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 Ethiopia’s Reckless Diplomacy—Abiy Ahmed’s Regime Up in Arms with the entire Horn   

January 10, 2024

Aklog Birara (Dr)

There is no doubt in my mind that Ethiopia’s growth and development needs require strategic negotiation, with Red Sea countries, most preferably with Eritrea. This is because Eritrea and Ethiopia have a great deal in common. Their destinies are intertwined. Ethiopia lost its seaports when Eritrea seceded from Ethiopia and when Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia’s leader at the time, abandoned the Port of Assab. He did this willingly. This, in my assessment, is a treasonous act that generations of Ethiopian will not forget. The response to treason is not a breach of international law. A win-win solution is one that propels the economies of both Eritrea and Ethiopia; and ideally, the entire Horn of Africa.

No government leader in her/his right mind would try to resolve Ethiopia’s rightful demand for access to the Red Sea by committing another callous, reckless, and irresponsible mistake that will lead to a regional crisis in the Horn of Africa, undermine Ethiopia’s status on the world stage; and affect generations of Ethiopians, Eritreans, and Somalis to come.

Ethiopia’s tribal and tyrannical leader, Abiy Ahmed Ali stimulated widespread public debate, public discord, anxiety as well as international concern when he asserted Ethiopia’s access to the Red Sea by any means necessary. It raised alarm within the Arab League.

Evidence on the ground over the past five years shows that Ethiopia’s domestic and foreign policies are mired, some say anchored, in lies, lofty promises, deconstruction of Ethiopian history and its icons as well as in heavy investments in grandiose projects like Palaces and resorts.

Ethiopia’s core, systemic and structural problems regarding sustainable development is this. The country is not investing its limited capital resources in the productive and job generating sectors. It is not modernizing its Biblical agriculture sectors on which the majority depend. In fact, the Abiy regime is degrading the Ethiopian economy.

Abiy Ahmed gave currency to Ethiopia’s access to the Red Sea while at the same time moving the country from one civil war of atrocities, mayhem, and destruction to another. Generations of Ethiopian youth are denied the quality education they deserve. The Afar, Amhara and Tigray regions are devastated. Reconstruction and recovery will require tens of billions of investment dollars and will take decades. The war against Amhara has compounded the pain and suffering Ethiopians endure.

Domestic and international observers questioned Abiy’s Red Sea motive. Many accused him personally as a sneaky, Machiavellian, and tribal tyrant committed to constant changes in domestic and foreign policy. Abiy is predictably unpredictable. None of his Cabinet members has the courage to challenge him when he is wrong.

Knowledgeable sources feel strongly that while Ethiopia’s need of access to the Red Sea is overdue and justified on national security and economic grounds, the timing, the intention, the approach, process, and opaqueness are typical Abiyesque. They are dubious, suspect, and bizarre. It is another form of war against the entire UN system and the tenets of the African Union that Ethiopia hosts.

Ethiopian experts involved in the study of Abiy’s deconstruction agenda that is embraced and supported by the Oromo-ethic elite led Prosperity Party suggest that the overarching agenda is single ethnic hegemony (Oromumma) over Ethiopia and gradually over the entire Horn of Africa. Testing and failing thousands of civil servants in Addis Ababa exacerbates ethnic tensions.

Why Abiy’s move is dangerous and precedent -setting.

First and foremost, Ethiopia is once again at war with itself.  Its economy is collapsing. It defaulted on its debt. Hyperinflation reached 60 percent. Unemployment among youth is among the highest in Africa. Ethiopia cannot survive let alone achieve its sustainable development goals without peace, human security and stability.  Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and foreign aid are on the decline. Illicit outflow of capital is on the rise.

The regime’s reliance on remittances from its huge Diaspora estimated at more than $4 billion per year is unpredictable. There is a worldwide campaign initiated by members of the Ethiopian diaspora to carry out a coordinated economic and financial boycott, including refraining from sending remittances through formal channels, boycotting Ethiopian Airlines, urging foreign investors not to invest in Ethiopia currently, and the like.

Ethiopia will not achieve development without peace even it gains access to the sea.

This time the horrific civil war that is tearing Ethiopia apart is Abiy’s reckless and ethnicity-based war against the Amhara population and the Amhara regional state. This war is consequential. It is making Ethiopia poorer, lawless, and more unstable. It might break Ethiopia apart. Prolonged, Ethiopia’s domestic crisis will spread like wildfire. It has geopolitical and regional implications.

Second, Abiy’s approach to foreign relations is full of contradictions and unpredictability. For example, Eritrean and Ethiopian warm and cordial relation for which Abiy Ahmed gained the Nobel Peace Prize has cooled off.

Ethiopia is losing friends. The African Development Bank decided to pull its international staff out of Ethiopia. Multilateral aid might fall substantially. The West and some key African Union member countries are deeply concerned about security in Ethiopia’s capital.  Key member states of the African Union contend that it may be prudent to move AU Headquarters out of unsafe and unsanitary Addis Ababa, soon rumored to be renamed as Finfinnee.

Ethiopia’s current crisis is deeper, wider, intractable, and more worrisome than Abiy’s Cabinet and cadres of his Prosperity Party are willing to accept. The international community, IGAD and the African Union have all allowed Abiy Ahmed to get away with murder domestically. Abiy’s foreign policy is a mirror image of his domestic divide and rule policy.

