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Ethiopia’s Meddling: Has it Strengthened the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia?

By Burci Hamza

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Two years have already elapsed since the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) was incepted at Embagathi, Kenya. But the question that lingers in everyone’s mind now is: Has Ethiopia done anything meaningful to salvage the TFG following the conclusion of Embagathi Peace Process? And why is Ethiopia still persistently reluctant to let Somalis stand on their feet again? The TFG has literally been dysfunctional and has all along been inundated by insurmountable crises that are by and large attributed to Ethiopia’s meddling in the Somali affairs.

Ethiopia’s overt reluctance to bail the Transitional Federal Government and the Somali people out of their predicament is a reinforcement of the fact that its leadership has never been genuine in its policies vis-à-vis the Somali crisis. Because of Ethiopia’s constant fear of the re-emergence of strong and united Somalia, it has foiled every attempt made to help Somalis reconstitute their state. 

Ethiopia has been and still is for a loose Puntland, weak southern Somalia states, a subdued central region, and Somaliland as a separate state. The idea of enhancing “building blocks” together with the establishment of a weak central government that is politically obedient to Addis Ababa is the basis for reducing Ethiopia’s fear of a stronger Somalia.

Those who have closely followed developments at Embagathi, from the outset, were able to witness Ethiopia’s overt and blatant interferences in the affairs of Somalia. Nobody can now conceal that Ethiopia, through some of its junior officers at its embassy in Nairobi, had literally micro-managed the entire Embagathi Peace Process.

Prior to Embagathi, Ethiopia had unleashed a systematic campaign against the Transitional National Government (TNG).  As part of its policy of direct interference in the internal affairs of Somalia, it had sponsored a meeting in Awasa, Ethiopia for the factions that opposed the TNG with the purpose of creating an alternative to the political institutions that had evolved at Arta. This act had further complicated the Somali crisis and had disclosed the viciousness of Ethiopia’s meddling in the affairs of a sovereign country.
Ethiopia had initially strenuously denied that it had hosted and armed opposition groups inside its own territories to abort Arta Peace Process and its Transitional Institutions. But its lies, deceits and cynicism were later revealed when it had strived hard, partly through its obedient proxies within the TNG, to have the agreement of Abdiqassim Salad Hassan to negotiate with the “SRRC” without any precondition, and to convene a “conference where the TNG and the SRRC will participate with the view to strengthening national reconciliation and for the purpose of establishing a broad-based government”(1) In other words, for the regime in Ethiopia, Arta Peace Process and its Transitional Institutions, despite their  inclusiveness, left a great deal to be desired, and there was therefore an imperative necessity of forming another all-inclusive and broad-based government for Somalia.

The Ethiopian government was ultimately able to unravel Arta outcome and thwart TNG’s efforts to spearhead a nation-wide programme of post-conflict peacebuilding and reconstruction. But what has it done for Embagathi’s TFG that would warrant its distaste and disapproval of Arta’s Transitional National Institutions?  Instead of diffusing the tension that had surfaced as a result of the relocation of the Transitional Federal Institutions to Jowhar and Mogadishu, Ethiopia refrained from making any attempt to change the dynamics of the rift that had loomed between the two camps. It had instead opted for escalation and deepening of polarization between the two camps by siding with one and alienating the other. But then why was it (Ethiopia) so indifferent to the plight of post-Embagathi Transitional Federal Institutions – the very Institutions it had helped to create?
Ethiopia’s fear of the emergence of the Somali Islamic Courts Union (ICU)  has led to the deployment of its troops in Somalia. The acquiescence of the TFG to this deployment in order to allegedly counter ICU’s expansion has touched off the outrage of the Somali people and sparked Islamists’ call for jihad against the invaders.
The aim of this short paper is to bring to light again the viciousness of Ethiopia’s meddling in the affairs of a sovereign state and its impact on the current political reality in Somalia and in the Horn of Africa. The paper emphasizes the dire need for a significant shift in the TFG’s policies vis-à-vis the government of Ethiopia. It underscores the fact that a dialogue between the TFG and the ICU is a sine qua non for averting a potentially deadly war in the Hon of Africa.
The paper affirms that the adoption of a “hard” realist approach in dealing with the issue of the ICU’s expansion and that of the deployment of foreign troops in Somalia will only exacerbate an already complex situation and deepen polarization between the two parties.

