Blueprints for Somaliland Engagement with PM Abiy Ahmed

The course of actions taken by the newly elected Ethiopian Prime Minister – Abiy Ahmed – since he took office illustrates that he intends to rectify and rewind the diplomatic flaws of his two recent predecessors.

First, the new administration has announced its acceptance of the ruling of international mediators regarding the disputed borderline with Eritrea which was rejected by the late Ethiopian PM Mangesto Haylamarium. The Ethiopian rejection of this international arbitration which gave the town of Dadme 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.

Second, the communique released at the end of 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 Prime Minister wants to adopt the norms of orthodox diplomatic doctrine.

Whether the new Ethiopian Modus Operandi of “No Interference in the Internal Affairs of Somalia” will be applied to the De Facto independent state of 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 Somaliland has for the national security of Ethiopia.

Nonetheless, Somaliland political leadership should consider all options and should not be taken by surprise if any shift in the mindset of the new Ethiopian leadership occurs. The situation could be similar, and indeed, reminiscent of the state of affairs way back in April 1988 when late dictator Mohamed Siyad Bare and Mengistu Haile Mariam of Ethiopia  agreed to end their decades old hostilities and the dire repercussions that this shift in strategy had on the operations and the existence of then Somali National Movement – SNM.

If the new Ethiopian diplomacy dictates that Hargeisa would be dealt with through Mogadishu’s administration, we should be prepared for worst case scenario, as we have been there in the past between hard surface and a rock and know how to navigate it through

In 1988 our response to Siad Barre and Mangesto’s rapprochement was what some western journalists dubbed as“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 multitude of options available to us provided that we have the guts to play our cards right. In this context, His Excellency President Musa Bihi Abdi should setup a Nation-wide Think-Tank entrusted to come up with National Strategy designed for these unchartered waters the nation may eventually face to sail through.

Our first goal should be how to shore up Somaliland unity and national security, including setting aside amble food reserves, economic and financial viability, and of course gaining international recognition. We need to raise funds that can 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 build the right tools and climate to generate annually about 50 to 100 million dollars for supporting the basic government services business and essential development projects.

One possible option in this regard is the issuance of government bonds (Islamic Sukuk). This means borrowing from our people and the international donors willing to buy Somaliland government issued bonds, since we cannot secure funding from the international financial institutions.

In another front, we need to be vigilant of the impact that the new Ethiopian geopolitical and maritime strategy could have on Somaliland’s strategic interests. In particular, it appears that the long awaited international recognition could face unnecessary delays. Somaliland should leave no stone unturned in search of alternative ways of dealing with the potentially worst scenario.

The most radical of these options envisions going back to the negotiations between United Kingdom 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 least use it as part of our negotiation leverages.

During 1948 and following various exchange of ideas, the Ethiopians agreed to cede Hawd & Reserve Area and parts of Ogaden in exchange of obtaining corridor on the western Somaliland including the seaport town of Zayla.

Hawd and Reserve Area

The negotiations of 1948 have failed as result of two reasons: Firstly, the Ethiopians demanded 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 underway, the prospectus of land swap between Somaliland and Ethiopia is more compelling and quite strong. A typical deal could stimulate the following:

  • Recognition of Somaliland as a sovereign and independent country.
  • Returning to Somaliland Haud and Reserve Territory which was under the British Somaliland administration until 1954.
  • Offering access to Ethiopia should be given land corridor on extreme western border of Somaliland including the seaport town of Zayla.

If this transaction of swapping lands of Hawd & Reserve Area for Zayla seaport access is implemented, Somaliland will definitely gain international recognition.

Ethiopia will cease to be landlocked country and have the option to build their maritime trade and navy in Zayla. In this scenario, Djibouti has to make hard decisions and utter the recognition of Somaliland as sovereign nation while the chance and option is still available because once this deal is sealed with Ethiopia, it would come down to the survival of the fittest between Djibouti and Somaliland.

Hassan Abdi Yousuf, Political Analyst,Hargeisa, Somaliland

Disclaimer: Views and opinions expressed here are those of the author/authors and do not reflect views of Somaliland Intellectuals Institute (SII) and/or its sponsors or partners. SII reserves the right to edit articles before publication. To consider publishing your opinion piece or analysis please email to June 21, 2018