OPINION – Somalia should shape Horn of Africa’s geopolitics
Türkiye supports Somalia, through infrastructure, institutional building projects, and providing scholarships to students
The Horn of Africa region is full of untapped natural resources, including gas, oil, and minerals. But, regrettably, the region is also familiar with destitution, frequent droughts, famines, internecine communal violence, and political instability and insecurity. In addition, Horn of Africa countries are victims of Western economic hitmen and will be forever obligated to the endless Western debt.
The tottering political transitions in Sudan and Ethiopia contribute to the instability in the region. Both countries are facing intractable transitions. Ethiopia’s former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned in 2018 because of protracted civil unrest and demonstrations, mainly in the Oromo region, which later spread to the Amhara region. Sudan has more or less confronted its unstable transition after President Omar al-Bashir was ousted by the military in 2019.
Kenya and Somalia’s intermittent diplomatic clashes
The neighboring countries of Kenya and Somalia have a deep-rooted relationship. Somalis are among the most influential communities in Kenya. They have colossal businesses in the country. They have prominent politicians in Kenya’s North Eastern Province, formerly known as the Northern Frontier District (NFD). Kenya hosted the largest number of Somali refugees after the civil war erupted in Somalia in 1991. Kenya also exports khat, a mildly narcotic native shrub, to Somalia and receives a colossal amount of money from Somalia. When Somalia filed a maritime boundary case against Kenya with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2014, ties between the two nations deteriorated dramatically. In February 2017, when the former government of Somalia led by Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, also known as Farmajo, came to power and stopped importing khat from Kenya and opted to import it instead from Ethiopia, relations became strained.
As a result, the two countries summoned their ambassadors and finally cut ties.
On Oct. 12, 2021, the ICJ issued a long-awaited judgment demarcating the two countries’ maritime boundary, ruling mostly in Somalia’s favor.
Since then, the two countries’ diplomatic relations have become inflamed. The Somali government has rebuked Kenya for meddling in its internal affairs by supporting the current leadership of Somalia’s Jubaland State to eviscerate the federal government.
On May 15, President Farmajo lost his re-election bid and was succeeded by Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as president. Mohamud started mending fences with the neighboring countries under his slogan “Somalia at peace with itself and the world.” As part of this fetching mantra, the president has expedited his efforts to repair the lost diplomatic ties with the neighboring countries. Within his first two months in office, Mohamud visited the United Arab Emirates, Türkiye, Eritrea, and Kenya, where he reached agreements with his counterparts.
On July 15, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and President Mohamud signed an agreement for restoring ties and cordial relations between the two countries. According to the agreement, Kenya will resume exporting khat to Somalia, and in exchange, it will import fish from the country. But the trade agreement has faced plenty of criticism from Somali intellectuals and talking heads and has been labeled unfair.
Somalia-Djibouti: Smoothening strained ties
Somalis consider Djibouti their second country. But the last five years under the government led by Farmajo created uncalled-for diplomatic tensions between the two brotherly nations. Djibouti was not part of the failed Tripartite Agreement between Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea, and this led to them feeling politically ostracized.
The Trojan horse deal between Farmajo, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki was to extend their seats beyond their constitutional terms. That is why a plethora of Somalis had not supported the Tripartite Agreement as long as Djibouti was not part of it, and no one knows the nitty-gritty of it as it was veiled in secrecy. During a two-day official visit of President Mohamud to Djibouti, he promised a tight-knit relationship with Somalia and Djibouti.
Eritrea: Pariah State!
Some argue that Eritrean President Afwerki is a modern-day robber baron to steal the nascent democracy in the region. Amid the Tripartite Agreement, Afwerki was the de facto leader and mover and shaker. He masterminded the vicious war against Ethiopia’s Tigray region by supporting Prime Minister Ahmed’s side, and many Eritrean troops participated in the Tigray war. Although in the beginning, the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) entered the capital of Tigray, Mekelle, they ended up withdrawing in a dramatic defeat by the restive forces. Also, Afwerki inspired Farmajo to imitate his dictatorial style. As such, Farmajo’s regime did everything possible to remain at the helm. He delayed parliamentary and presidential elections for too long, oppressed the dissenting voices, cut ties with neighboring countries, and surreptitiously sent Somali cadets to Eritrea. With all these unbecoming acts, Farmajo’s swashbuckling adventures ended up in vain. He lost touch with reality. Eritrea is spreading its cancerous tentacles across the region. Especially Afwerki’s uncanny ability to outmaneuver everyone is so dangerous.
Türkiye and other international partners
Türkiye came to the aid of Somalia during the deadly drought and famine in 2011. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was then prime minister, arrived in the capital Mogadishu and visited camps housing internally displaced persons (IDPs). That humanity and bold move by Erdogan mesmerized and captivated the attention of the world. Since then, Türkiye has been supporting Somalia, especially through infrastructure and institutional building projects, providing scholarships to Somali students, and other commendable works. Many Somali talking heads believe that Türkiye is a staunch partner of Somalia.
The other remarkable thing is that some analysts argue that Türkiye has never intervened politically in Somalia’s internal affairs, while other partners including Qatar and the UAE are doing the opposite. The incumbent government is repairing the lost ties with the international community and accommodating all the partners for the sake of Somalia’s interests. The former government cut ties with the UAE, while it considered Qatar as near and dear. As a result, Somalia was a victim of the Gulf diplomatic crisis that began in 2017.
Somali regional diaspora
Apart from Somalia, Somalis are scattered across the region, including in Djibouti, Kenya, and Ethiopia, except Eritrea. Somalis have business acumen and they move around for business purposes. In Kenya, they have plenty of businesses, especially in the Eastleigh market in Nairobi, which is also known as “Little Mogadishu.” As such, they have political clout in these countries. Therefore, Somalia should take the lead and restructure the geopolitics of the Horn of Africa.
The opinions of this commentary are solely those of the author.
Anwar Abdifatah Bashiir – Think Tank, Ph.D. Student