Due to its strategic location, the Horn of Africa region remains a geopolitical hotbed pitting the US and its Western European allies against Russia, and China while over the last decade, middle powers and Gulf countries, the likes of Turkey, Iran, Egypt, UAE, and Saudi Arabia have entered the fray in bid to gain a foothold on the world’s busiest shipping lanes stretching along the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the Suez Canal.
Influence over the region’s coastal countries such as Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, and Sudan are at the crux of superpower rivalry with the current tussle for control threatening a cold-war style great power contestation. Resurgent Somalia, boasting of the longest shoreline in Africa is critically emerging as a significant player given its vast natural resources and strategic location at the doors of the Bab-el-Mandeb. While the region has been beset by political strife and climatic shocks in recent years, a bellicose, expansionist, land-locked Ethiopia is threatening the uneasy and fragile peace of the entire region.
The new year signing of the internationally condemned Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the President of breakaway Somaliland, Muse Bihi, has sparked heightened tensions raising concerns in the region and globally. The unpublished agreement will grant Ethiopia access to commercial marine operations and a leased naval base on the Red Sea. In addition, the MOU states Somaliland will be granted a stake in Ethiopian Airlines and in return, Ethiopia will recognize Somaliland, a blatant infringement of Somalia’s sovereignty.
In defence of Somalia’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud (HSM) issued a stern warning over the illegal port deal stating, “We will not stand by idly and watch our sovereignty being compromised” adding that Somalia will defend its territory by “all means necessary.” HSM moved fast by signing into law a bill that annulled the port deal saying, “this law is an illustration of our commitment to safeguard our unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity as per international law.”
Thousands of Somali protesters took to the streets in Mogadishu and across the country in support of their President while protests also broke out in Hargeisa, Burao and Awdal region of Somaliland. In a further show of its diplomatic muscle, Somalia withdrew its ambassador from Addis Ababa.
Ethiopia’s drive for sea access is partly driven by its long-standing utopian, imperial ambitions harbored by its rulers dating back to the era of Emperors Menelik, and Yohannis. This delusional, expansionist view has recently been rekindled by Abiy Ahmed who last year declared Ethiopia’s access to a stretch of sea it does not legally own as an “existential issue” for his country implying Ethiopia may use force in its quest for a port. In bid to divert attention from the raging conflicts in the Amhara and Oromia regions, Abiy hopes his expansionist dream will endear him to an Ethiopian public at odds with his domestic war-mongering, failed policies and crumbling economy.
Sudan’s ongoing conflict means the war-ravaged country remains at the heart of the region’s tumult, but the deepening communal violence in the Amhara and Oromia regions coming at the heels of the brutal Tigrayan war makes Ethiopia’s political environment increasingly precarious. While the situation appears to be unraveling in Ethiopia and Sudan, Somalia’s positive turn under the stewardship of President Hassan Sheikh has been hailed by regional and global analysts and pundits alike as a major development that can transform the region and promote new opportunities for engagement.
According to Centurion International, a German-based consultancy that provides adaptable legal services to global clients, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has shown great promise owing to his commitment to counter-terrorism against insurgent group Al-Shabaab and his progressive and laudable stance on global issues that signifies a strengthening of partnership with global entities.
When it comes to the region, HSM represents a beacon of hope and stability as his visionary and exemplary leadership can steer the region towards a brighter more stable future. While Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed continues to exhibit overt belligerence, HSM’s leadership represents the voice of reason and peace in a region long mired in conflicts and political crises.
In response to Aby’s aggressive posture, HSM has moved to isolate both Ethiopia and Somaliland by rallying international support behind Somalia. World leaders quickly echoed HSM’s sentiments over the port deal with Somalia’s close allies such as Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia outrightly condemning the port deal while her international partners including the US, EU, China, AU, the Arab League and OIC have all reiterated the inviolability of Somalia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity calling for an amicable solution to the Ethiopian-triggered crisis.
By securing regional and international support, HSM has pulled off a diplomatic masterstroke that has served to isolate both Ethiopia and Somaliland further. HSM backed-up his diplomatic manoeuvres with strategic moves aimed at building regional alliances traveling to Eritrea to meet with President Isias Afwerki who expressed his support for Somalia in addition to convening a meeting with Egyptian diplomats in Mogadishu. Egypt in turn has invited HSM to Cairo to cement cooperation aimed at countering threats to Somalia while Turkey reaffirmed its unwavering commitment to the unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Somalia, emphasizing that this position is also a requirement of the international law.
In another clear demonstration of Somalia’s growing influence in the region, the just concluded IGAD Extra-Ordinary Assembly of Heads of State and Government hosted in Kampala by President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, unequivocally “reaffirmed the cardinal principles of respect for the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Somalia.” The IGAD declaration added that “any engagement with Somalia should uphold the stated cardinal principles, and any agreement or engagement should be done with the consent of the Federal Government of Somalia.”
Technically speaking, the IGAD statement means Abiy Ahmed should find another way of doing business with Somalia, should abandon the MOU and refrain from engaging directly with any member state or region on matters relating to Federal jurisdiction. The IGAD communique was another massive diplomatic victory for Somalia.
HSM’s diplomatic powerplay over the port issue has also galvanized the Somali diaspora as its members rallied behind their leader condemning the port deal and initiating a boycott of Ethiopian Airlines with thousands of ticket holders cancelling their bookings with the Addis-based carrier. Diaspora activists have also circulated a petition calling on the Nobel Academy to revoke Abiy’s Nobel Peace Prize stating his actions that pose a threat to regional peace run contrary to the purpose of the esteemed accolade.
HSM’s resolve and firm response to Ethiopia’s aggression is a testimony to his growing influence in the Horn and emergent stature as a respected leader on the global stage. Gone are the days when Somalia was a subject of intimidation and blackmail by its neighbours. President Hassan Sheikh has returned Somalia to its rightful place among the community of nations as he continues to command respect at home and abroad. HSM’s diplomatic charm on the international arena has created a newly empowered and assertive Somalia while Ethiopia and Somaliland have walked into diplomatic minefields.
More than ever before, Somalia and the Horn of Africa region can count on HSM’s leadership as he moves to pacify the country as well as confront threats to regional peace through viable diplomatic channels and adherence to international law. Kudos to HSM for defending Somalia and for advancing regional peace and fostering international cooperation.
Deeq S Yusuf