The Horn Of Africa States: It Is Safer To Retreat – OpEd


It is good sometimes to retrieve old narratives to make a point. In the Horn of Africa States case, it is perhaps appropriate to refer to the creeper that was growing in the courtyard of a house. It was probably not growing in the way it was desired to grow and had the misfortune to being removed completely all the way to its roots when the house was undergoing some repairs. The courtyard was cleaned and cemented, so that it would not grow again. But years later, there was a mound showing up where the creeper was, and this mound was cleared only to show the creeper growing again and pushing through the cement. The owner cleared the mound and regretted having attempted to take the life force of the creeper. It was, indeed, appealing for life and the owner decided not stand in its way. It flourished again and grew into a beautiful flowery plant which went along the wall of the courtyard. They say a mountain with its height and girth is not able to remove a pebble from its side, yet this creeper had pushed through the cement and sprouted through it.

The Somali story is similar to that of the creeper story. It was, indeed, removed as an independent state with a governing infrastructure by some evil forces over thirty years ago but it remained alive, and it started to sprout again in 2012 with the current fragile but governing infrastructure. It should be left alone with its wiles or helped, and it would recover its former self and may be better, much like the creeper. Life is an astonishing ongoing process, which no one can explain. It is a force which will claim its rights in this world, even if uprooted and so is Somalia, a country with a growing population of some thirty million and supported by another thirty-eight million in the surrounding parts of the Horn of Africa States, altogether spread over an area of some 1.1 million sq. km, including islands. Ethiopia was wrong on January 1st, 2024, to have attempted to crush it again, a wrong move!

The fact that Ethiopia signed an MoU directly with one of the regions of Somalia makes it stand on the threshold of a disaster in the region. It has not crossed that threshold yet and it should not. Before it only, unlawfully and illegally, talked and lamented about lack of access to a sea. It has now moved on a direct confrontation with Somalia, the end result of which is unknown, but which certainly is complicated. Somalia is much stronger than many assume. It enjoys a large population, supported by an equally large population in Ethiopia of the same blood, Somalis and a large population in Kenya, to the south. Add another country whose population is also largely Somali, Djibouti, on which Ethiopia currently depends for most of its imports, which the MoU signed with one of the regions of Somalia, would definitely be impacted and would also react.

The resultant impact on Ethiopia would be bad and everlasting as it may lead to a breakup of that country into its currently warring nationalities, like the Tigray, which wanted to split any way, the Benishangul, the Sidama, the Amhara, the Somali, the Afar, and Oromia which would split up into a number of different groups. More specifically, the Somali population within Oromia would side with their fellow brothers and sisters in the region.

The region risks a wider war as well which may involve Eritrea, Djibouti, Egypt, Sudan, and Kenya in addition to Somalia and Ethiopia and the intra-state actors within each of the countries aforenoted. It is perhaps time for Ethiopia to deescalate and retreat with grace. Other non-regional parties like the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf countries may get involved for their own sheikhdom interests. The world does not like changing borders through force. It rejected the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and Russia is not an ordinary country. It is a superpower with a large resource base, unlike Ethiopia, whose large population lives on handouts from many other countries.

The Red Sea is already marred in other conflicts such as the NATO and Iran/Houthi possible confrontation. The Ethiopian quest to join the fray can only be seen as shortsightedness on the part of its leadership and would add to its miseries for it will not succeed in holding ground in Somalia, let alone build ports and naval bases there. It was lunatic, in the first place, to have thought of and invest in building a navy without a sea. Ethiopia is a landlocked country much like many other countries such as Switzerland, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Chad, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Botswana, Uganda and many others. What is so special about Ethiopia acquiring a sea outlet which belongs to it and how is this possible in this 21st century? There is nothing special about Ethiopia and international law bars it from acquiring a sea by force or cunning and/or cheating, if others can help themselves, Somalia included. 

Ethiopia cannot afford to proceed with the implementation of the MoU. It will hurt its strategic credibility and make it a bully, attacking a country recovering from a long civil war, but which can defend itself with ease. Note every Somali is literally a soldier, although there may be traitors within that population and specially Somalized Oromos, but they would not determine the outcome of that war in the long run between Ethiopia and Somalia. Ethiopia will lose for they would have to face some sixty-eight million spread over 1.1 million square km in the Horn of Africa and over 145 countries across the globe, where they are engineers, doctors, educators, politicians, community workers, labor, military people and policemen and women, businesspeople and are literally involved in all walks of life, and speaking incredibly many languages, who then have access to all kinds of information. Ethiopia should not forget its 2006/7 invasion of Somalia, where it lost, when its soldiers had to walk back literally for hundreds of kilometers, as they could not ride trucks or tanks or any other means of transport. They would have been blown up with ease. They should not forget the difficulties they had to have access to water for drinking in their long march back to Ethiopia’s borders. The Prime Minister of Ethiopia was then a soldier and how did he forget what happened to his army then? Somalia was weaker then and is stronger and more organized now.

It is a difficult challenge for Ethiopia and the better and safer way is to retreat and throw the MoU into the dustbin of history before it causes more headaches for the country and its leadership. It is not like attacking a country that has something to lose. Somalia is already in a chaotic situation and has nothing to lose anyway, and they would defend what is left of the country with all its might and that is its people. Who is stronger than an angry population in their millions and in their own turf? Only a mad man attacks such a population! It will be like disturbed hornet’s nest. Furthermore, it will receive the empathy and sympathy of many nations, including the major powers of the world. Prime Minister Abiye, you made a mistake! Accept it with grace and retreat! You may recover some of the goodwill you already lost!

We know the options are equally bad for the Prime Minister, Abiye, but always the best way is to choose the lesser of the evils facing one, and in this respect the lesser of the bad options of the Prime Minister, is to retreat and give up on the MoU, which would not add any value to the current needs  of his country – feeding its population, providing services to its people, and building its roads, developing its agriculture and mining, and improving its financial systems and economy. There are, indeed, many tasks waiting for the Prime Minister and his administration to attend to instead of engaging himself and the country in fruitless conflicts. All of the aforesaid could be achieved through peaceful means and processes and not through invasion of others’ lands and territories.

It is perhaps time the Prime Minister of Ethiopia learned the difference between motion and direction as a thinker would have explained that “One would have removed most of the road blocks on one’s way to success, when one has learnt the difference between motion and direction.” One of the intrinsic values of activity is movement, it is said. One may be on a boat, in an airplane, riding a bike, galloping on a horse or driving, but in what direction? Is one moving in the right direction to one’s destination or the wrong direction? Motion in both cases is not different in quality. The great difference is the direction where the former case brings one closer to one’s destination while the wrong direction takes one away from one’s direction. Moving on to Somalia, Prime Minister, is the wrong direction. There are other routes, more peaceful, more suitable, much better, and more appropriate. Find them out and flow them. It is safer to retreat anyway!

Dr. Suleiman Walhad

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *