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Ethiopia’s Ability To Tackle The Meddle In The Horn vs. Saving Its Ties With Somaliland From Hackers “Use It First Or Lose It”
By Jouseph Aboulfaki and Kassahun Addis.
23 Feb 2007
It is evident that Ethiopia and Somaliland have been enjoying progressive and positive relations for more than 15 years. For many Somalilanders, Ethiopia has been seen as the 'big sister.' However, the 'big sister' mentality is now in serious trouble; Somalilanders are finding it difficult reconciling their attitude towards Ethiopia and the inconsiderate and unbalancing act of the Ethiopian government.
Ethiopia's position in regards to the recognition of Somaliland continues to be on hold now for some years, at times, giving away the' issue to what could evolve with the peace talks in the south. At one time, PM Meles Zenawi was quoted as saying in a press conference that the case of Somaliland recognition should be done through dialogue among Somalis only. But all the same, when Somaliland leadership happened to meet the Ethiopian leadership, for that matter the Prime Minister, they came out very upbeat about the positive gesture given by the Ethiopian peers towards recognizing their country as an independent state.
However, during the 8th African Union (AU) Summit last month when Somaliland's recognition issue was raised and discussed among other agendas, Ethiopia played complacent on the issue, failing to give the necessary motion to authenticate the issue a qualification for discussion at the summit. No doubt, this move emanates from Ethiopia's preference in not getting entangled with the recognition issue at a time when the situation in Somalia is on the balance. This is being seen as a fatal mistake on the part of Ethiopia as what happens in southern Somalia has nothing to do with Somaliland. Somaliland has been pushing for recognition for the past 16 years and patience can wear thin if the process continues at a 'one step forward two steps backward' pace.
It is understandable that Somaliland's recognition could result in uncomfortable diplomatic entanglements for Ethiopia with some of the countries who advocate unity of the status-quo-ante but one cannot see problems in addressing the issue with no preconditions of reaching any decision on the matter. After all what harm could come from discussions on an issue that is long overdue? Ethiopia enjoys favorable relations with Somaliland and in fact some could argue that relations between the two nations have been probably the most stable within the region. Ethiopia continues to use the port of Berbera as an alternative port to the Port of Djibouti, rudimentary levels of diplomatic ties exist between the two nations and collaborations in regards to security and trade exist between the two nations. In fact, it could be concluded that in all matters and purposes Somaliland enjoys the status of a peaceful neighborly nation.
Furthermore, the formative years of the "Big Sister" mentality can be traced back to the early 1980s when the military junta of Ethiopia started to support the Somali Liberation Movement (SNM). Ethiopia had also hosted millions of Somaliland refugees when the latter fled following bombardment of towns and persecution by the Siyad Barre regime. These two phenomena were instrumental in shaping the Somaliland public opinion towards Ethiopia. Ethiopia had been there when the people of Somaliland needed it. Here, it should, however, be noted that it was not out of complete, pure altruistic drive that Ethiopia supported Somaliland in those periods. Some of the acts were part and parcel of the politics of mutual destruction waged against each other between the two colonels, Mengistu and Barre.
Now, however, Ethiopia's relation with Somaliland is increasingly being jeopardized especially after Ethiopia's recent unparalleled and unbalanced support to the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia and its head, Abdillahi Yusuf. By way of assisting the Mogadishu government and without extending any proportional support to Somaliland, Ethiopia is unconsciously building the muscle of the TFG whose subject of exercise would most probably be Somaliland.
The confidence of Somaliland's politicians, intellectuals and the Diaspora at large on Ethiopia's will to recognize Somaliland is growing very thin. A Somalilander critic from Diaspora soon after the last AU summit put it "Make no mistake that our relationship with Sister Ethiopia is a natural one. But at present it is at its lowest ebb because only one hand is clapping." A message in circulation from Somaliland Diaspora argues, " Ethiopia's policy toward the former territories of the defunct Somali Dem. Republic has never been clear. It has been always shrouded with tentativeness and ambiguity to say the least." This, according to the writer, is a mechanism to avoid the daylight so as to defy clarity and as such considered as "long on tactical maneuvers and short on strategic objectivity. The situation seems to have angered many Somalilanders and dampened their enthusiasm towards the Ethiopian political echelon's slow pace to realize their dreams.
