Somalia: Ethiopia ’s policy towards Somalia

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Thu Feb 26 21:35:53 UTC 2009

“The question could be raised regarding the recognition of Somaliland
as an independent state. Taking this initiative is not preferable to
Ethiopia” Ethiopia’s Foreign Policy Towards Somaliland
February 26th, 2009

The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Foreign Affairs and
National Security Policy and Strategy
Ethiopia’s policy towards Somalia

a) Historical background of relations
The relation between Ethiopia and Somalia has not been a healthy one.
In the recent historical period, one major and one lesser war were
fought between the two countries. The empty dream of the so-called
“Greater Somalia”, an expansionist policy, had brought to Somalia
nothing but hostility and conflicts with all its neighbors, especially
Ethiopia. Moreover, Somalia had always allied with all groups and
countries it believed were anti-Ethiopian and had disturbed Ethiopia’s
peace. On the other hand, Ethiopian Somalis had resisted the
oppressive system in Ethiopia. Related to this, Somalia had succeeded
in mobilizing a large number of Ethiopian Somalis as allays in its
attempt to execute its expansionist policy. In this regard Ethiopia
has been exposed to threats emanating from Somalia and other quarters.

Ethiopia, for its part, rather than responding to the threat by
respecting the right of Ethiopian Somalis and by fostering brotherhood
between the peoples of Ethiopia, so Ethiopian Somalis could live in
voluntary unity with their other fellow Ethiopians, resorted to
dismantling Somalia to the extent possible. The policy was to respond
to Somali aggression by taking the war to Somalia and, along the way,
aggravating the contradiction between the Somali clans.

The situation has now fundamentally changed. The “Greater Somalia”
ideology has been discredited. It is now over ten years since Somalia
has become stateless. On the other hand, in Ethiopia, a constitution
in which peoples’ rights are guaranteed is being implemented.
Ethiopian Somalis are living in brotherhood and voluntary unity with
other Ethiopians in a newly defined, inclusive Ethiopian identity.
Together with other Ethiopians, Ethio-Somalis are, in the spirit of
equality, democracy, development and an Ethiopian identity, resting on
strong foundations and contributing to the building of the country.
Ethiopia’s vulnerability to the “Greater Somalia” ideology has been
greatly diminished.

On the other hand, the disintegration of Somalia has in itself brought
ever-growing danger. The crisis in Somalia has allowed religious
extremism to take hold. Somalia has become a haven and conduit for
terrorists and extremists. Anti-peace elements are using the country
as a base and place of transit in order to threaten Ethiopia’s peace.
Somalia’s disintegration has brought danger to the peace in our

b) Significance of the relations
There is no condition whereby Somalia could contribute as a source of
investment and financial development or as a significant market for
Ethiopia. After a process of some length, followed by peace and
stability in Somalia, there is the chance that it could become a
significant market, but this is difficult to imagine in the short and
medium term. Regarding natural resources, all the big rivers in
Somalia flow from Ethiopia. The irrigation schemes in Somalia which
effectively served the people are in a poor state. On the other hand,
as our country steps up its development, we will have to dam the
rivers for irrigation purposes. The harnessing of rivers in Ethiopia
can help Somalia resist floods, and so the benefit would be mutual.
But on the other hand, these rivers could be used in Ethiopia - mainly
in the Somali region - for development purposes. This could create a
minor conflict but the problem can be tackled by the principle of give
and take in a way that takes into account the national interests of
the two countries.

As can be understood from the above, in the short and medium terms,
Somalia does not have a positive or negative influence of note in the
development of our country. And yet, in Somalia there are numerous
ports that can provide services to Ethiopia. Starting from the port of
Zeila which gave services to Ethiopia during its long history, all the
way to Kismayo, there are no less than seven ports in Somalia that can
be used by different parts of our country. These possibilities could
significantly contribute to our development, but due to the “Greater
Somalia”-driven conflict and national oppression in Ethiopia, they
were never seriously considered (not to forget that Ethiopia had ports
of its own). The current collapse of the state in Somalia makes it
unrealistic to think of using the ports at the present time.

Even if the chances to use the ports were to arise, and though that
would increase Somalia’s relevance to our development, one cannot see
a positive role that Somalia can play at this time. On the negative
side, it is worth noting that the disintegration of Somalia has posed
dangers for peace and stability in Ethiopia. This situation has spoilt
the image of our sub-region, and the Horn is now perceived as an area
of conflict. Our chances to attract investment have been reduced and
the “Somalia effect” has contributed to the uncertainty about regional
peace and the lack of economic linkages between the two countries.