The Current Political Situation in Somalia

Earlier this year, a coalition of clan-based Islamic Courts Union (ICU) emerged as a powerful political and military force in Somalia. This Islamic coalition has defeated the secular “Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism” in Mogadishu, and has so far managed to create a secure environment in the capital city and in other parts of southern Somalia, and re-activate some of its vital infrastructures such as sea-ports and airports.

The ICU has recently made significant territorial gains in southern parts of the country. It has captured Kisimayo and expelled Barre Hiiraale, the Minister of Defense of the TFG, and the de-facto leader of the Juba Valley Region.

Moreover, the ICU has blinked and responded to pressure mounted by Somalis inside the country and in the diaspora, and as a result decided to dump Yusuf Indha Adde, the de-facto Regional Administrator of Lower Shebelle Region. The Region is now in the hands of the ICU pending the nomination of an indigenous administration.

As the ICU is gaining more momentum, the TFG is getting weaker and is becoming almost irrelevant. Ethiopia’s meddling in the internal affairs of Somalia has only made the TFG more vulnerable. Its focus on its own proxies within the TFG and its alienation of the most important segments of the Somali society have, as many analysts assert, contributed to the emergence of the Islamic Courts in Mogadishu. For instance, analysts from the International Crisis Group (ICG) argue,

“The crisis is a direct product of ill-conceived foreign interventions. Ethiopia’s attempt to supplant the earlier Transitional National Government (2000-2003) with one dominated by its allies alienated large sections of the Hawiye clan, leaving the TFG with a support base too narrow to operate in and near Mogadishu”(2). These analysts further assert, “the roots of the crisis are profoundly parochial and have more to do with practical power, prestige and clan issues than ideology”. 

The TFG is extremely jittery nowadays, and the growing ICU’s military power is causing a great deal of panic and fear for its leaders. Because of this, the TFG, with military help from Ethiopia, has already resorted to the “hard” realist approach in dealing with the ICU. But Ethiopia’s insistence to counterbalance ICU’s advances in Somalia by providing weapons to the TFG and the defeated warlords has so far proven to be counterproductive.

The deployment of Ethiopian troops in Somali towns to allegedly bolster the TFG and subdue the ICU, in complete disregard of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, has already provoked further wrath and indignation of the Somali people everywhere. Because of the presence of these troops on the Somali soil, Mr. Ghedi’s cabinet is now facing dissenting voices from within his own cabinet. The parliament is being increasingly outspoken.

Many contend that this deployment legitimates the ICU’s action to resort to Ethiopia’s regime adversaries, both inside Ethiopia proper and in the Horn, for military assistance. Western analysts have already reported that foreign fighters are arriving Mogadishu to join the ICU for jihad against the Christian government of Ethiopia.

The TFG’s acquiescence to the deployment of Ethiopian troops has already undermined the credibility of its leadership. Because of this, the ICU has extended its control over the southern parts of the country and called for jihad against the invaders. Puntland and Somaliland, which have so far enjoyed relative stability, are bracing for an Islamic uprising that will wipe out the secular leaders and supplant them with radical clerics.

Analysts who follow political developments in Somalia assert that secular groups in Puntland and Somaliland have little support among its populations. Dr. Abdishakur Sh. Ali Jowhar, in his recent article, “A Revolutionary Momentum” posted on the Somali Internet websites, describes the changes occurring in Somaliland as follows:

“A storm is gathering in Somaliland these days, a terrible storm of instability and disorder. The previously solid political ground has started to shake. It trembles with every sneeze of the Sheikhs down south. There is a religious school in every street and in every corner. And then there are the more sinister and secretive religious schools that teach nothing but Islam with a Salafist twist. Here children are recruited from the poorest of a poor society. The parents “contribute” whatever they can afford and a secretive third party benefactor foots the rest of the bill. The children are made to rock themselves to a religious frenzy for 6 – 8 hours of each day. It is these schools that breed the new committed revolutionary; the Talib (Student) and the Sheikh (the graduate Talib). These are the factories that produce the revolutionaries that will be unleashed against the enemies of Islam with deadly effect”.