Obviously, it is now time for the government of Ethiopia to take some immediate and serious measures to regain the trust of the Somaliland people. Otherwise, Somaliland may be lost to other opportunistic countries who have tried to win the hearts and souls of the Somali people through different angle- through the support of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC).
A scenario at hand is that Eritrea, Djibouti, along with some northern African countries had supported the UIC and advocated its legitimacy to unite and rule a united Somalia. Now that the UIC is defeated, another wave of political intrigue is on the making. Djibouti's leadership is calling upon Somalilanders fomenting a rumor that Ethiopia would in the long run chop-off part of the Awdal region to gain access to port city of Zeila and that Somalilanders should not trust Ethiopia. Furthermore, a president of one of the Horn countries has already told Somalilanders that they should not "prostitute" with Ethiopia for the sake of recognition. He let them know that the long awaited recognition may come from Eritrea. One can see the glide of the same groups who some months back advocated for the unity of Somalis and act as the torchbearers for the international recognition just to antagonize Ethiopia. Ethiopia cannot afford the luxury of losing a strategic and 'Little Sister' amidst hostile neighbors and neighborhood.
What measures can Ethiopia take to win back Somalilanders? Well, one immediate measure would be to send high level Ethiopian government delegation to Hargeisa to demonstrate to Somaliland people that Ethiopia would act like a big and caring sister. To say the least, Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin should lead a high-level delegation to visit the Somaliland capital, Hargeisa to boost the relations as he is shuttling between Addis Ababa and the TFG's head office in Baidoa. Such move would mitigate the ever-increasing mistrust by Somalilanders on Ethiopian government and is tantamount to confidence building and restoration measure.
The second and the perfect thing to do is to overcome the national hypocrisy of self righteousness. The Ethiopian government should stop saying, " Ethiopia should not be viewed as the partitioning force of the defunct Somali republic." Ethiopia has already been labeled as that "Partitioning Force"; the majority of Somalis in the south, including prominent leaders within the TFG, see Ethiopia as the devil that is primarily responsible for the collapse and disintegration of the old Somali republic. Moreover, you cannot divide what is already divided, you cannot separate what has already been separated; whether Ethiopia recognizes Somaliland or not, a partition has already been in effect. The greater Somalia concept is long gone and it is going to be hell of a futile trial to put them back into a unity. If such an effort is exerted, it would be a good effort to plunge the region into permanent chaos.
Another hypocrisy Ethiopia should overcome is its unwillingness to translate the constitutional pillar principle of self-determination. It is a fact that this principle holds special place in the Ethiopian constitution; its position is elevated when the incumbent told the whole world that it is this principle alone that sustains Ethiopia as one country. Besides, it had given this opportunity to one state in the region. So, why doesn't it advocate for this principle to be considered in the AU forum?
One more thing Ethiopia can do is to use a weapon in its arsenal called recognition before it expires.
In the world of international politics, which has close resemblance to realist's interpretation of it, recognition is an important arsenal. Old and established countries are endowed with the privilege of according recognition to a nascent state because it is their mere act of recognition that would give the birth certificate for the latter. Old states consider their ability to extend recognition as an asset that can be exchanged for something meaningful in market of international politics. The life of any new state is doomed to be difficult, if not impossible, without that birth certificate though the fact remains that the certificate has nothing to do with the factual existence of the state.
Ethiopia 's capacity to recognize Somaliland is an arsenal only as long as it is the first country to use it. It is like "use it first or lose it." The makers and executives of Ethiopian foreign policy should reckon that once other hostile regimes lost their ground in Somalia, then they may resort to the " Somaliland window." Unlikely countries may become the first to grant recognition to Somaliland for pragmatic political reasons. This why they say politics is the art of the possible.
Source: Sub-Saharan Informer