Although both Ethiopia and Kenya are Somalia’s historical enemies and have Somali territories under their control, nevertheless Ethiopia had robbed more land and people from Somalia than Kenya. Since the 16th century, Ethiopia’s expansionist strategy toward Somalia has never wavered; it ruined Somali statehood by harbouring armed opposition groups; it has invaded Somalia and continues to violate its sovereignty to annex more territories. Paradoxically, Villa Somalia is claiming that Ethiopia is a friend and Kenya is a foe. This piece is to critique this inconsistency and how Abiy Ahmed’s dictatorial reforms may affect Somalia?
Since Ethiopia invaded Somalia in 2006 and defeated the Islamic Union Courts (IUC), its subordination of Somalia has been in rapid progression. From there, Ethiopia has mandated a system enforcing every administration in Villa Somalia to be more subservient to Addis-Ababa than its predecessor. It is a system supported by its allies and bankrolled by the Gulf States. This system began with the tenure of late president Abdullahi Yusuf who collaborated with the Ethiopians in the war against the IUC.
Given the history of the two countries, it was simplistic for Yusuf to believe that Ethiopian troops would secure him a stable and autonomous Somalia. After the defeat of IUC, Yusuf resisted to fully comply with the orders from Addis-Ababa. Ethiopia’s Prime Minister at the time Meles Zenawi described Yusuf as “old school”, a statement synonymous with the fact that Somalia is not an autonomous state in the eyes of Ethiopia and its allies.
Zenawi’s statement also resonated with an adage that ex-Ethiopian president Mengistu Haile Mariam shared with Yusuf back in the 80s when Yusuf was commanding the first armed opposition group (SSDF) based in Ethiopia to overthrow Barre’s dictatorship regime. According to Yusuf, Mengisto noted to him, “Ethiopia is like a tiger and it is not wise to hold a tiger by the tail, but if you do so, don’t let it go”. Yusuf could not keep holding the tiger’s tail following an incident that exposed why Ethiopia was harbouring armed Somali opposition groups. In 1985, Ethiopia raised its flag in two Somali towns (Goldogob & Balanbale) right after SSDF insurgents entered the towns; Yusuf quickly denounced the action and Mengisto responded with swift punishment by incarcerating Yusuf and eventually disbanding SSDF. Unexpectedly, Yusuf got his freedom seven years later when Zenawi toppled Mengisto in 1991.
In 2008, the friction between Yusuf and Zenawi sparked infightings in Villa Somalia that forced Yusuf to resign before the end of his term to pave the way for more loyal leaders who would humbly condone Villa Somalia to be a satellite site controlled from Addis-Ababa. The UN office in Somalia has been instrumental in this exploitative agenda. As clan politics left Somalis deeply divided, people were not conscious about the crisis unfolding but were fixated on competing for worthless posts. UN Special Representative for Somalia at the time Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah facilitated the unconstitutional process that ousted Yusuf and brought his replacement Sheikh Sharif Ahmed.
Initially Somali legislators tried to resist UN dictates but eventually succumbed to the pressure for fear of losing their parliamentary privileges and being labelled as spoilers of peace. This system of terror and exploitation seems to be working for Ethiopia as Villa Somalia became its Trojan horse in Somalia.
Ethiopia’s exploitation is not confined to Villa Somalia (executive branch) but has permeated other formal institutions such as the legislature, military, security as far as the federal states. There is unknown number of Ethiopian troops in Somalia that wreak havoc of nomadic and settled inhabitants under the guise of fighting Al-shabab. These forces kill openly and secretly and incarcerate political candidates who are not loyal to Villa Somalia. Three so-called Ethiopian embassies have been operating in Mogadishu, Garowe and Hargeisa. Somalis need to follow strict visa rules to enter Ethiopia while Ethiopians enter Somalia freely by thousands (perpetual exodus of migrants) and no authority (federal or state) questions those migrants let alone to address the threat they pose to the national security. They dwell anywhere they want and have visible communities in major cities.