Drawing upon Dr. Abdishakur’s revelations, Somaliland appears to be bracing for an Islamic revolution or “Kacdoon” similar to that already witnessed in the southern parts of Somalia. We must, however, warn that the deployment of Ethiopian troops in Somaliland to counter the threat of Islamic movement will only speed up the elimination of the secular administration and lead to the rapid rise of radical clerics.
The use of violence by engaging Ethiopian troops to quell and subdue Islamic forces in Somaliland and Puntland, will undoubtedly foment destabilization and incite insurgency not different from what we now witness in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Somaliland and Puntland have been able to bring about peace and stability in their respective areas through dialogue and negotiations and not through the intervention of Ethiopians or other foreign troops. There is no justification whatsoever for supplanting talks and dialogue with the use of Ethiopian troops to tackle what the secular administration insists is the “imminent danger of the emerging Islamic radicalism”.
Analysts and experts authority on the Somali crisis argue that the people of Ethiopia, over 50% of them Muslim, are critical of their government’s policy vis-à-vis the Somali people. Dr. Michael A. Weinstein, in his recent article, “War Clouds Loom over Somalia as Military Fronts Open Up Amid a Flurry of Diplomacy”(3), reveals,

“The difficulties that would be faced by Addis Ababa if it mounted a major military operation in Somalia were indicated by reports that senior Ethiopian military officers had been arrested for opposing a campaign against the ICU. Local media also reported that the Ethiopian government was making large cash payments to officers in return for pledges to attack the ICU.”

This refusal by Ethiopian senior military officers to get involved in a major confrontation with the ICU, as reported by the local media, is indicative of the fact that the Ethiopian army is unhappy with the policy of its own government. Military involvement with the Somali people and the ICU will exacerbate the malaise of the Ethiopian people and engender a humanitarian disaster of an unprecedented nature. It will also generate a much wider conflict that will involve many countries in the Horn. Ethiopia is one of the poorest nations in Africa. The serious political and economic instability that the country faces coupled with the quasi-permanent famine and other environmental pressures it sustains cannot by any means allow this impoverished nation to wage a protracted war against insurgencies.

Options on the Way Forward

To save Somalia from further devastation, perhaps more crippling than what the country has witnessed during the past 15 years, we are reiterating the imperative necessity of calling on the major international and regional actors involved in the Somali political crisis to put pressure on Ethiopia to refrain from its blatant interference in the affairs of Somalia. Given a chance, the Somali people, both secular and Islamists, will be able to work out acceptable agreements. Given a chance, they will negotiate and quell their differences honourably.  But only if the Ethiopian government refrains from its meddling and leave the Somali people alone.

The emergence of Islamism in Somalia is not an isolated case in this world. What is needed here is the understanding of the causes that have led to the proliferation of these Salafi-Jihadi ideologies in Somalia. Is the birth of Islamism in Somalia attributed to deeply held values and beliefs? Is it, as the ICG analysts argue, merely power, prestige and clan issues than ideology? Is the state’s collapse a factor in the emergence of Islamism?

For instance, ICG report on Somalia’s Islamism contends, “With the state’s collapse in 1991, Islamists experienced unprecedented freedom. A bewildering array of Islamic associations suddenly emerged, each purporting to represent a discrete religious doctrine. Their common denominator was the desire for an “authentic” form of Islamic governance in Somalia”.(4)
We argue that we should pursue idea-based measures to counter the potentially dangerous proliferation of war in the Horn of Africa. A resort to military options to mitigate the impact of the rise of Islamism in Somalia will not provide any solution. On the contrary, the entire Horn will descend further into chaos and the lives of its ravaged populations will be more calamitous    

Options for the TFG

It is beyond our scope to duplicate policy options that have already been articulated, but we must reiterate the fact that it is in no one’s interest to leave Somalia in a state of eternal oblivion just to fulfill the Ethiopian government’s strategy of obstructing the reconstitution of the Somali state.
The TFG with its current composition is perceived as being a government that is entirely dictated by Addis Ababa. It is nowadays referred to as “a feeble and weak government that is protected by Ethiopian troops”.
To dispel this perception and subsequently garner the support of the Somali people, the TFG must soberly reflect on what to do next. It must first and foremost recover from this widely held assumption that it is “Ethiopia’s pawn inside its own territory”.   It must portray the image of a government that is committed to protecting its territorial integrity and national independence. It must cleanse its cabinet of the elements that have shown overt predilections to Ethiopia’s agenda. The President, with the help of the Parliament must ultimately embark on the establishment of a government of national unity.

