Commentary: Somali’s Compete for Foreign Domination

April 12, 2012

A woman holds a Somali flag at the Mogadishu International Airport, where a ceremony took place to receive the casket of former President of Somalia, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed. Photo by Stuart Price

The 23 March 2012 death of Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed – former president of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia (TFG) – sparked an intense debate about his political legacy.

President Yusuf left an indelible mark on the history of Somalia. Some present him as a national hero and honest broker; others see him as a dictator, a corrupt politician, and a tribalist. These diametrically opposing views were the result of President Yusuf seeking military support from Ethiopia to establish his rule in south central Somalia. As a result, Ethiopia dominated the internal and external affairs of Somalia.

In a 2011 interview with Voice of America, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed stated he regretted requesting military support from Ethiopia. He unambiguously said that he decided to resign from the presidency of the TFG because he did not want to be a stooge of Ethiopia.

President Abdulahi Yusuf articulated his views of Ethiopia before his death, when he wrote:

I never forgot an Ethiopian adage Mengistu Haile Mariam [the former dictator of Ethiopia] told me in our first encounter after he accepted the establishment of SSDF base in Ethiopia. The adage says, Don’t catch a leopard by the tail, but if you do, don’t let it go because it will attack you and eat you…The thrust of the adage indicate that in Mengistu and Meles Zenawi periods the leopard (Ethiopia) will not stop in eating anyone who let it go but it (Ethiopia) will violently attack anyone or any state which resists the fulfillment of the Ethiopian interests.

I retired from the Somali politics but two major issues that need urgent actions are still outstanding. The First one is the Ethiopian’s concern [obstruction] about the Somali unity and the revival of effective State of Somalia. The second issue is the tragic domestic situation of Somalia without hopeful solution in the horizon.

However, with his public regret, the allegiance to and the public defense of Ethiopia by Somali politicians and intellectuals did not die. Loyalty to Ethiopia became a publicly-claimed quality for gaining political power in Somalia.

“Dine with a stranger, but save your love for your family.” – Ethiopian Proverb

At the beginning of this year, President Yusuf’s memoir was released. Written in Somali with the title “Halgan and Hagardaamo” – translating to “Struggle and Conspiracy” – President Yusuf chronicles the supporters and saboteurs of the major events in his long political struggle. The former president argues, among other things, that Mr. Ali A. Jangeli, the former foreign minister of TFG, is one of the principal saboteurs.

I was a surprised to read Mr. Jangeli’s eulogy about the former president, “President Abdullahi Yusuf: Warrior Statesman,” published on various Somali websites, like Hiiraan Online.

It seems plausible that the main thrust of Mr. Jangeli’s eulogy was to portray President Yusuf as the leader of a group who decided years ago to bring Somalia under the subjugation of Ethiopia. The second probable explanation could be an effort for personal political rehabilitation after August 2012. Apart from my inferences, Mr. Jangeli stated:

Abdillahi was a true patriot who loved his country and had the intelligence and the courage to manage any strategic relationship for the benefit of his country. Take the example of Ethiopia and other neighbors in the region. He knew that Somalia’s path to peace and stability is interlinked in a profound manner to that of the Horn region.

Having realized that it was in the strategic long-term interest of Somalia to have a mutually beneficial relationship with the States neighboring Somalia, he managed it in manner worthy of a proud Somali patriot. Those of us who had the distinct privilege of witnessing it firsthand could attest to that. Abdillahi also deeply believed that the Horn region is so inter-dependent that it could only realize its true potential if there is a paradigm shift in its people’s thinking and approach. To the skeptics that is far off and futile but to those of us who share Abdillahi’s vision of stable, peaceful and prosperous Horn region believe it is a cause worth fighting for.

Ethiopia’s Regional Strategy

In a discussion about President Yusuf’s life and political legacy moderated by Voice of America, Mr. Mohamed Abshir Walde asserted that the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF) was established in Ethiopia, in 1978, before the rebel movement. Led by a group of intellectuals, Ethiopian leaders were assured that SSDF’s vision and political agenda was to tilt Somalia’s policy towards Ethiopia.

Some Somalia political and intellectual leaders still subscribe to that pledge of allegiance towards Ethiopia. Last month, President Sheikh Sharif travelled to Addis Ababa where he discussed Ethiopian policy towards the regions of Hiiraan, Bay, Bakol, Gedo and Galgudud; all currently under the control of Ethiopian forces.

For its part, Ethiopia publicized its security and foreign policy strategy towards Somalia.

First, Ethiopia’s strategy assumes that Somalia will remain stateless in the short- and medium-term and proceed through a long process of transformation before peace and stability take place. Ethiopia takes a long-term view of Somalia’s recovery.

Second, it makes clear that Somalia will not have relations with countries deemed to be anti-Ethiopian, and, third, claims that the ‘greater Somalia’ ideology has been discredited.

Lastly, this strategy asserts that Somalia has no relevance to the development and security of Ethiopia.

Indeed, Ethiopia decided to dam two rivers, the Shabelle and the Jubba, so that less water will be made available to Somalia. Taking into account President Yusuf’s counsel and Ethiopia’s foreign policy strategy: why do some Somalian intellectuals and political leaders believe that Ethiopia is critical to Somalia’s revival? Another Ethiopian adage says, “the eye of the leopard is on the goat, and the eye of the goat is on the leaf.”

There is no question that Somalia and Ethiopia are linked on several levels, but they are two distinct nations with different political and cultural systems. Somalia is a nation with its own strategic interests, and it needs to develop its own policies without interference from Ethiopia’s leadership or the international community.

Efforts should be made to avoid the tragedy of 1884 when Somali tribes competed for foreign domination of Somalia. Beneath apparent security improvements, real progress in Somalia will depend on the Somali people’s common determination and not on external forces and strategies.

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