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Has Prime Minister Abiye Ahmed Failed History at the School? Failure in History May Lead Him to Failure in Leadership

 By Abdisalam M Issa-Salwe and Abdullahi Salah Osman


Prime Minister Abiye Ahmed demonstrated a lack of responsible leadership by dealing with a regional state bypassing the central government of Somalia, blatantly violating its sovereignty.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed

The Ethiopian leader should have learned the historical lessons that forced the continent to recognise its colonial borders in the 1960s after their emancipation from colonial rule.

Ethiopia’s quasi-recognition of Somaliland as a separate entity after signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is a slap in the face to the founding principles of the African Union. This decision could lead IGAD and the African Union to oppose the agreement and even prove a setback to Somaliland’s pursuit of recognition.

African nations decided to avoid separatist movements in the continent after the Organization of African Unity had chosen the case of recognising the colonial inherited boundaries as permanent in its “First Ordinary Session of the Conference of Heads of State and Government”, held in Cairo from July 17 to 21, 1964. (OAU, 1964).

That ruling prompted the African Union to reject the claim that the Somali people were divided by the colonial powers and should, therefore, be brought under the jurisdiction of the Somali republic. Similarly, it is implausible that the African Union would consent to Somaliland’s attempts to unilaterally secede from Somalia and stand as a separate state.

The status of Somaliland has been in a state of ambiguity since announcing its independence in 1991, as that declaration has yet to be fulfilled. As a result, the region has been tirelessly pursuing international recognition, demonstrating great desperation and persistence towards that goal. As stated above, the failure of Somaliland’s recognition as a distinct state is related to the actions and decisions made by African governments in the aftermath of colonial powers’ departure from the continent in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Reaction to the Deal

The current agreement differs from other deals, such as the one between the UAE and Somaliland to develop Berbera port through the Emitrates-owned company DP World. A similar agreement was later signed between the Emirates and the Federal Member state of Puntland. Unlike the MOU signed with Ethiopia, these agreements with the UAE were strictly commercial. In contrast, the December 2023 Ethiopia-Somaliland accord is a lease in which everything about the port would belong to Ethiopia.

For their part, Somaliland expects that Ethiopia would recognise them as an independent nation once the agreement is implemented. However, the signed text commits the Ethiopians to conduct only an in-depth analysis of the recognition issue before a decision.

The most fiery reaction to the agreement understandably came from the Somali government in Mogadishu, which vowed to use every diplomatic and legal avenue to nullify the deal. Apart from Ethiopia’s careless disregard of international law by signing such a consequential arrangement with Somaliland, this crisis also lifted the lid on the failure of Somali politicians to settle their differences and reach mutually beneficial resolutions for the nation’s benefit as a whole.

On the other hand, the advantage of the deal for the Ethiopian is unambiguous. It stated that “The document will allow Ethiopia to obtain a permanent and reliable naval base and commercial maritime service in the Gulf of Aden through a lease arrangement, and according to the government’s announced position, it will allow Somaliland to acquire an equivalent share of the lease from Ethiopian Airlines”.

Despite Ethiopia’s intention to invest in the lease of a Somali port, on December 11, 2023, it was reported that Ethiopia had missed its debt interest payment of US$33 million on its

one-billion-dollar Eurobond, becoming the third African nation to default within three years. The question is: How could Ethiopia fund the complex projects needed to develop the leased Somali port when it has failed to pay its debt interest, as stated above?

Nevertheless, the case has prompted tension and strong reactions across the region and beyond. The African Union Commission chairperson, Moussa Faki, has expressed his concern by saying that: “… the imperative to respect the unity, territorial integrity, and full sovereignty of all AU member states, including Somalia and Ethiopia” (AU, 03/01/2024). Similarly, the General Secretariat of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Hissein Brahim Taha, reacted by rejecting any act violating Somalia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity following Ethiopia’s port deal with the breakaway region of Somaliland.

Likewise, in the United States, on January 4, 2024, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller rejected the agreement by stating that “The United States recognises the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Somalia within its 1960 borders.” (US Voices, 04/01/2024).

1900s Pan-Africanism Policy Thinking

African governments have a history of preventing other African nations from forming inside the borders left by colonialism, even in the early years before independence. The architects of Pan-Africanism in the early 1900s promoted this approach because they thought that the colonial borders were established to serve the interests of the colonial powers rather than the interests of the African people. (Issa-Salwe et al, 2023) However, when the European powers began to leave the continent, a new pan-Africanist consciousness emerged, predicated on uniting all African governments to establish the United Governments of Africa, which proponents of pan-Africanism advanced. In the end, Pan-Africanists found that achieving a politically united Africa was not as popular as initially in postcolonial Africa. As a result, resolving the borders left over from the previous colonial powers became urgent and required careful consideration. (Ikome, 2012).

Thus, the newly-formed African governments in the 1960s accepted the borders as they were inherited after achieving independence.

African leaders’ justifiable dread of opening a Pandora’s Box of territorial claims and chaos across the continent gave rise to the territorial status quo policy. However, the notion that possible issues would disappear if the Pandora Box were kept closed indefinitely has remained a myth. Africa’s colonial frontiers have contributed to the regionalisation of

intra-state conflict and revealed a startling lack of homogeneity and functional polities in certain nations. These borders have not promoted harmonious ties but have been a significant cause of interstate strife. (ibid.)

However, the conflict has raised concerns about Somaliland’s nationality and how the international community views its assertion of secession from Somalia. (Matthew, 2023) The policy and choice of postcolonial African governments that emerged in the late 1950s and early 1960s, among other factors, determine whether or not to recognise Somaliland as a sovereign country. The Pan-Africanist writers of the early 19th and 20th centuries saw the colonial boundaries drawn to serve the interests of colonialists at odds with those of the African people, with skepticism before that.

Historical Factors and the Colonial Inherited Boundaries. At the close of the nineteenth century, European colonial incursion caused pain to Somali society following the division of Africa and splitting Somalis into five separate governmental entities, shattering the peace of a united people.

In the early 1960s, one of the factors contributing to violence in the Horn of Africa was the widespread division of the Somali people (Issa-Salwe, 2000). The most unfortunate effect of Somali history on contemporary politics, according to Samatar and Laitin (1987), was that a significant proportion of those with ties to Somali culture continued to live outside the limits that the colonial powers had given them.

Thus, the establishment of the Somali Republic was viewed by Somali nationalists as a step toward the completion and realisation of the Somali nation. Since Somalia gained independence in the 1960s, the goal of uniting all Somalis under one state has dominated almost all of its foreign policy. Consequently, Somalia “remained a nation in search of a state,” posing a problem for Africa (Samatar et al.) The central aim of Somali ambitions became the ‘unification of all Somalis’.

Read the full article here: Has Prime Minister Abiye Ahmed Failed History at the School? Failure in History May Lead Him to Failure in Leadership

Abdisalam M Issa-Salwe
Email: [email protected]
Abdullahi Salah Osman

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