The TFG must engage all neighbouring states in its efforts to achieve peace and stability in the region. It must build good relations, mutual cooperation and understanding with the government and people of Ethiopia. But the latter must recognize the fact that TFG’s best interests can be served only when the territorial integrity and national unity of Somalia is fully respected. The TFG should reciprocate by acknowledging that peace and tranquility along the common border with Ethiopia is of a strategic importance for both countries.
 The TFG must accept to pursue serious negotiations with the ICU. It must build on the agreement signed in Khartoum, which calls for the ICU to accept the legitimacy of the TFG, and the TFG to recognize the reality of the existence of the ICU.

Options for the ICU

The ICU must reconstitute itself to recover from the perception that it is a clan-based movement and that some of its top leaders are connected to Al-Qaeda and that it harbours foreign terrorists, including members wanted by the US for the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. It must also cleanse the movement of any elements that have been previously incriminated for human rights violations and land grabbing by force.

Its top priority at this juncture must be the consolidation of peace and the disarmament of militias in Mogadishu and in the areas currently under its control. But over the long term, it should consider to be an important partner in the design and implementation of the Somali post-war recovery plan.
ICU is perceived as being a force that has emanated to weaken the fledgling Transitional Federal Institutions and its leadership. To dispel this notion, the ICU must make a better use of its “soft” power of diplomacy to accommodate the Transitional Federal Institutions and not just rely on coercive, “hard” power. It should be very careful not to jeopardize or offend the outcome of Embagathi Peace Process whose fundamental tenets underpin the only hope left for the Somali people.

The ICU must be in a position to articulate a vision that resonates with the aspiration of the people of Somalia. It must provide a guiding framework that can help the country stand back on its feet again and embark on post-war peacebuilding and (re)construction.
The ICU must forge good relations with the legitimate civil society organizations inside Somalia and in the diaspora. It must recognize the fact that the existence of civil society organizations is a pre-requisite for the enhancement of democratic values. The civil society organizations are the vehicles through which the abusive power of the sate is balanced.

Options for the International Community

The international community, particularly the International Contact Group should immediately embark on a dialogue with both the moderate and militant groups of the ICU.  Professor Ken Menkhaus(5) recently argued,  

“The best the United States and Ethiopia can do now is to help create conditions that deny the Somali hardliners what they most want — jihad against a threatening external enemy — and force the Islamists instead to face the difficult, mundane, and divisive policy questions of governance. Engaging in everyday politics and administrative responsibilities in Mogadishu and surrounding areas could force the ICU to adopt more moderate and pragmatic policies. If it refuses to adapt, its radicalism will be increasingly exposed, and its local and external opposition will multiply. U.S. policymakers will be tempted to invoke the formulaic call to "empower the moderates" and "marginalize the radicals."

We concur with Prof. Menkhaus’ argument that the US should force the ICU to adopt more moderate and pragmatic policies. We do not, however, believe that the “marginalization of the radicals” and the “empowerment of the moderate” would lead to the fragmentation and weakening of the ICU. On the contrary, it will consolidate their coordinated efforts and make them much stronger.

Those who follow situation on the ground assert that it is the radical wing of the ICU that currently wields more power. And this being the case, the United States and other members of the International Contact Group must be in favour of undertaking negotiations with both the moderate and the radical groups.
Should the US use Ethiopia as its proxy for a military showdown with the ICU, the entire Horn will turn into another quagmire for the US. With the current insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are becoming increasingly intractable, the US would find itself entangled in another type of insurgencies in the Horn, which would involve all countries of the region and cause further destabilization and engender a devastating humanitarian crisis and a wave of refugee displacements.

The International Somali Contact Group should make an attempt to engage the Somali diaspora in shaping the vision of the ICU. And because the diaspora can profoundly affect local politics, Somalis in the diaspora – credible and prominent former political figures, religious and traditional elders, scholars, women, and members of the civil society organizations – can play an important role in shaping the vision of the ICU. They can put forth a set of pragmatic policy options which can help determine the future political choices of the ICU: Adopt a moderate stand and dispel the perceived radical direction purportedly pursued by some of its leaders; co-exist with the government of national unity; consolidate security in Mogadishu in collaboration with the legitimate regional authorities and the central government; accept pragmatic peace-seeking policies by endorsing the outcome of Embagathi Peace Process, which is supported by the neighbouring countries and the international community as a whole; and assist in strengthening the unity and territorial integrity of Somalia.

