Sowing tensions in Somalia with the help of Ankara and Doha may benefit Addis Ababa temporarily, but threatens to strike stability in the entire Horn of Africa.
Addis Ababa, Ankara and Doha agreed to sponsor Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, who did not make any effort to confront militant groups and treated their activities as a means to prolong his stay in power. The Somali leader does not realise the degree of militant group threats and criminal activities that could backfire on him and those behind him.
While Doha and Ankara are known to support extremists and terrorists, Addis Ababa is known for the opposite. But the nucleus of rapprochement with them has begun to seduce Ethiopia, and has created a new assessment of its interests if the militants’ operations continue.
The ongoing tension may bear fruit temporarily for Addis Ababa, but it threatens to strike stability in the entire Horn of Africa.
Qatar and Turkey, whose hidden roles in Somalia were exposed, resorted to Ethiopia as a “godfather”, or mediator, to publicly fulfil their mission in the East African country, which has become strategically important in the regional sphere.
Ethiopia moved away from the balanced and independent path followed by its leadership, which has gained Addis Ababa confidence thanks to its peaceful and developmental orientation over the past two years, reinforcing its great desire to settle crises and avoid suspicious axes.
As much as the Ethiopian sponsorship of reconciliation or “thawing ice” between Somalia and the so-called “Somaliland” republic is a good political step, it has back-fired on Ethiopia.
The meeting, which was hosted by Addis Ababa, under Qatari patronage, and in the presence of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on February 11, between the Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo and Somaliland counterpart Muse Bihi Abdi, triggered reactions about its timing , goals and deep wounds related to the historical ambitions of Ethiopia in Somalia.
The move opened the door to concerns over the truth of the Ethiopian PM’s intentions for his interest in the region and the extent of his relationship with the moves made by other countries there, putting Addis Ababa in one hand with both Doha and Ankara, because their policies are based on fuelling conflicts rather than extinguishing them, separation and division rather than cooperation and unity, and giving an opportunity to extremist movements to expand in the region. This is moving in a direction contrary to the visions that Ethiopia adopted and on which it worked to globally export.
Many political forces rejected the visit that Farmajo plans to make soon to the Somaliland capital of Hargeisa, accompanied by Abiy Ahmed, as they did for their previous meeting in Addis Ababa.
They questioned the goals of both leaders, because the convening of the first meeting and the arrangement of the second one came in a context that was not well prepared, and carried suspicious meanings among the parties that strongly sought to approximate the distances between Mogadishu and Hargeisa by involving Addis Ababa in the process.
Local powers threatened to hold a national conference to discuss developments in Somaliland, because the people of the region were not ready to resume dialogue with Farmajo. They saw his apology for the military abuses committed by the previous Somali authorities as a manoeuvre behind which external forces want to dominate Somaliland.
The Somali leader kept trying to hold the stick from the middle, but his relationship with Doha and Ankara swept him towards the square they wanted.
Farmajo was ready to make major concessions to be close to the Ethiopian PM, who was seeking to escape his internal crises by engaging in more Somali affairs and suggesting that he would not give up his predecessors’ perceptions of tightening his grip on this neighbouring country.
The expected visit to Hargeisa revealed the extent of Somalia’s dispute among its ruling authority.
Somali websites published a few days ago information about Somaliland administration’s sending of an apology letter to the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, indicating its unwillingness to welcome Farmajo, and implicitly his companion Abiy Ahmed.
The letter asked whether Farmajo would be welcomed as President of the Federal Somalia, including Somaliland, or whether he would recognise the independence of Somaliland and visit it as the head of a neighbouring country.
Some political circles fear that the coordination between Farmajo and Abi Ahmed will lead to an increase in tensions and Somaliland’s abandonment of the security calm it has witnessed over the past years and its success in developing its ties with the United Arab Emirates, which irked Qatar and Turkey because it harms their plans in the region.
Qatar, which is backed by Turkey and acting under its cloak, wants to pounce on the file of reconciliations in the region, in which the UAE has come a long way in exporting a different image than Doha’s.
The Gulf emirate has provided large funds to Ethiopia as a temptation to support its investments in Somalia.
The military operations against the hardline Somali jihadist movement Al-Shabab have (almost) stopped since Farmajo came to power.
Shabab destroyed many security and military institutions and has become something like a state within the state, or in other words a parallel state, with its own political orientation, military and judicial apparatus. The extremist movement has re-emerged after receiving various types of support from both Turkey and Qatar.
It seems that Doha and Ankara have played on this chord and convinced the Ethiopian leadership that its interests could be multiplied with the high level of cooperation and coordination in Somalia. Addis Ababa did not realise that this trend would decrease its credit, which increased with the conclusion of a peace agreement with Eritrea under Saudi-Emirati sponsorship two years ago.
Abiy Ahmed announced the adoption of a policy based on zeroing regional crises. He led the scene in the Horn of Africa for his role in security and stability. But his growing relationship with the axis of Qatar and Turkey is placing him in one trench with them and changing the clear interactive picture to a bleak one.
Therefore, the mysterious trend towards Somalia and its provinces with the movements of Qatar and Turkey is likely to negatively affect Ethiopia’s reputation and reduces the trust credit that Abiy Ahmed has collected, placing him within a group of unruly leaders seeking domination while ignoring the accumulated inheritance of the ethnic and regional crises in his own country and the size of their entanglements with neighbouring countries, especially Somalia.