Ethiopia’s influence has also pervaded the informal institutions like the civil society, clans, as well as religious groups to the extent that it armed certain religious sects. It does policing between the Somali clans; Somalis with political ambitions have to seek approval and support from Addis-Ababa before they appear in the political arena. There is nothing else to compare with Ethiopian atrocities but fear of repercussions force Somalis to superficially adore Ethiopia and certainly vilify Kenya.
During his first campaign in 2016, President Mohamed Abdullhai Farmajo had deceptively accused Ethiopia of being a historical enemy, but totally acted differently as soon as he arrived Villa Somalia and presented to be the most loyal to Ethiopia. To prove his faithfulness and allegiance to Addis-Ababa, he became the first president who extradited Somali freedom fighters to Ethiopia for persecution and refuted historical struggles for the liberation of Western Somali Region (Ogaden) as acts of terrorism. President Hassan Sheikh Mahamoud did not extradite Somalis to Addis-Abbas but repudiated the Somali curriculum for teaching what he called a distorted history that was instilling hatred in the minds and hearts of Somali children. As long as the current system is in place, most likely, the next stalwart to come to Villa Somalia will be more dangerous than Farmajo.
Since King Menelik, Ethiopia’s expansionist policies toward Somalia have never changed albeit its different leaders have employed different approaches. When PM Abiy Ahmed came into power in 2018, to solidify his power, he engaged Somalia in a new approach that is consistent with the swift reforms he has imposed on his country which triggered the scorching civil war. He began to get rid of the federal systems in both Ethiopia and Somalia to create a tripartite confederation (Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia) that he is in charge of. He coached Farmajo to follow his footsteps. Abiy cut off relations that his predecessors had established with the Somali federal states in a move to solidify Farmajo’s power. Like Abiy, Faramjo defied the constitution and misused authority to eliminate the federal system and forge feckless regional administrations that are loyal to him.
The tripartite confederation came into light in 2002 when it was presented at a international conference titled “Prospects for a Horn of Africa Confederation” organized by the University of South Florida. Djibouti was initially included but somehow sidelined. According to the disseminated report, its objective was to “articulate a new vision of alternative modalities of cooperation and collaboration to effect a Horn of Africa Confederation (economic, social, political)”
Abiy, Afwerki and Farmajo met numerous times openly and secretly and signed undisclosed agreements. The rebirth of Ethiopia’s navy force (annexation of Somali coasts) is believed to be one of the immediate fruits that Ethiopia is planning to harvest from this murky confederation. Abiy stated “we built one of the strongest ground and air forces in Africa… we should build our naval force capacity in the future”. When asked what is behind his ambition for a marine force, Abiy responded, “Our military reforms should take into account the current fast changing world, socio-economic and political situation in Ethiopia”. Reiterating his expansionist motives, he spoke about his interest in utilizing the vast and idle coasts of Somalia. Farmajo is believed to have covertly approved for Abiy at least four ports in the short-term for Ethiopia’s ready to operate navy.
Ethiopia is now searing with violence that can easily spill into the whole region due to Abiy’s political immaturity, his parochial loyalty to his ethnic group and hatred towards others, and love of power. Last year he received a questionable Nobel Peace Prize that could not help him conceal his true colours; like typical dictators, he violently cracked down public demonstrations advocating for social justice; he hastily dismantled the ruling party (EPRDF) that had run the country for the past 30 years and nurtured him; he sidelined the Tigrayan ethnic group in a vengeful manner; and he unconstitutionally extended his term by postponing the elections on the pretext of Covid-19.
Farmajo seems to be following the footsteps of his unwise coach. Another disturbing reality is the fact that regiments of the Somali and Eritrean armies are believed to have participated in the conflict to dismantle TPLF and subdue Tigrayan ethnic groups. This is an indication that this strange military alliance is part of the mysterious tripartite confederation between the three leaders. It seems that the whole agenda behind the peace agreement between Abiy and the ruthless dictator Afwerki was to forge an alliance between three dictators with different ambitions.
Despite major unresolved disputes in the upcoming election, Farmajo is adamant about enforcing any action that would support him to remain in power. Like Abiy, Farmajo is ignoring the deep grievances of his people and underestimating the reaction of the distressed masses. This extremely selfish and irrational attitude can precipitate a new conflict in Somalia.
Abdirahman Hashi (Burhan)