The Intractable Somali Conundrum

The past few months will probably be recorded as being one of the rarest in the history of the Horn of Africa since an unprecedented tripartite alliance was formed by old foes Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia heralding the dawn of a new era.

The Horn has now become a focal point with rival global superpowers competing to take center stage.Following the coming to power of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the new administration in Addis Ababa has been vigorously talking about integrating the troubled region. In fact in his most recent meeting at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Prime Minister Abiy emphasized on the need to integrate the countries in the Horn. He was heard saying that there is no need to have separate embassies of countries from the Horn of Africa to other parts of the world.

Back in November 2018 the leaders of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia met in Ethiopia and agreed on strengthening their ties.

During his visit, President of Somalia, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed a.k.a. Farmajo said: “The history of the Horn of Africa has changed and the meeting was a testimony.”  He also called for more regional partnerships in the economic sphere and other aspects as well.

Eventually, Ethiopian Airlines resumed flights from Addis Ababa to Mogadishu, which was suspended 40 years ago.

These three countries have been going through a rough path where they were playing against one other. Particularly, when it comes to Somalia and Ethiopia, their history was filled with war and enmity.

For instance, in 2007, following the coming of an Islamist organization – the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) – to power in Somalia, the Ethiopian government decided to send its troops. Earlier, the ICU labeled Ethiopia as enemy and announced that it will work against the national interest of Ethiopia.

The following year, which is after the ICU assumed power, it was overthrown and a new transitional government assisted by Ethiopia and the African Union was brought to the fore.

Following its defeat, the ICU was divided into fragmented groups which also gave rise to radical elements such as Al-Shabaab – a group that has been engaged in fighting with Ethiopian, African Union and transitional government troops.

Al-Shabaab, since then, has become a security threat not only for Somalia but also for the whole region. The group has also managed to widen its sphere and create links with globally known terrorists groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS.

For years, the group has successfully launched a number of attacks in Somalia as well as neighboring Kenya.

Just recently, the group waged a number of terror attacks which claimed the lives of many Kenyans.

Even though the group suffered crushing defeats and airstrikes by AMISOM and US drones, it is still active and is creating more threats in the region.

In the late 2000s the group has managed to control a significant number of Somalia’s territory. However, from 2013 onwards, the group was weakened and fragmented following the death of its leader, Mukhtar Abu Zubair and again the defection of its deputy, Mukhtar Robow, a.k.a. Abu Mansur.

Yet, in 2017, the group has again managed to launch a number of attacks in the region.

Following the recent renewed friendship between countries in the Horn, many believe that the new developments will put high pressure on Al-Shabaab and the group will retreat.

Moreover, the news of the participation of the former deputy of Al-Shabaab in elections has created hope that others within Al- Shabaab will join the same path and leave the group.

However, his plan to join the politics of Somalia cut short following his arrest, allegedly by Ethiopian troops.

Robow was a significant personality within Al-Shabaab and has a support from places like Baidowa and South West of Somalia in general. He was also involved in helping and providing support for Al-Itihaad Al-Islamiyya, a group which was active in Somali region, particularly in the 1990s. Al Itihaad and its groups were crushed by the Ethiopian army back in 1997.

The aforementioned arrest of Robow has created a problem for Somalia on the security and diplomatic front.

Initially, the so-called supporters of Rabow took to the streets to protest the action of the Somali government. Then the protests gained political momentum which somehow shook Villa Somalia.

Close to 100 members of the Somali parliament demanded his release and threatened to impeach the President. Many have also criticized the intervention of Ethiopian troops.

Moreover, UN mission head in Somalia, Nicholas Haysom, asked the Somali government clarification in relation to Robow’s arrest. Unfortunately, his request was not welcomed by President Farmajo which eventually led to Hayson being ordered to leave the country.

“Detaining Robow and imposing Laftagareen, the Federal Government is alienating a huge clan constituency: both men belong to the Rahanweyn, one of Somalia’s four main clans, but Robow comes from the biggest and most influential sub-clan. In drawing in Ethiopia to enforce its writ, the Somalia Government is inflaming anti-Ethiopian sentiments, Rashid Abdi, Horn of Africa Project Director at International Crisis Group, wrote.

“Many Rahanweyn, a clan which Addis Ababa has long courted, will likely now resent how brazenly Ethiopia has interfered in Somali politics. With Robow’s arrest, it signals to other insurgent leaders that giving up their struggle can land them in jail,” Abdi said.

Following the recent backslashes in Somalia politics, Al-Shabaab had successfully launch two attacks in Kenya. In addition, the group has managed to ambush a convoy carrying Ethiopian military members. In this regard, the Ethiopian government has admitted the ambush and said it will launch an offensive.

Given the vulnerability in the politics of Ethiopia and Somalia many fear that Al-Shabbab might get the upper hand to spread its influence.

In this regard, the fragility in the region might create loopholes so that Al-Shabaab would use it for its own end goal of destabilizing the region.

Source: The Ethiopian Reporter

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