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The new age of Ethiopian imperialism

by Muhammad Suldaan Said
Thursday, July 23, 2015

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At the turn of 19th century in 1884, European imperial powers hastily convened in Berlin, Germany. Otto von Bismark, the first chancellor of Germany then; hosted what will later be known as the “scramble for Africa” to negotiate burning questions about the control of Africa. Bismark being a sharp politician himself, sensed the golden opportunity to expand Germany's sphere of influence over Africa and wanted to thrust Germany's historical rivals---Britain and France to struggle with one another for territorial gains. In that awful conference whose dreadful legacies are still being felt in our continent, fourteen countries and empires all European except America, were represented by a plethora of representatives with ministerial as well as ambassadorial capacities.

The Conference as some argue did not start off European colonization of Africa, but only formalized and gave legitimacy to the process. The European powers were already in Africa though confined their imperial ambitions in the coastal outposts from which they could coordinate their economic and military influence. As delegates began to debate over what to do with this vast untapped continent, Abyssinia as was then Ethiopia known; was fully made aware of the conference and may even had low level representation at it. European powers agreed to exempt Abyssinia from their claims to African territories and recognized it as sovereign country with its traditional borders-Amhara, Tigray, Oromia. Just as European imperial powers curved up Africa for their growing industrial sectors as well as a potential market for the goods produced by European factories laboured by African slaves, Abyssinia too began her own scramble for Africa and as a result enormously expanded its territory by incorporating Sidama, Afar and later Ogeden into her empire.

Today once again Ethiopia is a rising regional power and its solid economic growth, active diplomacy and military build-up is already felt in the region. As Ethiopia continues to grapple with the sheer reality of becoming a formidable regional power, neighbouring countries including mine Somalia, fear the wrenching hegemonic transition that comes with this newly-found status. In sharp contrast with the grinding poverty and famines that for too long characterised Ethiopia, the largest landlocked country in our continent, is quickly becoming the quintessential embodiment of Africa rising narrative. The DGP growth between 2013-2014 was about 10.5 per cent and the nation is determining to maintain this impressive double digit economic growth. The government is presenting Ethiopia as manufacturing hub in the region particularly in regards to agro processing and textiles, they also increased the production of sugar, leather products and cement.

While Ethiopia’s economic miracles should be praised and embraced as a rare commodity of ‘African’ success, its aggressive imperial policy towards Somalia and the entire region as a whole; is not conducive to promoting long-term regional stability and prosperity. Addis Ababa deliberately pursuits a comprehensive, conceptual and consistent policy of undermining the creation of a viable Somali state. In the international arenas, Ethiopia presents itself as a spectacular beacon of peace, harmony and stabilising factor of what is otherwise a troubled part of Africa. Being member of troop contributing countries to AMISOM peace keeping mission in Somalia, it portraits itself as the guardian of peace but in reality that is nothing more than an orchestrated litany of lies. On the contrary, the presence of Ethiopian forces in Somalia only advances her expansionism long-term ambitions.

Unfortunately if history is any guide, nations with imperialistic tendencies hide behind such a vile rhetoric as they proceed to defend their pernicious interests. In 1884 David Livingstone, a Scottish Congregationalist and a conscious promoter of European colonization of Africa, famously said “the only way to liberate Africa is to introduce the 'three Cs' commerce, Christianity and civilisation”. He was merely concealing his fundamental ambition of colonising Africa and ultimately his proposals contributed to European colonization of Africa. To put it bluntly, Ethiopia’s empire of the mind strategy, considers Somalia as its backyard sphere of influence obliged to act as a satellite state. It heavily influences or perhaps frames the policies of regional Somali administrations whose leaders are obsessed with civil war-era grudges. It employs soft power in regard to these confrontational regional entities in order to arm-twist them into its malicious geopolitical orbit, this major soft power project enables Addis Ababa not to spend as much on sticks and carrots to steer them in Ethiopia’s direction at the expense of Somalis sense of pride. Ethiopia’s authoritarian soft power tools designed for these subservient regional administrations include: generous scholarships for students, invitations to attend at particular conferences to make them admire her ideals, using its airport for international departures and finally questionable military assistance.

This belligerent attitude however, of disregarding territorial integrity, political independence and African fraternity of its near abroad neighbours is not confined to Somalia alone, According to Kenyan media reports; Ethiopian defence forces regularly cross the border between them into Kenya without prior knowledge of Kenyan security establishment. The last known of such incident happened at Illeret Police Station in the country's North Horr constituency when 10 heavily armed Ethiopian vehicles entered the area disembarking from their trucks and promptly began to take strategic locations around the police station. This year alone as Daily Nation newspaper revealed, Ethiopian troops infiltrated into Kenyan territory “not less than three times” either pursuing Oromo Liberation Front members or simply ignoring Kenya’s sovereignty which is both alarming and a grave violation of international law.

After decades of political instability, civil strife, climate change disasters and religious extremism; Somalia is finally crawling out of the jungle and the fog of war that classified our nation as a “failed state” is at last lifting. Despite the fact that neighbouring countries or at least some of them are still creating problems for the Somali central government, state institutions although imperfect and flawed are nonetheless starting to function. Cognizant of the political sensitivities within Somali regions, further complicated by external back-stabbing scheme emanating from the frontline countries; Somali federal and regional leaders are trying their utmost to get their acts together and bridge the trust deficit between the core and the peripheries. 

Our people are resilient with incredible rich history and culture, filled with poetry and literature; they have a clear understanding of their objectives of obtaining peace, stability and brotherhood. Their entrepreneurial skills are legendary, unchallenged and supersedes that of the entire continent in spirit, from Cape to Cairo, Somali businesses are thriving. Somali diasporic intellectuals in conjunction with various stakeholders, are building and restoring educational institutions to provide essential educational services.


Ethiopia has a clear choice to make as it continues to grow economically and militarily, it can either choose to build up its political and diplomatic status as a major responsible country in our sub-region or otherwise behave like a big bully brother. Despite the lingering of historical enmity and suspicion between our two nations, nevertheless we are bound by multiple factors and therefore, we must adopt the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, namely; mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other's internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence with that we shall all prosper.

Muhammad Suldaan Said
[email protected]
Said is studying Sociology and History at Kingston University in London, UK

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