Addis Abeba, January 31, 2017 – A little-known think-tank in Ethiopia has recently raised a storm in the Somali political scene. It is striking how an analytical piece published by the Centre for Dialogue, Research and Cooperation (CDRC) formerly Institute for Advanced Research (IAR)- a monthly publication in Addis Abeba- dominated the public space in the face of a devastating drought that crippled rural livelihood, and the terrorist atrocities which both negatively affect the lives of so many citizens.
It is rather quite perplexing that despite all the internal challenges Ethiopia faces in dealing with the recent widespread protests from its people, this think– tank choose to busy itself with the Somali election issue.
CDRC states on its website that its objectives are “the advancement of development, the deepening of democracy and contribution to the creation of an environment for peace and security in the Horn of Africa”. It further suggests “CDRC intends to focus on challenges of institution building, democratic governance and the rule of law, issues of peace, security cooperation and integration”.
The think-tank had done a special issue in connection with the upcoming Somali Presidential Election; weighing into the current election discourse that polarized Somali society. It puts forward analysis of the political and security situation in Somalia in the context of the current elections in Somalia. It attempts to give initial, background information to the election process, touches upon the composition and complexity of the election process, reinforces established security narrative, highlights potential political actors and their motivations to either support or derail the election process.
To those not familiar with the nuances of Somali–Ethiopian historical relationship can be forgiven for asking what the fuss is. Unfortunately, there is a long history of mistrust if not outright animosity between this two neighboring nations that drive these sentiments.
It goes back to five hundred years ago, when Ahmed Gurey, an Imam who ruled much of what is now Somalia, succeeded in the invasion of Christian Ethiopia, crashing armies who resisted with the support of the Ottoman rulers.
In more recent conflicts -around 1978- the two countries – Ethiopia then backed up by the communist regimes of the Soviet Union and Cuba while Somalia was initially supported by the United States – fought over Ethiopia’s mainly ethnic-Somali region based on the territorial dispute between the two countries.
After the fall of the central government in the 90s, Somalia had gone through different socio-political phases: a period of warlordism and mayhem followed by a brief respite of the rule of Somali Islamic Court Union (ICU), an amalgamation of the Islamist movement which ruled a large swath of south-central Somalia. Al-Shabab, an extreme element within the ICU, was perceived as a serious threat to the stability of the region. Ethiopia, seen as a critical bulwark against the rise of Islamist militancy in the strategic region saw a window of opportunity and under the pretext of the war on terror conducted military incursion in south-central Somalia.
A point of contention
The bone of contention is the CDRC- DIGEST’s assertion that Somalia’s next President can only be a Hawiye. CDRC’s paper posits and I quote “It is important to understand the feeling in Mogadishu that non-Hawiye Somali politicians are guests. It appears increasingly certain that taking the Presidency away from the Hawiye, and allowing another clan to assume the post, … could allow groups such as Al-Shabaab to make Mogadishu a playground, making government operations from the capital [nigh] impossible”. For suggesting this, the Ethiopian government, by its affiliation to the CDRC think-tank, is accused of naked interference in the Somali Presidential election. Admittedly, the publication had some that mainstream Somalis agree with. Faisal Roble, the former editor of Wardheer News portal, succinctly put it: “I take solace in the DIGEST’s critical criticism of Somalia’s elite[s] and how it had squandered many opportunities for the last 25 years”. Highlighting further point of agreement, he states ‘the DIGEST’s analysis of corruption that clouded the recently concluded electoral process for the two legislative chambers is also an area to agree with.’ It has to be noted that Faisal Roble vociferously disagrees with the certain part of the publication report; voicing the displeasure of some sections of the Somalis society.
