By Faisal Roble
Baadida ninbaa kula deydeya, daalna kaa badane
Oon doonahayn inaad heshana, daayin abidkaaye W/T. Qamaan Bulxan
On March 1, 2018, the Dubai-owned DP World and the government of Ethiopia have concluded a dubious deal with the unrecognized secessionist region of Somaliland. This happened without notice to or approval from either the fledgling Parliament or the Executive branch of the Somali Federal Republic (SFR).
Despite a Faustian pact between an African neighbor and a petrodollar Arab company across the Gulf of Aden, each being awarded 19% and 51% of the ownership of the Berbera Port, respectively, leaving only a trifling 30% for Somaliland, the deal is both illegal, and injurious to the stately interest of Somalia.
The Ethio-DP World deal was signed in a makeshift office in Dubai. No one can have so far explained why and how Ethiopia garnered 19% of the ownership of a prime real estate (Berbera Port) that it neither owns nor invested any capital for the construction and modernization of said Port. The only public explanation thus came from Ismael Mohamed Hure (Buba), a member of one of the opposition parties in Hargeisa, who in an interview said that DP World gave that 19% share to Ethiopia.
The Ministry of Ports and Marine Transport of SFR issued a press release on March 2, 2018, declaring the dubious deal null and void, and warned that “the so-called agreement is defective and detrimental to the sovereignty of the Somali Federal Republic (SFR) and the unity of the country.” Moreover, the Prime Minister of Somalia, Hassan Khyre, issued a stern repudiation of the deal and pronounced it dead on arrival (DOA).
In response to the SFR position, the acentric DP World CEO, Sultan Ahmed bin-Sulayem, burbled with unstately statements and said that Somaliland is “an independent country” that has the right to enter into bilateral agreements.
Somaliland leaders have gone rogue on this matter and violated an understanding between Villa Somalia and Hargeisa, in that Somaliland will approach international agreements that seek economic development with the consent of the Federal government. As to the Ethio-DP World, their action is part of a web of foreign entities pillaging Somalia’s resources.
For some time now, there have been credible anecdotal information that United Arab Emirates (UAE), the government behind DP World, has been sabotaging Somalia. There are credible security sources that affirm the financing of some ISIS operation by the UAE. Also, Ethiopia since 2006 had either invaded Somalia, undermined various transitional governments through its clients in regional governments and in the parliament, or even armed insurgents, including but not limited to Al-Shabab, all these while she is an AMISOM contributing country.
Founded in 2005, DP World is a NASDAQ listed company with over $15 billion portfolios and employs over 36,300 in 103 counties (DP World Strategic Plan, 2017). Its revenue for 2017 was a whopping $4.2 billion. One of the pillars of the company’s strategy is to conduct business with “courage.” Whether the Berbera deal reflects a strategic “courage” or a risky investment, time will tell. The elephant in the house, though, is whether bin-Sulayem, who enjoys enormous confidence of the erratic Crown Prince, Mohammed bin-Zayed Al Nahyam, can change the fate of a five-century-old ambition held by Ethiopia towards the warm waters of Somalia.
Making Ethiopian Imperial Ambitions Possible
For Ethiopia, to reach its imperial goal and sustain a regional status quo where it freely accesses Somali ports for its wellbeing without Somalia’s buy-in is a pipe dream, especially when one looks at the long trajectory of history. The region had been and continues to be one plagued by conflicts.
A prudent Ethiopia would have sought its ambitions through a more stately alternative, i.e., through a collaborative means with the legitimate and internationally sanctioned SFR. Call the Faustian pact between the EPRDF-led government in Addis and DP World nothing but a short-sighted policy in a volatile region.
In a way, the current Ethiopian government’s posturing over Berbera is a complete repudiation of the late Meles Zenawi’s initial position towards Somalia’s resources. Following a meeting with the late Mohammed H. Ibrahim Igal in 1994, Mr. Zenawi (founder of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front) rebuffed any idea of his country taking advantage of Somalia. He underlined the immense contribution Somalia made to the Ethiopian revolution.
