Transformation Euphoria in the Horn of Africa

(By Abukar Arman) . . .When, in mid-June Shaikh Mohammed Bin Zayed visited Ethiopia, the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development deposited $3.7 billion in the National Bank of Ethiopia– an amount equal to Turkey’s investment in Ethiopia. The day after, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister flew into Mogadishu. In a matter of about three hours, and without leaving the airport compound, the PM signed an agreement with the Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo securing Ethiopia and her behind the scene client a historic consignment- four of Somalia’s most strategic Red Sea and Indian Ocean ports. And where cash is the king, it was not too difficult for the UAE to acquire a number of ports in Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan.

In the following month, the new Prime Minister visited Asmara to meet with President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea. On that very same day, the two sworn enemies signed a peace agreement that immediately restored diplomatic relations, and promised the imminent resumption of flight services and the use of Eritrea’s port facilities for Ethiopia.

Within weeks, the Somali President lands in Asmara to meet with President Isaias and restore diplomatic relations with Eritrea. All of a sudden, ‘Africa’s North Korea’ became the hottest destination. The rest of the IGAD member states are in line to pay their homage, despite the fact that Eritrea is officially under sanctions. Interestingly, in what seemed haphazard and an orchestrated political cover for Ethiopia—the country that spearheaded the sanctions on Eritrea with tons of disinformation—President Farmajo called upon the UN Security Council to lift the sanctions. This not only “deeply shocked” Djibouti, it also triggered a domestic backlash against a president with slipping popularity and a government considered a political apparatus to advance various international projects.

Is De-Turkification of Somalia Possible?

Ever since the Arab Spring, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have aggressively pursued a strategic objective aimed to stifle any and all Muslim Brotherhood influence due to the latter’s social and political capital on the streets that emanate from grassroots social services. Gulf monarchs consider that group and Turkey’s political ascendancy and influence on the Islamic and Middle Eastern affairs as the most serious threat to their life-long rule.

So as soon as Turkey launched a massive humanitarian and development campaign in 2011 and began to form a strategic partnership with Somalia, the UAE came on the scene for what many consider an effort to torpedo Turkey’s newly-found stature in Somalia. The UAE established the second largest embassy after Turkey in Mogadishu. It opened the Sheikh Zayed Hospital to compete with the Erdogan Hospital. By the time Turkey started to provide scholarships to train military officials, the UAE was already bankrolling various mercenary groups engaged in various clandestine operations, and trained a controversial Somali military contingent which it recently disbanded and left the weapons cache looted.

Turkey, while in alliance with Qatar, is on an entirely different scale. In a controversial campaign to settle a domestic political matter, Turkey exploited its close relationship with the Somali government to eradicate any and all institutions and individuals affiliated with the Gulen movement. Despite this, Turkey still embodies the gold standard of bi-lateral nation-building and development. With its tangible achievements and non-interference policy on Somalia’s domestic politics, the Turkish model has exposed the international aid system as corrupt and politically toxic. Though initially Qatar had a controversial start that mimicked the UAE’s, it finally settled to emulate the Turkish model and fund building roads and other essential infrastructures.

Trust but Verify

Despite all these changes, Ethiopia still has “too many conflicting interests that may compromise vital US interests” in favour of China, with which Ethiopia is economically intertwined. Could Abiy Ahmed be the person to bypass China and Turkey, which also have billions of dollars invested in Ethiopia? Any indication that he is there to ‘undo what is working for what could work’ might turn the old establishment against him and set a domino effect of regression in the region. If that is not enough to cause concern, Somalia, Djibouti and to a certain degree Eritrea each has its conflict of interest.

To level the playing field and guard against parasitical geopolitics, Somalia should demand the total withdrawal of the Ethiopian and Kenyan troops that are part of AMISOM as well as those who are illegally based in various regions in the Somali territory. And that UNSOM, the camouflaged guardian of Soma Oil and Gas interests, to close shop.

Eritrea for its part should demand an alternative to IGAD – a freshly-negotiated regional institution that grants an equal voice to each member and headquartered outside Ethiopia.

The Horn of Africa is an emerging market with great economic potential. But to turn that potential into economic success and sustainable stability, the region’s political, business, intellectual and social leadership’s aspirations must be in harmony: no foreign power or coalition of interests could secure that.

Therefore, the people of the Horn should not remain hostage to their historical enmities or to the myopic visions and corrupt ambitions of their political leaders. It is time to think big, but not recklessly. Each country must first address its domestic challenges and reconcile with itself.

Each country must come into the so-called regional integration deal sovereign and sober.  Read the full article...