The course of action of the newly elected Ethiopian PM, Mr. Abiy Ahmed since he took office illustrates that the new PM intends to rectify and rewind the diplomatic flaws of his two processors. First, the new government has announced its acceptance of the ruling of international mediators regarding the disputed borderline with Eritrea which was rejected by the late Ethiopian MP Mengistu Hailemariam. The Ethiopian rejection of this international arbitration which gave the town of Badme to Eritrea was and continues to be the root cause of the ongoing conflict between the two neighboring countries. The new Ethiopian MP decided to bring this dispute to end.
Secondly, the communique released at the end of Mr. Abiy Ahmed’s visit to Mogadishu on 16 June 2018 indicates that Ethiopians will no longer deal directly with the various federal states of the Federal Republic of Somalia. It appears the new MP wants to adopt the norms of orthodox diplomatic doctrine. Whether the new Ethiopian Modust Operandi of no interference in the internal affairs of Somalia will be applied to be the De Facto independent Somaliland has yet to be seen. After all, Ethiopia has vital interests in maintaining the independence of Somaliland, and we expect the new Ethiopian leader would appreciate the strategic importance that an independent Somalia has for the national security of Ethiopia. Nonetheless, Somaliland political leadership should consider all options and should not be taken by surprise vs any shift in the mindset of the new Ethiopian leadership. The situation could be similar, and indeed, reminds me of the state of affairs way back in April 1988 when Siyad Barre and Mengistu agreed to end their decades old hostilities and the dire repercussions that this shift in strategy had on the operations and the existence of the Somali National Movement – SNM.
If the new Ethiopian diplomacy dictates that Ethiopian should deal with Hargeisa via Mogadishu, we should be prepared for worst case scenario. In 1988 our response to Siyad Barre and Mengistu rapprochement was what some western journalists dubbed “Classical Somali Warfare Style”. The SNM fighters, after losing their Ethiopian bases, have decided to take the warfare inside the
Somaliland territories. However, this time we have a multitude of options but this is provided that we have the ability to play our cards right. In this context, I would urge His Excellency President Muse Bihi Abdi to set-up a nation-wide Think-tank as part of a national strategy aimed at sailing through these unchartered waters. Our first goal should be how to shore up Somaliland unity and national security (including food security), economic and financial viability, and of course, gaining international recognition. We need to raise funds to finance food production and job creation. It is no longer acceptable to sit back and claim “we don’t have the cash to finance development projects”. The resources are there but we should have the right tools to generate say 50 to 100 million dollars a year to change the way we do government business vs. development projects. One possible option in this regard is the issuance of government bonds (Islamic Sukuk). This means, since we cannot borrow from the international financial institutions, we can borrow from our people and the international donors that are willing buy Somaliland government bonds.
In another front, we need to be vigilant of the impact that the new Ethiopian geopolitical and maritime strategy could have on Somaliland strategic interests. In particular, I have the feeling that the long-awaited international recognition could face unnecessary delay. Somaliland should leave no stone unturned in search of alternative ways of dealing with the potentially worst scenario. The most radical of these options envision going back to the negotiations between the UK and late Emperor Hale Selase way back to 1948 regarding the swap of land territories between British Somaliland and Ethiopia. This strategy is indeed the only practical option that will deliver the recognition of Somaliland as an independent and sovereign nation. Even if we are not applying this policy, we should at last use it as part of our negotiation tactics.
During 1948 and following a various exchange of ideas, the Ethiopians agreed to cede Haud & Reserve Area and parts of Ogaden in exchange corridor on western Somaliland including the seaport town of Zeila. The negotiations of 1948 have failed as result of two reasons: Firstly, the Ethiopians demanded a larger portion of Somaliland coastline up to the town of Eel Sheikh which the British rejected categorically. Secondly, an American Oil Company by the name “Sanclar” declared having discovered large oil field in Haud region of Somali Ethiopian territories which was to be given to Somaliland. As a result of this oil development, the emperor of Ethiopia has reconsidered the territorial swap.
Today and after exactly 70 years since these negotiations were underway, the prospectus of the land swap between Somaliland and Ethiopia is more compelling and quite strong. A typical deal could stimulate the following:
A) Recognition of Somaliland as a sovereign and independent country.
B) Somaliland should be given back Haud and Reserve Territory which was under the British Somaliland administration until 1954.
C) Ethiopia should be given land corridor on the extreme western border of Somaliland including the seaport town of Zeila.
If this land for seaport swap transaction is implemented, Somaliland will gain international recognition (less Zeila but plus the rangelands of Haud &Reserve). Ethiopia will cease to be landlocked country and can build their maritime trade and their navy in Zeila. Djibouti will be sold out, but it is a question of Live & Let Die – either Djibouti or Somaliland will survive as independent Nation -only one of the two could remain on the map – it is checkmate. In this context our Djibouti brothers have the first call; they have the option to save their skin.
Hassan Abdi Yusuf