Apparently, this argument of Hawiye Presidency is redundant, whatever source it originated, be it an Ethiopian think-tank or Somali political analyst. It flies in the face of the democratic principle, which Somalia is experimenting with at the moment. Moreover, there is also a precedent here, which negates such argument. For instance, the late President Abdullahi Yusuf ruled from Villa Somalia against the wishes of the Hawiye-dominated Islamist movement that controlled Mogadishu. Mind you, Ethiopia was the agent supporting President Yusuf militarily as well as politically. And of course, Somalia had gone through horrible civil strife, which caused massive grievances and mistrust among the Somalis. However, this has not and is not going to alter the fact that they all acknowledge their tight bondage to each other as brethren.
It also cannot be ignored that this argument gained traction, as it is the main talking point among the cross-sectional communities. For instance, Hassan Afrah, an avid writer that I obsessively read his articles on Wardheer Website, wrotea scathing piece on the ‘possible’ reelection of President Hassan for another term. Interestingly, Mr Afrah concedes that there is good chance for President Hassan to return. He acknowledges the existence of what he termed ‘The Mogadishu factor’, further arguing that ‘the next president will be Hawiye’.
Ignoring the ‘Elephants’ in the room
It is quite easy to scapegoat Ethiopia in this, accusing her of meddling in the Somali political affairs while ignoring other elephants in the room. There are several foreign entities that are heavily involved with the Somali political process. Those who argue otherwise are quite disingenuous in their assertions. I am not going to bore you with the history, but needless to say that Somalia had suffered external intervention since its formation.
It is known the fact that there is a significant intervention in the Somali political affairs by external actors; the capitals of Abu Dhabi, Doha, and Ankara in Eurasia; Entebbe, Nairobi, and Addis in East Africa, are all vying for greater influence in the upcoming presidential election.
It has to be said that the Western nations are believed to be involved in the shaping and molding of the Somali political process behind the scene. And as such, they are very influential stakeholders.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is actively lobbying to influence the outcome of the next Presidential election. There are strong rumors that it’s lobbying behind the scene for one, possibly two Presidential candidates. It is public knowledge that the UAE government had invited the Presidents of Federal Member States in Somalia (FMS) to Abu Dhabi to discuss the political situation in the country. Some also go as far as suggesting that the UAE bluntly told these regional leaders to support a specific candidate. This, in fact, was an opportunity for Abu Dhabi to sway the voting decisions of those leaders. Remember, The UAE has multiple strategic interests in Somalia which include but not limited to security- the Berbera port- and natural resources- offshore oil fields- that they closely work together with Kenya and an Italian oil company Eni. All these cannot be taken lightly.
The Turkish are already well established in Somalia. They have signed bilateral agreements with Somali government in the area of security, Humanitarian aid and development. Turkish companies already manage the Mogadishu port as well as the airport. On the Security side, both the Turks and the Emirates are part of the S6 supporting the Somali government in training and equipping the Somalia National Army. Furthermore, the Turks are building a huge military facility cemented their presence in Somalia.
There is a clear and bitter rivalry between Abu Dhabi and Ankara; for this reason, each country is trying to get Somalia in its realm of influence.
The Kenyan factor cannot be underestimated here when looking at the external meddling in the Somali affairs. It hosts the largest Somali refugees (Dhadab Camp) and has a vibrant Somali business community around major Kenyan cities.
Kenya is not a stranger to the dynamics of the Somali politics. It hosted several political conferences such as Eldoret and Mbagethi where previous interim governments were formed. Nairobi still holds great significance by hosting meetings for major Somali political stakeholders facilitated by Kenyan officials.
Other countries such as Qatar and Uganda, it seems, for now, are playing marginal roles in the Somali political arena.
Therefore, due to its strategic position in the region and the potential natural resources available on and offshore, Somalia is attracting a lot of interest from regional and global powers. The Ethiopian interest simply should only be viewed as such.
It is incumbent upon the Somali leadership while safeguarding the national interest, at times where possible, to align Somalia’s security, economic and political interests with other regional interests. It doesn’t certainly serve any purpose to politicize what is a very delicate political situation. It is also for those in a leadership position to show political expedience when addressing such delicate situations.