to the efforts aimed at safeguarding Somali territory and sea. There is a growing strength and number of soldiers, and the arms embargo lifted by the United Nations Security Council is also enhancing Somalia’s capacity to defend its territory against any aggression. 

3. Impact on Stability in the Horn of Africa

The region was grappling with persistent issues such as climate change, food insecurity, internal conflicts, droughts, and geopolitical dynamics. In relation to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), another significant concern arises, potentially more severe than those previously noted. This agreement has the potential to escalate into a devastating conflict between the Aby government and the Somali people in the region, affecting the entire Horn of Africa (HoA). Some HoA states have already indicated that they won’t merely observe but will actively join the conflict, as suggested by certain diplomatic leaks.

The turbulence in the region is expected to intensify significantly, and it’s crucial for everyone to understand that the area is currently in a fragile state. Each HoA state is grappling with internal issues, and there are shared challenges, including rising poverty levels resulting from conflicts and climate change. If this occurs, there will be unprecedented consequences that could potentially influence political geography. The outcome of new inter-state conflicts is anticipated to bring about changes, particularly affecting Ethiopia and Somalia, although the severity of this impact may be more pronounced on the Ethiopian state.

Policymakers in the region must recognize a crucial aspect—the deep-seated ethnic grievances that people in the Horn of Africa (HoA) are encountering. The statelessness resulting from a widespread inter-state war might provide an opportunity for these ethnic grievances to escalate, leading to widespread devastative conflicts within the Horn of Africa. The existing state systems act as a barrier to preventing these conflicts, and if unleashed, it is anticipated that ethnic tensions may intensify. Even reconfiguring the geopolitical map of the region could prove challenging for the international community, and the United Nations. The historical legacies of colonial decisions in drawing geopolitical maps pose a risk to the long-term stability of the region, particularly in times of chaos and statelessness. 

4. Conclusion

Ethiopia’s quest for sovereign sea access raises concerns about reigniting Somali nationalism and destabilizing the Horn of Africa. The historical context, along with current inter-state political tensions, suggests potential resistance from Somalis, fueled by nationalism and exacerbated by Prime Minister Abiy’s intentions. This situation, compounded by historical grievances and geopolitical complexities, poses a delicate and fragile scenario.

The analysis emphasizes the significance of deep-seated ethnic grievances in the Horn of Africa, warning that inter-state conflicts could lead to widespread consequences. The involvement of neighboring states and international actors further complicates matters, increasing the risk of reshaping the region’s geopolitical map.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Ethiopia and Somaliland adds complexity, lacking legitimacy and potentially fueling nationalism. Amidst existing challenges like climate change and internal conflicts, the sea access issue could destabilize the Horn of Africa further.

Policymakers in the region are urged to carefully balance economic interests with historical and ethnic sensitivities to avoid unprecedented consequences. Failure to do so may reshape the political geography, posing long-term risks to stability and statehood in the Horn of Africa.

Mohamed Rage Hassan
Email: [email protected] 

Mohamed Rage Hassan is an independent researcher based in Hargeisa, Somaliland. He has written numerous research papers and is currently working on a research project on peace. 

Related articles:

1.The disastrous effects of the Ethiopia-Somaliland MoU By Dr. Baadiyow

2 .State decay: The case of Ethiopia and the Somali demand for self-determination By Faisal Roble

3. Repercussions of acrimony: Al shabaab receives new year’s gift from Ethiopia By Adam Aw Hirsi

4. Ethiopia-Somaliland deal: A threat to Somalia and regional stability in the horn of Africa By Ahmed I.

5. Into the abyss: Somalia to become the century’s Armageddon theatre By Adan Ismail

6. Somalia triumphs in diplomacy: Safeguarding sovereignty By Aydarus Ahmed 

7. Countering the dangerous ideology of PM Abiy Ahmed By A Baadiyow

8. Somalia must reconsider its policy towards Somaliland amidst the Ethio-Somaliland MoU By M.Rage

9 .What will become of Abiy Ahmed’s ‘acts of aggression’ against the Somali people? By Dr Aweys O.

10. A pact cast adrift: Navigating the legal maelstrom of the Ethio-Somaliland accord By Dayib Sh. Ahmed

11. The escalating Ethiopia-Somalia rift: A precarious path to conflict By Hassan Tahir  

12Has Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed failed history at the school? failure in history may lead him to failure in leadership By Prof Abdisalam M Issa-Salwe and Abdullahi Salah Osman

13. Abiy Ahmed’s MoU with Muse Bihi threatens Horn of Africa stability By Abdirahman Baadiyow

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

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

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

We welcome the submission of all articles for possible publication on WardheerNews will only consider articles sent exclusively. Please email your article today . Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of WardheerNews.

WardheerNew’s tolerance platform is engaging with diversity of opinion, political ideology and self-expression. Tolerance is a necessary ingredient for creativity and civility.Tolerance fuels tenacity and audacity.

WardheerNews waxay tixgelin gaara siinaysaa maqaaladaha sida gaarka ah loogu soo diro ee aan lagu daabicin goobo kale. Maqaalkani wuxuu ka turjumayaa aragtida Qoraaga loomana fasiran karo tan WardheerNews.

Copyright © 2024 WardheerNews, All rights reserved

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.