Somali parliamentarian Elias Ali Hassan said in media statements a few days ago that Farmajo’s visit to Hargeisa was only valued “when he is the one who decides to do it and sets a clear agenda on which to negotiate, not if he accompanies Abiy Ahmed.”
He stressed that Farmajo had been the reason behind the deterioration of the relationship between Somalia and Somaliland since he came to power.
Many estimates believe that this visit is supported by external circles, and stems from the incitement of parties that believe that reconciliation between Mogadishu and Hargeisa is enough to stop the expansion of the UAE’s projects aimed at spreading peace, boosting development in the Horn of Africa, creating a favourable environment for investment and eradicating militant groups and terrorism.
Addis Ababa was persuaded by being enticed by a separate major role in Somalia’s ports, especially Berbera in Somaliland, which would help landlocked Somalia have access to the sea.
Ties between Ethiopia and Somaliland have moved to an advanced stage of understanding and approach. Opportunities to strengthen bilateral relations and cooperation besides talks on the launch of the Berbera-Ethiopia port corridor project before the end of February were discussed during the visits of Muse Bihi Abdi to Addis Ababa.
The project, which is the largest of its kind between the two countries, will help link them to a network of highways and railways and provide a large package of freight services to and from Ethiopian territory.
Dubai World Ports signed in March 2018 with the governments of Somaliland and Ethiopia an agreement whereby Ethiopia would become a strategic partner in the port of Berbera, in addition to investing in the necessary infrastructure to develop what is known as the “Berbera Corridor”, as a commercial gateway to landlocked Ethiopia.
Dubai International Ports holds a 51 percent stake in the project while the Somali Ports Authority holds 30 percent, and Ethiopia 19 percent.
This agreement provoked some of the competing countries in the region. Qatar entered the ports field in Somalia. Last August, Qatar Ports celebrated the signing of an investment partnership contract for the construction of the port of Hobyo in the Mudug region, central Somalia.
Abiy Ahmed led Farmajo to improve his relations with neighbouring countries. On January 27, leaders of Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea adopted, in a meeting held in Asmara, a joint action plan for the current year focused on “consolidating peace, stability and security, promoting economic and social development, and cooperating with friends and partners on the basis of respect and mutual benefit.”
Addis Ababa played a role in calming the crisis that erupted between Kenya and Somalia last year over disputes over the demarcation of territorial waters when Nairobi carried out oil exploration in waters within the borders of Somalia. This mediation came in coordination with Qatar, which entered the Kenyan oil bazaar.
Qatar Petroleum signed last July an agreement with the Italian oil firm Eni and France’s Total, in which it bought 25 percent of the shares of the two companies that are exploring for oil in three fields on the coast of Kenya, near the borders of Somalia.
The agreement exposed the nature of the role Doha is playing in the maritime border dispute between Kenya and Somalia.
Some news reportedly revealed that Qatar was one of the parties that exert continuous pressure on Somalia to end its conflict with Kenya Nairobi according to bilateral negotiations away from the International Court of Justice.
Doha is using its new developing relationship with Addis Ababa to maximize its mediation in exchange for regional understandings that will serve Ethiopia’s interests, including expanding its influence in Somaliland.
Somali news website “Jowhar” quoted reliable sources as saying that the deputy head of the Qatari intelligence Abdullah Mohammed Mubarak Saleh Al-Khulaifi paid on September 8 a one-day secret visit to Mogadishu, during which he met the director of the Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) Fahad Yasin, who previously worked as director of the Al-Jazeera news channel office in the Somali capital.
Doha is trying to control the joints of the security services in Somalia to serve its ambitions to support militias and terrorist organisations through its reliance on various roles played by personalities inside Somalia. Qatar has become one of the biggest supporters of Farmajo since he came to power.
The opposition’s Forum for the National Parties, which includes six opposition political parties and led by former Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, issued a statement on February 15, about the ongoing conflict in Gedo region in Jubaland, because of the forces that Farmajo’s government sent to the region, and his cooperation with non-AMISOM Ethiopian troops.
The Forum expressed its regret for the use of military equipment provided by Qatar to the Somali Armed Forces in killing innocent people and destroying the Jubaland administration, noting its strong opposition to what it described as “Fahad Yasin’s destruction of the constitutional structure of the Somali Armed Forces, and his habit of using government forces in malicious policies away from their duties.”
Abdullahi Mohamed Ali “Sanbalolshe”, former NISA boss, criticised the Somali federal government and its leadership, saying that “Fahad Yasin, the teacher of the new revolution, believes that the decision is in his hand, and the state as a company he runs.”
“Yasin does not accept any opinion contrary to and against Somalia adopting a foreign policy independent of Qatar,” said Sanbalolshe.
Most political assessments tend to suggest that Doha offered Addis Ababa to use this penetration in its favour, and urged it to turn a blind eye to Qatar’s support of the militants, keeping it away from rapprochement with the UAE, which opened the door to Addis Ababa to settle a significant part of its regional crises.
Consequently, Addis Ababa’s development of the ties with Doha raises regional concerns within the Ethiopian leadership, causes the loss of the moderate countries that stood next to it, and the loss of some of its credibility in the peace file and the eradication of tensions and fighting extremism and terrorism in the region.