By Adan Ismail
When the Ethiopians sealed a dubious port deal with a septuagenarian Somalia separatist leader against the sky-high furore of all Somalis across the divide, the Addis office gloated over the deal with a tone reminiscent of an ancient Abyssinian leader’s relish after registering a landmark victory. Added to this was how people in Addis Ababa rejoiced as if their country won a decisive battle against an avowed enemy. Whatever the deal meant to Ethiopians, it was a piercingly painful dawn to the general Somali public. It rekindled memories of aggressions by the defunct Abyssinian Empire, pricked old wounds and signalled a resumption of Addis’s undying claims over Somali Lands.
Having already annexed a big chunk of Somali territories in the past century, with the connivance and help of the British Empire, the current events are seen as the completion of the terre irredente dream; the claim that Somali territories are rightfully Abyssinian and will one day become part of their great empire. Whether or not that dream is set to materialise, the deal sets a troubling trajectory for the region. It recharged a decayed radical Somali nationalism, embodies Islamist forces and above all, marks a prelude to the involvement of more destabilising foreign forces in the region with ramifications reaching beyond its boundaries. Ramifications that can dramatically remake the world, or at least the Middle East and Eastern Africa.
Dragged to the frontier of hell
When the deal was announced, the government in Mogadishu immediately unleashed whirlwind diplomatic overtures. First calling on its traditional Arab allies and then Eritrea, an arch rival of Ethiopia. Voices of support from these two were enormous, positive and encouraging. Other actors like the European Union and individual states including the United States voiced similar support for Somalia while the African Union and the IGADD gave broad-brush statements interpretable as to dissuade Ethiopia from making an aggressive move.
In diplomatic circles, Somalia appears to be gaining ground, while Ethiopia, with each passing day, faces potential embarrassment, if not ultimate isolation. However, beneath these apparent triumphs lies a critical error that Mogadishu is being urged to avoid—the potential invitation of Egyptian troops into the country. Proponents of this idea often cite the simplistic but unsubstantial notion that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” pointing to Cairo’s unresolved disputes with Ethiopia over the GERD. Others highlight the historical ties between the two nations, emphasizing Egypt as the preferred ally among Arab ‘brothers.’ From a strategic perspective, aligning with Egypt is seen as beneficial for Somalia in deterring a potential Ethiopian invasion. In the short term, Egypt could effectively impede any advances Ethiopia might make towards Somalia. However, beyond these surface tensions, there are underlying complexities that warrant careful consideration.
For the longest time, national threats that preoccupied Somalia’s leaders emanated from two geographical fronts: Ethiopia and Kenya; creating the mental fear of ‘two black African enemies at the gates. ’Although the latter’s threats have not been explicit since the 1967 Arusha Agreement, Addis Ababa and Mogadishu have never achieved full reconciliation from their past animosities that peaked during the 1977 Ogaden War. Later, hostilities were deepened by Ethiopia’s military interventionism in Somalia and the backhanding policy it has been dealing with fragile Mogadishu in the last three decades. Bound by ethnicity and blood, its Northwest neighbour, the stamp-sized Djibouti was not a security concern for Somalia and did not bother the leaders.
Across the Sea and the Ocean sat the closest Arab neighbour; Yemen whose relations with Somalia have been benign courtesy of Somali society’s pro-Arab attitudes and the deep-rooted trade and social relations spanning centuries between the two peoples. It is even believed that Somalia toned down its claim of the sovereign ownership of the Socotra Island to remain on good terms with the Yemeni people. Taken together, these have been the geopolitical realities that surrounded them and shaped the thinking of Mogadishu’s leaders. While the three other fronts largely remain the same, the geopolitical ground on the Yemeni front has so vastly shifted to give rise to what could become Somalia’s next frontier of hell if Mogadishu leaders are not careful. Since the Houthi rebels seized Sanaa, the devastating Persian-Arab proxy war and its concomitant sectarianism are closer to Somalia than ever before.
Egyptian boots on Somalia’s soil serve one purpose to Mogadishu but two for Cairo. Through Egyptian muscle, Somalia sees Ethiopian aggression contained but Cairo, Somalia provides a convenient ground to coerce, intimidate and possibly invade Ethiopia should it fail to comply with Egyptian GERD negotiation terms. Secondly, Egypt with its allies intends to keep a watchful eye on the Houthis and if need be, act against them because of their sporadic attacks in the Red Sea that are choking the Suez Canal, depriving Cairo of considerable revenue and hurting its economy.
