The Political Miscalculus Of The EAC (Part VI) – OpEd


In Part (V) of this series, the Political Miscalculus of the EAC, we noted that “Somalia is inhabited by a distinct group called the Somali, a nation of poets and camel herders who quarrel over grazing and water resources and now governmental issues, a phenomenon they are not used to, and they are marked by lack of subservience to authority. No wonder the European colonialists found them unruly and generally stayed away from them, while they were in the region. The EAC would be in for a surprise. The EAC would not be able to handle the potential disputes that may arise within the group as soon as the admission is ratified by its federal parliament, although this may never happen. They should, indeed, wish it never happens!” Everyone has a say in Somalia. This is pastoral democracy at its best or at its worst, always a sword with two edges.

We further noted that “Somalia does not have a ratified constitution and its federal members states, being clan enclaves, do not abide by the rules of the federal government. Indeed, Somaliland remains quasi-independent, as it declared over thirty years ago, recovery of its long-lost freedom from the rest of Somalia. The EAC was aware of this issue but ignored it and should not, therefore, be surprised when the quarrel between the two, lands on their desks. Perhaps this may trigger many provinces of the member countries of the EAC to adopt the way of Somaliland. The admission of Somalia into the EAC was, indeed, a disastrous political miscalculus of the EAC.” Many family quarrels are always endless, almost soap operatic.

Now that Ethiopia has signed a memorandum of understanding with Somaliland for a gateway to the sea in exchange for a potential recognition, which has not only irked Somalia, but which may trigger a wider trouble in the region, what would be the stand of the EAC in this political chess game in play in the region? Obviously, the EAC failed to take into consideration the vulnerabilities of the Horn of Africa States region and its dysfunctionalities, which are rooted in over a century and  a half of colonialism and its distorted politics after the departure of the Europeans. The continuing January  2024 events are but a glimpse of the horrors and disorders in the offing for which the EAC is, perhaps, unprepared for.

For one, the move touches on many fronts in the diplomacy of the world and the shifting alliances currently marking relations among the UN member states. The development of the BRICS Plus group, the strengthening of NATO, the undecided nations in between and fallout from these seismic movements would no doubt disturb the EAC, which is barely in place itself. And secondly it touches on all the civil tensions within each of the member countries of the EAC and others in Africa, perhaps triggering a new avalanche in reshaping the continent, and away from the borders left by the Europeans in the sixties and seventies of the last century, which the Africans declared sacrosanct in 1964 in Cairo during the formation years of the first African organization, the Organization of the African Unity (the OAU), except for a few including Somalia, which then was claiming all the Somali inhabited areas of the Horn of Africa as its own.

There are, indeed, some who believe that there is nothing wrong with Ethiopia recognizing Somaliland, but the international community, nevertheless, disagrees and declares the sanctity of the territorial integrity of Somalia. They cite that some great powers have recognized sub-regions of other states. They include Russia which recognizes many sub-regions of other states, although this has not done much for those sub-regions. They were only absorbed into Russia and have no say in their matters. We can note Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, and the Donbass, as prime examples of sub-regions in Georgia and Moldova, and Ukraine, which have been recognized by Russia, but which today do not enjoy any independence. The West supports Kosovo and Taiwan and others, which cannot exist without the constant buttressing and support of the West and, indeed, do not appear to be independent and/or natural other than on paper. Does Ethiopia want to absorb Somaliland as Russia is doing to those sub-states of other nations or does it want it to keep it as a client state with meaningless independence? I doubt that this would ever happen, and Somalis and Ethiopians know each other very well. Somaliland cannot be an unnatural entity as perhaps Ethiopia is planning. It looks like a marriage which is already crumpling before it even starts. This is evidenced by the wide demonstrations in Somaliland against the MOU signed between the two sides.

The issue of the Horn of Africa States is an issue of that region and the EAC should have left it alone and away from it, but it did not do so, and they would now have to deal with the quarrels of the HAS region landing on their desks such as this rift between Ethiopia and Somalia, which may involve other parts of the region such as Eritrea, Egypt, and others much further away. One thing is clear, though, and that is other African sub-regions within the existing member countries of the EAC would copy the Somaliland way and would, therefore, lead to more travails and toils in that East African region. This would increase tensions within the EAC region itself as is between Tanzania and Kenya and/or Rwanda and DR Congo or Uganda and DR Congo, and others. Whether this leads only to diplomatic affronts or frontal physical wars, it is clear that the EAC made a mistake in bringing into its fold a troubled country, Somalia, which is dragging many bags,  representing a serious political miscalculus on EAC’s part. 

Dr. Suleiman Walhad

Dr. Suleiman Walhad writes on the Horn of Africa economies and politics. He can be reached at [email protected].

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