c) Policy Direction
Our proximity to Somalia would be beneficial to our development if
there were peace and stability in Somalia. Peace can come to our
region if a government committed to fighting disorder, terrorism and
extremism in cooperation with its neighbours is established in
Somalia. Some circles say that the establishment of such a government
in Somalia would once again resuscitate the ideology of “Greater
Somalia” and that peace, democracy and development in Somalia would,
in that case, not benefit Ethiopia. This view is fundamentally wrong
and dangerous. First, of all, from now onwards, our country safeguards
the unity of its peoples not by denying them options but by helping
them recognise and confirm in practice, the option based on equality,
mutual development and democracy.
As a result of this, we have created the condition whereby Ethiopian
Somalis, no matter whether the ideology of “Greater Somalia” is
revived or not, would choose to live in equality and unity with their
other Ethiopian brothers and sisters. As our development and
democratisation process gains momentum, our vulnerability to the
effects of this and other similar slogans will be much reduced.
Furthermore, it should be underscored that, since it has been the
cause of much suffering first and foremost to the people of Somalia,
this slogan of “Greater Somalia” has been discredited and its chances
of revival are indeed very slim. In light of the encouraging political
and economic situation in Ethiopia, the fact that Somalis live in both
countries would actually ensure that they serve as a bridge that
creates strong connections between the two countries, rather than as a
factor of suspicion.

On the contrary, if Somalia enjoys peace and democracy, we will have
the opportunity to use the Somali ports extensively and continuously
and this would contribute to our development significantly. Such a
situation would make it possible, in alliance with the new government,
to stamp out anti-peace activities originating from Somalia. Both
countries can work together to jointly develop river utilization
plans. The way would also be clear to promote strong educational and
cultural ties and interdependence in light of the educational and
other related activities that are carried out in the Somali language
within the Somali Region of our country. By creating strong relations
between the two countries regarding the use of ports and rivers,
commerce, culture and so on, and seeing to it that the two peoples are
benefiting from this, one could be sure that the peoples would resist
activities designed to harm the relations that are proving to be so
beneficial to them. Ethiopia would also gain direct economic
advantages from this situation; in addition, when Ethiopia’s eastern
border ceases to be a source of threat, overall economic development
would be enhanced. That is why, at this time, our major objective in
Somalia is to see the establishment of peace and democracy, and based
on that, the development of strong economic, cultural and political
ties between the two countries.

This may be our wish and policy, but peace and democracy cannot be
realised through our efforts only. Although we will do all in our
power to contribute to the peace and stability of Somalia, as it is in
our interest to do so, the responsibility to establish peace in that
country principally rests on the Somali people and the political
forces there. In addition to this, those external forces which can
influence events should see to it that they use their authority to
contribute to bringing about peace and democracy in Somalia.
The events of the last ten years in Somalia have not been encouraging,
but we should not give up hope that peace and democracy will
eventually come to Somalia. The country has disintegrated into
different areas, and while some are comparatively, calm others are in
continuous turmoil. Those who reap benefits from the absence of
authority - a number of Somali groups, some traders, religious
extremists, and their foreign friends - are bent on sabotaging in one
way or another any effort aimed at bringing about peace in Somalia.
Although the Somali people long for peace, they have not been able to
break out of the web of obstruction put in place by those who oppose
peace and change. Although the international community wishes to bring
about peace in Somalia, it is evidently not ready to exert all its
efforts to realise this. Thus, it appears to us that the condition of
instability in Somalia is likely to persist for some time. Therefore,
our policy should not be limited to contributing to the emergence of
peace and democracy only and, based on that, to forging strong ties;
rather, it should also address what we should do if instability and
turmoil persist.

Our fundamental policy remains to persistently work towards the birth
of a peaceful and democratic Somalia. But in light of the continuing
instability, the policy we pursue should essentially be a
damage-limitation policy to ensure that the instability does not
further harm our country, the region and the people of Somalia. If the
instability is not stopped, the only option left is to limit the
damage that may be caused. There are three main options to limit the

First, we have to try to help those regions which are comparatively
stable and do not shelter extremists and terrorists in order that the
relative peace they enjoy is maintained and even strengthened. Those
that can be mentioned in this regard are the regions known as
Somaliland and Puntland. In the spirit of damage limitation and to
assist these regions maintain their stability, it is necessary that
the links be strengthened in such areas as trade, transport and the
like in the interest of our country and the people inhabiting the
region. The question could be raised regarding the recognition of
Somaliland as an independent state. Taking this initiative is not
preferable to Ethiopia because it would create negative feelings on
the part of Somalis living in the rest of Somalia and others would be
suspicious of our intent. Therefore, our cooperation with these
regions should not include recognizing the regional administrations as
independent states. But we should continue to assist these regions in
maintaining peace and stability, as it is to our advantage and the
benefit of the peoples living in the area.

Secondly, we shall certainly continue to be exposed to various dangers
as long as peace and stability elude Somalia as a whole. In
recognition of this, we must create the capability to defend ourselves
and foil any attack by forces of extremism, terrorism and other
anti-peace elements originating in Somalia. In this regard we must
always be vigilant.

Thirdly, we have to work in cooperation with the Somali people in the
region, and the international community as a whole, to weaken and
neutralize those forces coming from any part of Somalia to perpetrate
attacks against our country. Obviously, the solution to all of this is
the prevalence of democracy, and everything must be done to assist in
reaching this solution. At the same time, however, we need to receive
the understanding and support of the people of Somalia and the
international community regarding what we are facing. While
maintaining the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs
of Somalia, we have to ensure our right to safeguard our peace and
defend ourselves.

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