Ethiopia’s meddling in the affairs of Somalia has only weakened the Transitional Federal Government and undermined its credibility. The government has been labeled as an “Ethiopian pawn in its own territory”. To counter these damaging perceptions and garner the support of the Somali people, the government must embark on a dramatic shift in its policy vis-à-vis the government of Ethiopia. It must portray the image of a government that strives hard for territorial integrity and national independence.

The International community, particularly the newly-established International Contact Group, must continue to mount pressure on the Ethiopian government to refrain from its interference in the internal affairs of a neighbouring country.

Ethiopia’s government has not been genuine in its policies on the issue of the reconstitution of the Somali state. It has obstructed every effort made to restore peace and stability for the war-torn people. It has unraveled Arta Peace Process and literally micro-managed Embagathi Peace Process to ensure that its proxies are disproportionately represented in the Transitional Federal Institutions, but also ensure that they always remain weak and hence obedient to Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia must reconsider its policies on Somalia. Its reliance on its junior staff and intelligence officers at its embassies in Nairobi and elsewhere has failed not only Somalia, but also Ethiopia. They have fuelled animosity and hatred between the two countries.

The Ethiopian government must immediately embark on a constructive dialogue with prominent and credible Somalis – meticulously selected from prominent political figures, religious and traditional elders, scholars, women, and members of the civil society organizations – who can deliver and think through a viable mechanism that can lead to the attainment of a lasting solution to the crisis that is plaguing the beleaguered people of Somalia and Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s insistence on keeping Somali warlords as their sole interlocutors on matters of strategic importance to both countries has proven to be less palatable and counterproductive.
The defeat of the “Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter Terrorism” in Mogadishu has been greeted with jubilation. The victory of the ICU is viewed as the beginning of a new dawn for the people of Mogadishu and other areas of southern Somalia. The ICU has restored law and order in these areas. But their critics fear the emergence of Somalia’s Taliban. Notwithstanding these perceptions, the ICU must portray the image of a movement that is poised to grapple with the issue of violence and insecurity that have left Somalia “a festering swamp” for over 15 years now.

To remain credible and enjoy the support of the Somali people and the international community, ICU must get rid of those warlords who are reputed for their notoriety and who have enriched themselves from the exportation of charcoal and the issuance of illegal fishing licenses to foreign vessels. Many believe that these warlords have been exempted by the Islamic Courts and are immune to the ongoing warlord cleansing in Mogadishu and in other regions.

Moreover, the Islamic Courts Union must dispel the notion that it is a re-incarnation of the USC – a clan-based movement that has previously failed to deliver, but now poised to restore its power through radical Islamism.

ICU’s critics also argue that the movement is riven by internal divisions exacerbated by fundamental rifts between moderate and radical clerics, on one hand, and between the different Islamic groups, on the other. For the ICU to remain viable, it is important that these internal divisions that appear to have already surfaced are put to an end before they begin to hamstring the organization and render it ineffective.       
ICU must embrace the initiatives of the International Somalia Contact Groups. It must also be engaged with international and regional actors, which are painstakingly committed to the resuscitation of the war-torn Somalia.

The International Somalia Contact Group must endeavour to force the Ethiopian government to establish good neighbourly relations with the government and people of Somalia. It is in the interest of the Ethiopian government to have a reconstituted Somali state that is at peace with itself and at peace with its neighbours.  Violence is not an option. What is needed is the adoption of idea-based measures that would enable to transcend the cycle of destructive violence with the need to explore ways to remove the structural roots of the problems.

Buri M. Hamza
Toronto, Canada
E-Mail: [email protected]

The opinions contained in this article are solely those of the writer, and in no way, form or shape represent the editorial opinions of "Hiiraan Online"

(1) A Press Release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, dated November 28, 2001.

(2) See Crisis Group Report No. 116, Can Somalia Crisis be Contained, 10 August 2006,

(3) See PINR Report, War Clouds Loom over Somalia as Military Fronts Open Up Amid a Flurry of Diplomacy, 16 October, 2006

(4) See Crisis Group Report No. 100, Somalia’s Islamists, 12  December 2005, p. 1


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