Also, Egypt does not want its status as the preeminent force in the Red Sea since the Pharaonic times to erode and may bear every cost to preserve this status from the Houthis and their masters, Iranians. Because of these reasons, it is assured that Egyptians once they set foot on Somalia will be guarding two fronts to preserve their interests and Cairo’s allies may too well have more sophisticated plans. Moving against Yemenis while stationed on Somalia’s soil throws Mogadishu into the Iran/proxies versus West/Israel/Arab crossfire, eventually sliding the country into a flaming maelstrom with unpredictable consequences. If mounting suspicions that the Ethio-Somali tensions are farce mechanisation and the elephant in the room is dealing with Houthis and routing Iranian influence in the Red Sea are vindicated, then Egyptian deployment to Somalia is just a curtain-raiser toward that direction.
Smoking guns are detectable
Latest Houthi actions in the Red Sea have proved that Iran, which exercises natural sovereignty over the Hormuz Strait has, through its outgrown Soleimani arm, seized the Bab El Mandeb. Together with its outreach to Western Sahara’s Polisario to influence the affairs of the Strait of Gibraltar, Iran is out of its shell, prepared to take on its adversaries on every front. General Mohamed Reza, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards was not mean with words when he threatened to close the Mediterranean Sea, directly threatening Europe. Daring humanity’s powerhouse and the roots of its prestige, then going out to bomb nuclear Pakistan, Iranians are out knocking on every door and daring the house’s occupants.
The greatest concern now for the West, Israel and Arabs is the Bab el Mandeb because overlooking the current Houthi nuisances will prove costly in the future and make Iran more violent. Attempts to dislodge them through air campaigns led by Saudi Arabia have failed to yield objectives, nor the naval blockade. Efforts by a Gulf-installed regime buttressed by money and mercenaries to topple them have not succeeded either. Against the background of these failures, continued Houthi control in Yemen that permits them to exercise authority over the Red Sea on behalf of Iran is still viewed as too dangerous a reality to live by, especially by the Gulf Arabs, Egyptians and Israel.
The heat of such a gloomy fate now seems to be catching the Arabs, particularly the rich Gulf countries and the embattled Egyptians. Amid the admixture of confusion and fear, the pendulum of fate has so weirdly swung that Arabs and Israelis swept aside their firmly rooted biblical enmities and have suddenly forged the ‘children of Abraham’ camaraderie disguised as Abraham Accords; to collectively shield against a common enemy, the Persians. Of course, this newfound romance did not come without a price. Arabs had to abandon their fellow Palestinian kinsmen to be decimated by Israel not just to appease them but because Hamas has proved to be an irritant Arab child in bed with the enemy; a rotten organ in the Arab body treatable only by chopping off. Their hands untied to freely act and obliterate Gaza Palestinians for being too nuisant to Abraham’s favourite child, Israelis on their part as the distant cousins of Western Civilisation are bringing a valuable item into the situation room: Western might. By joining the mix, Westerners are not volunteers or merely helping their cousin and his comrades but also have their stakes.
Occupying the peak of the pyramid of human hierarchy, the Westerners did not get there because they were chosen by God. More than any other group of people, they have perfected the art of systematically dwarfing competitors, by skill or by sword. With great ingenuity, Western Civilization can twist the narrative of a scene so ugly as the destruction of Iraq to frame it as planting the seeds of peace, prosperity and liberty. One of this civilization’s contemporary scholars, Samuel Huntington, observed this systematic dwarfing of competitors and rightly attributed Western pre-eminence not to the superiority of its ideas and values but to the application of ‘organized violence.’ The only Godly gift bestowed upon the Westerners, as their scholars would admit, is the favourable geography that placed them at the forefront. Now, to prolong their domination, the West has to join forces with Abraham’s children to deal with belligerent Persians who have overstepped their limits to such an extent that they are amassing forces at the gates of Rome.
By threatening to close the Mediterranean, Persian sons born and raised in dry mountains want to snatch the Pearl of the World, the pompous and prosperous life, from European children. With Arabs and Israelis concerned about their survival and Westerners committed to once more dwarfing an agile competitor to prolong their lifespan, things now seem so neatly arranged that some of us, the bystanders, can speculate the decisive moment is nearing. Shreds of evidence emerge in a desolate part of the Earth – the Horn of Africa – that the plan to fold Iran’s long and most violent arm is being moulded there.
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