Tragically for Ethiopia, deaf ears and blind eyes by the West, especially by the government of the United States may have given Abiy Ahmed the impression that he can get away with murder regionally and internationally. I say this because the West has yet to demand cessation of atrocities against innocent civilians, especially Amhara.

So, Abiy’s decision to sign a memorandum of understanding with the head of the breakaway Somaliland is a violation of the AU and UN Charters. It is a diplomatic disaster for Ethiopia. It is also another diversion on the part of Abiy Ahmed.

This time he cannot hide. Imagine, for example, if Ethiopia’s adversary over Nile Waters, namely Egypt, signed an agreement with the regional state of Beni-Shangul Gumuz or Tigray; how would Abiy’s regime react?

Ethiopia can regain access to the Red Sea through peaceful means.

From the excess dramatization of Ethiopia’s legitimate access to the Red Sea, one can figure out that Abiy’s kitchen cabinet must have considered a few plans or alternative scenarios.

I suggest that access to the sea via Eritrea and or restoration of the Port of Assab to Ethiopia (Plan A) would not work out that easily either through diplomatic means or through war. Non-winnable, the war option would have also been condemned by the international community. Most Ethiopians would have refused to support another devastating war, this time against Eritrea. A Win-win option is strategic and peaceful negotiation for access to the Red Sea. Among the other options is the formation of a regional economic union of the entire Horn of Africa

Abiy’s circle of advisors have now resorted to plan B, a Red Sea access and port via the secessionist Somaliland. As far as the international community, including the UN system is concerned, Somalia is one country. So, Abiy’s action is illegal. Abiy’s MOU is a violation of international law.

Mind you, no single country recognizes Somaliland as an independent country, none. The government of Somalia and this breakaway government and land have been trying to resolve their quarrels through peaceful negotiations.

Remember, Ethiopia and Somalia went to war during the Said Barre and Mengistu Hailemariam’s regimes. Somalia attacked Ethiopia with the intent of annexing the Ogaden. Ethiopians stood together, repelled Somali aggression, and won the war then.

This time is different. The violator of Somalia’s territorial integrity is Abiy’s Ahmed’s government. The signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Abiy Ahmed’s Ethiopia and the breakaway Somaliland’s government may seem monumental and a win-win on the surface. Violating a neighboring country’s territorial integrity is not a win-win at all. It is a violation of international law.

Reciprocity matters. Suppose the government of Somalia had recognized the independence of Tigray (had the TPLF opted to secede from Ethiopia) during the two-year war. What would Abiy say?

The MOU is hugely problematic for Ethiopia, Somalia, Somaliland, the Horn of Africa, the AU. IGAD and the United Nations, the Arab League. Military access for Abiy’s army through the Somaliland Port has sent shockwaves throughout Africa, the Middle East, and the rest of the world.

Somaliland is a self-declared breakaway part of Somalia in the same way that Tigray would have been a self-declared breakaway government had it succeeded to sever its ties with Ethiopia during the two-year war. The breakaway Somaliland has not received any diplomatic recognition from any government until Abiy’s Ahmed’s Ethiopia broke the stalemate. This precedent is traumatic for the entire AU leadership.

The MOU singed by AbiyAhmed of Ethiopia and Muse Bihi Abdi of Somaliland grants Ethiopia commercial and military access to Somali territory. In return, the Abiy Ahmed government recognizes the breakaway state and government of Somaliland. Ethiopia under Abiy Ahmed becomes the first country in the world to give recognition to a seceding or breakaway state. Members of the AU must express their outrage. The Arab League is justified in expressing outrage.

Muse Bihi Abdi is right when he said Abiy Ahmed’s Ethiopia’s formal recognition of Somaliland as an independent nation and government would set “a precedent as the first nation to extend international recognition to our country.”

However, Abiy Ahmed’s reckless move to do so sets a devastating precedent in Africa. It violates both the UN and AU Charters. The sovereignty and territorial integrity of each UN and AU member is sacrosanct under both charters. It sends a shockwave across the globe. As expected, the government of Somalia recalled its Ambassador from Ethiopia, expelled Ethiopia’s Ambassador and condemned the act calling it a form of “aggression” and broke diplomatic relations.

On January 2, 2024, the New York Times reported “The pact has rattled the Horn of Africa area, which is already encumbered by civil war, political wrangling, and widespread humanitarian crises. Observers say the agreement could also provoke further tensions in the Red Sea, a vital global shipping route that has become increasingly dangerous amid the Israel-Hamas war.

The biggest objection has come from Somalia, where Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre’s cabinet held an emergency meeting on Tuesday to discuss the deal. Somalia’s government called the agreement “null and void” and asked both the African Union and the United Nations Security Council to convene meetings on the issue. Somalia also recalled its ambassador to Ethiopia for urgent consultations.”

Al-Shabab, a terrorist organization based in Somalia called Abiy’s move “expansionist” and vowed to act against Ethiopia and Ethiopians.

I urge all Ethiopians to reject Abiy’s latest irresponsible and reckless policy move.


Revised on January 10, 2024

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