In his concluding remarks, he affirmed to all sides that Ethiopia will only collaborate with Somalia, economically and politically, only when Somalia gets its bearing and reestablishes its unified state (Kindh Ethiopia, 1994).
At the moment, we can arguably say that the post-Meles government in Addis’ Arat Kilo, controlled by young cadres who lack focus, are confused; they have put into motion a policy to pursue the dreams of ancient imperial Ethiopia – having unbridled access to the sea of Somalia even if it is through a dubious deal.
Taking into consideration the endemic instability and ethnic strife in Ethiopia, the Berbera deal represents an infantile path for EPRDF to take vis-a-vis Somalia – perhaps a reflection of the beginning of the deterioration of a revolutionary regime in the Horn. It is titillating to argue that EPRDF is behaving as an unsophisticated government that has failed to learn lessons about the history of this region.
Western Bias against Muslim Somalis
The Ethio-Somali conflict on resources, in the past on grazing lands but recently on maritime resources owned by Somalis, goes back to the 16th century. It is to be recalled that the wars between Imam Ahmed Ibunu Khazali and Ethiopian Kings (Libna Dhingil, among others) marked the beginning of this regional conflict. Emperor Menelik himself never shied away from his dream of soaking his cold feet into the warm waters of the Indian Ocean by any means necessary.
America’s preeminent Political Science scholar, the late Samuel Huntington, traces back the Ethio-Somali mistrust to distant days – back to the 16th century. In “The Clashes of Civilizations,” he situates the conflict between Somalis and Abyssinians in the war between Christianity led by the Portuguese and Islam by Turkish. He brings the import of these distant wars to present-day politics and openly sides with what he calls “friends” of the West, i.e., Ethiopia.
In the conclusion of his controversial treatise, Huntington calls upon Western institutions (World Bank, IMF, USAID to defend Ethiopia and diminish the profile of Muslim countries. Somalia is one of those disfavored countries.
In 1996, after he published another controversial book titled “Democracy’s Third Wave,” Huntington was commissioned by USAID to go and spend time in Addis Ababa to guide and advise the then-nascent revolution of Ethiopia. It was then that lessons on “The Clashes of Civilization,” and how to establish a one-dominant party system were inculcated in the Ethiopian body politic.
As western Political Science has been shaped by the thoughts of Huntington and his predecessor, George F. Kannon, contemporary Africanist perpetuate the “inalienable” need of Ethiopia to have access to the sea; they advanced a narrative that is biased against Somalia, indeed overplaying the concept of Ethiopian being a Christian nation in a Sea of Muslims.
Lately, nuanced narratives about Ethiopia’s rising military and economic power and how that takes primacy over the territorial integrity and sovereign state interests of Somalia dominate Western media. Which is what a recent article, “Ethiopia, Berbera Port and the Shifting Balance of power in the Horn of Africa,” carried by a Western publication called Rising Powers Quarterly, argued. It stated that Ethiopia as a regional power should impose its “superiority” on its neighbors, i.e., Somalia.
One is tempted to ask, why Somalia, and not Eretria? Didn’t Ethiopia historically claim Masawa and Assab – two ports that are close to the heartland of traditional Ethiopia? Of course, the obvious answer lies in the weak government in Mogadishu.
To wit, what does Ethiopian economic growth as the largest market in the region got to do with the sovereign rights of Somalia to be the sole guardian of its own country? In a reversed argument, would any western social scientist see it reasonable for Russia to take over the ports of Finland or Ukraine, because Russia is more populous and has a larger economic market than either Finland or Ukraine? And most of these countries historically were part of Greater Russia
Faisal Roble, a writer, political analyst and a former Editor-in-Chief of WardheerNews, is mainly interested in the Horn of Africa region. He is currently the Principal Planner for the City of Los Angeles in charge of Master Planning, Economic Development and Project Implementation Division.
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