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Respecting Somalia Sovereignty: Promoting Peace and Unity

Friday February 16, 2024


Ethiopia’s prime minister Abiy Ahmed and Somaliland president Muse Bihi at the signing of the agreement on 1 January 2024. Photograph: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters

In the famous words of Winston S. Churchill, "When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you." The recent tension brewing between Somalia and Ethiopia echoes this sentiment. The friction is instigated by an illegal MOU agreement between the leader of the Somaliland Administration, Muse Bihi Abdi, and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on January 1, 2024, permitting Ethiopia access to the Red Sea in exchange for potential recognition of Somaliland's independence. It is an agreement that's not only a breach of international law but also a severe attack on our country's territorial integrity, and in the words of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, "We will not passively observe our sovereignty being jeopardized."

This situation mirrors a classic example of an enemy capitalizing on discord between the Somali people. The recent developments have marked a notable shift in the dynamics of our relationship with Ethiopia. What once seemed like a positive trajectory towards improved ties has instead reignited old grievances, firmly establishing Ethiopia as a perceived adversary in the eyes of Somalia.

But Ethiopia is not new to dispute; it is currently grappling with a devastating civil war involving the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) in the northern Tigray region; it faces border tensions with Sudan, renewed hostilities with Eritrea, and disputes with Egypt over the Nile River. The country is further plagued by widespread ethnic violence affecting over 70% of its regions. 

Under the leadership of Abiy Ahmed Ali, the country had initially appeared to be on a promising path towards peace. In fact, in 2019, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "for his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea." However, subsequent attempts to consolidate power and maintain dominance resulted in the escalation of ethnic conflicts, ultimately leading to the current state of instability in the country.

Thus, if not promptly addressed, the present tension between Somalia and Ethiopia can escalate existing conflicts and even give rise to new ones. Immediate efforts are crucial to mitigate these issues and prevent further deterioration, and more than that, Ethiopia needs to focus on its problems and leave the Somali Internal affairs alone.

This escalating crisis has drawn the attention of various organizations, including the United Nations (UN), Arab League, African Union, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and Heads of State and EAC member states, emphasizing the need for de-escalation.
The international community and various organizations have consistently backed the sovereignty of the Federal government of Somalia. It is imperative that the Ethiopian government retracts its unlawful Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)and pursue lawful channels, as our current priority as a region should be peace and unity.

As the renowned peacemaker Nelson Mandela once said, "It always seems impossible until it's done." It is also important to note that there is an urgent need to continue the dialogue between the federal government of Somalia and the Somaliland administration to address the grievances of the Somali people.

In my perspective, unity is the only way that will benefit not only Somalia but also the entire region. A proposal reminiscent of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in South Africa holds significance in this context.

During the apartheid era, South Africa grappled with profound racial divisions as discriminatory laws institutionalized segregation and inequality. The black majority faced systemic oppression, disenfranchisement, and human rights abuses, leading to international isolation with economic sanctions and diplomatic censure. Archbishop Desmond Tutu played a pivotal role in the nation's healing process by chairing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), established in 1995. The TRC aimed to address apartheid-era atrocities by providing a platform for both victims and perpetrators to share their experiences. Emphasizing forgiveness and reconciliation, Tutu urged South Africans to confront the painful truths of apartheid, acknowledge wrongdoing, and collectively work towards building a united, non-racial society.

Like Mahatma Gandhi, I believe in the transformative power of gentleness to impact the world. I am particularly drawn to the gentle nature of the people of my homeland, Greater Somalia. I wish to appeal to this inherent gentleness and encourage a departure from the divisive influences of clan-ism that threaten our unity. It is time for us to unite as one, recognizing the immense benefits that can arise from such solidarity.

Embracing a similar journey of unity and reconciliation, akin to the one undertaken in South Africa following the end of apartheid, holds promise for healing the wounds in our nation. This process would not only address past grievances but also pave the way for a more inclusive and compassionate society where all citizens feel valued and respected. By engaging in dialogue, acknowledging historical injustices, and promoting forgiveness, we can begin the journey toward healing and reconciliation, ultimately leading to a brighter, more harmonious future for Somalia.

Moreover, coming together and working towards common goals would create a more stable and effective political system that would work towards political reform. It is achievable if our people cease divisive politics and greediness and focus only on the unity of the Somali people. Such efforts would enhance our citizens' well-being; for instance, we could concentrate on agricultural development and agribusiness to ensure food security and stimulate economic growth. Strengthening local governance by empowering leaders and administrations and enhancing our education systems would also empower more youth, fostering progress and prosperity for all.

Political stability is a fundamental element of economic prosperity. It will provide an environment conducive to business growth, investment, and citizen well-being, especially in this period where Somalia recently joined EAC, which is set to provide us with access to larger markets, resources, and investment opportunities, which would help to boost economic growth and development. 

Furthermore, to not only solely fixate on South Africa. Closer to our own shores, Somalis can gain valuable lessons from Rwanda's impressive strides in post-ethnic divisions. Rwanda's commitment to nation-building and social cohesion through policy implementation serves as a beacon of hope. This involves establishing a robust, law-governed state and enhancing crucial infrastructure, including urban planning and the modernization of agriculture and livestock sectors. By placing collective progress above individual interests, Somalia can follow Rwanda's trajectory towards prosperity and solidarity.

Perhaps we could begin by establishing a National Unity and Reconciliation Commission akin to the one formed after the Rwanda genocide. The Arusha Accords of 1993 mandated a Commission of Inquiry and a National Commission on Human Rights to investigate human rights violations in Rwanda, organize nationwide public discussions to foster reconciliation, tolerance, peace, and human rights, and denounce divisive ideologies. A similar accord in Somalia would facilitate power-sharing, educate the Somali people about their rights and those of others, develop legislation to promote reconciliation and ensure compliance with the principles of national unity and reconciliation.

Of course, achieving unity is not easy and will require effort, commitment, and determination from all members of society. It will also involve difficult conversations and negotiations that require people to set aside their differences and work together towards a shared vision. But the benefits of unity are clear and far outweigh the internal struggles.

As Somalis, we hold the pen that writes the narrative of our future. The challenges of poverty, underdevelopment, and ignorance are formidable foes that can only be conquered through a united front. By bridging the gaps that divide us, we empower ourselves to confront these shared enemies and build a Somalia that stands as a beacon of progress, prosperity, and unity. It is crucial to emphasize that our unity does not erase the rich tapestry of our culture. Instead, it strengthens the threads that bind us together. 

We must rise above clan divisions, recognizing that our actual adversaries are poverty and ignorance. Embracing unity will be the cornerstone of a united Somalia. The dream of a Greater Somalia is within our reach, and we must grasp it. Together, we can rewrite the narrative of our nation, ushering in an era of progress, resilience, and shared success. Our unity is our strength, and through it, we shall overcome the challenges that lie ahead, creating a future that reflects the resilience and greatness of the Somali people.

The writer, Sadik Warfa, is a former Minister of Labour of the Federal Republic of Somalia and Represented Mudug Constituency Federal Parliament 2016-2022.


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