Barbara W. Tuchman, an American historian and author of The March of Folly (1984) and “Guns of August (1962) wrote that, “History is the unfolding of miscalculation.” She wanted to say that history develops in ways that is different from peoples’ expectations. Observers may pass judgements on events while they are happening, but things may develop differently from what people initially expected. Such is the case of the leaders of the Horn of Africa States region who not only keep missing great opportunities to improve the lot of the region but keep committing folies, making the region always on edge.
Such was the MoU signed by Abiy Ahmed with one of the regions of Somalia at the start of this year, ignoring one of the cardinal rules of the current international order – the sanctity of the territorial integrity of member countries of the United Nations Organization. But worse than signing the document remains his insistence on retaining it and planning to move forward with its implementation.
Where does the Ethiopian Prime Minister, who leads one of the poorest countries on earth get the confidence, the courage, and the necessary finances that he would be able to build ports both commercial and naval on the coast of a country that does not belong to his country and the necessary infrastructure networks linking his country to those ports in terms of roads and railways? We know he just missed payment of one of the tranches of his country’s IMF/World Bank debt of some US$ 33 million when he was signing the MoU.
He started the year badly for the region and only caused its security to deteriorate, causing the region to start arming itself again, despite its poverty. It has also brought in other extra-regional forces to come into the region and only exasperated his already crumbling administration as his wars with the Amhara, Oromia’s OLA, the Benishangul and Tigray States began to worsen and several members of his administration either ran away and/or resigned.
Abiy Ahmed’s memory is probably short for he was apparently a soldier in the IGADSOM Fifty thousand Ethiopian contingent that went to Somalia in 2006 and was roundly defeated by the Somali people, which did not even have a proper government at the time. How is he able to discount Somali nationalism, which is deep and transcends beyond the quarrels of its politicians? He did not read history that the Horn of Africa is a Somali Peninsula with a total Somali population of some seventy million and was always inhabited by Somalis from ancient times. Perhaps he only reads the fake histories and fake statistics written by the enemies of Somali people. He knows Somalis work even in the corridors of his palace and those of many other countries. They become a disturbed hornets’ nest when the security of their lands and seas are threatened.
Somalia is in a struggle for survival and was about to clip the wings of the foreign terror groups implanted in the country but the actions of Abiy Ahmed has only helped these terror groups to adopt Somali nationalism and got grounds for recruiting new soldiers. Was Abiy Ahmed helping the terror groups in this respect? His move on the first day of the new year remains unexplainable and unacceptable, neither to the Somali people nor to the international community. There are, indeed, stealthy foreign leaders who work with him, but they did not dare expose themselves so far.
The narrative that Ethiopia’s economy cannot grow because they do not have access to a sea, is false and fake. They, indeed, have access to a sea in Djibouti. They could also have access to the seas of other neighboring countries, but this does not mean that they would take over those ports. Ownership stays with the owning countries of those ports. Its economy has been growing faster than most other African economies and faster than when they had access to the Red Sea about three decades earlier. The MoU which Abiy signed appears to have a different flavor. It wants apparently to take over the ownership of a port on the coast of Somalia. Which country in the world allows a neighboring country to have ownership of ports and military bases in its lands and coasts, and especially when the two countries have had a long history of violence?
Perhaps Abiy Ahmed wanted to divert the attention of his population from his difficulties in maintaining his crumpling administration. Many misread his actions as audacious and risk taking. On the contrary these are ill-considered and lunatic. What kind of a nation builds a navy, when it does not own a sea, and spends much of its meager resources on projects that do not add one iota to feeding its hungry population, which the world is always calling to be helped, except Ethiopia? Ethiopia must have been planning to invade Somalia, Eritrea, or Djibouti. Somalia seems to have appeared to Ethiopia as the most disorganized and hence the weakest. That was a big mistake. He did not count on Somali nationalism, which includes some 25 to 30 million of his own 120 million population of Ethiopia.
Somalia is also not alone. It has international law backing it and it has friends and it enjoys a warrior citizen that does not shy away from any danger when it comes to his survival. It is why we propose the region to calm down and work together instead of warring against each other. The onus falls on the leaders and leaders like Abiy Ahmed should reform themselves and he should respect the Nobel Peace prize that he was awarded to maintain peace in the region. Perhaps this time he would listen!
There are some countries in the Gulf which play destabilizing roles in the region. They know themselves and they should refrain from pursuing the wrong path which they are following. The region will survive and will not forget those who hurt them. The region needs peace and free flow of goods and commercial shipping in its waters without the disruptive forces such as has been triggered by the MoU and the foreign intrigues behind it.
We are in a history in the making. A new dawn came with the Memorandum of Understanding on January 1st, 2024, which was initiated and signed by Abiy Ahmed. It cannot be undone but it can be repealed ad canceled. It is like a day and night. Once one revolution of a day and a night is over, a new day is born. We can only look back at yesterday and look forward to the new day. There was the opportunities missed yesterday and there are opportunities ahead. He who uses the opportunities at hand will surely be successful and Abiy should forget the missed opportunities of yesterday and take advantage of the new opportunities at hand. He can repeal that MoU and open a new page with Somalia of peace and prosperity and for the region as well.
No one makes a start from yesterday. A start can only be from today. Do not live in the past. The region and you must live for tomorrow and make full use of the opportunities of today. Kalidasa, one of the greatest of the Sanskrit dramatists, and the first great name in Sanskrit literature is said to have created one of her greatest poems with respect to taking advantage of today. It read as follows:
Look to this day:
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course
Lie all the verities and realities of your existence.
The bliss of growth,
The glory of action,
The splendors of achievement
Are but experiences of time.
For yesterday is but a dream
And tomorrow is only a vision;
And today well-lived, makes
Yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well therefore to this day;
Such is the salutation to the ever-new dawn! (Source: Google)
Abiy Ahmed and the other leaders of the region should make full use of today. Forget about glories past if there ever were and remember the hungry millions of the region. Today will not come back and once it leaves, do not expect any quarters from the relentless march of time. It never stops for no one. It would be advisable for Abiy to stretch a hand of peace to Somalia by cancelling the MoU today. Strike while the iron is still hot.