September 21, 2008
According to a source with intimate knowledge about the affairs of the hilltop palace of Meles Zenawi, the prime minister of Ethiopia, who is not willing to be quoted due to the sensitivity of the issue, Meles has commissioned a committee of Somali specialists early this year to come up with a strategic analysis and a menu of options with respect to Ethiopian national interest towards Somalia. The committee chaired by Ethiopia´s foremost expert on Somalia, Dr. Alemu Tekede, minister of state for foreign affairs, comprised senior officials of the ruling EPRDF, several military generals and security and intelligence officers.
According to the source, after five long months of deliberations, the committee submitted to Meles a well-thought-out “red” dossier containing confidential policy proposals in last August. The committee of experts persuasively argued that the reconstitution of Somalia to its pre-1991 status would not serve the national interest of Ethiopia. Furthermore, the committee emphasized the possibility of landlocked Ethiopia becoming “sandwiched” between two hostile countries, i.e. Eritrea in the north and Somalia in the south, underlining Ethiopia´s vulnerability to gruesome civil-war and disintegration if the current Ethiopian efforts in Somalia fail and the country fall back to the hand of ousted Islamic forces. The committee further emphasized the possibility of Ethiopian Muslims becoming influenced or radicalized by Somalia´s Islamists which could ultimately ignite a devastating religious war in the country.
The committee recommended the following propositions:
- A two-state solution for Somalia along the pre-independence colonial boundaries. The committee suggested the Ethiopian government play a lead role in advocating for the international recognition of the breakaway republic of Somaliland.
- Southern Somalia (former Italian Somaliland) to be divided into four federal regions in line with ethnic based Ethiopian federal system, namely, Puntland, Hawiyeland, Jubbaland and Rahanweinland.
- The Somali region of Ethiopia to be “isolated” from the rest of Somalia, and limit to the extent possible commercial and traffic links between the Somali region and Somalia.
According to the source, Meles has discussed the proposed two state solutions with Rayaale Kahin, the president of Somaliland, Abdillahi Yusuf, the president of the TFG, and with Mohamed Gedi, the prime minister of the TFG, in separate meetings held in September in Addis Ababa. While Mr. Yusuf rejected any discussion on the subject, Mr. Rayaale has praised the initiative and committed to deploy ten thousand Somaliland troops in Mogadishu to work with Ethiopian military forces to help quell the growing insurgency in the Somali capital. Mr. Rayaale also assured Meles that Somaliland will help Ethiopia in subduing the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), a Somali rebel group based in the Somali region of Ethiopia.
According to the source, Mr. Gedi began to entertain the two-state notion after the rift between him and Mr. Yusuf reached to a point of no-return, though he reportedly rebuffed the idea in the initial discussion back in September. The relationship between Yusuf and Meles has deteriorated since, according to this knowledgeable source.
Subsequent to the September discussion between Meles and Rayaale, a Somaliland delegation comprising ministers of foreign affairs and finance and chief of staff of Somaliland army held several meetings in Addis Ababa with Dr. Tekede and the chief of staff of Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF).
The two sides discussed the role Somaliland can play in quelling the growing insurgency in Mogadishu and part of the Somali region of Ethiopia, deployment of Ethiopian troops to Berbera to protect Ethiopian military hardware coming through the Somaliland controlled Red Sea port and Ethiopia´s support to Rayaale´s re-election for another five years term. The Somaliland delegation highlighted the fear of Somaliland drifting towards Eritrea if the KULMIYE opposition party wins the presidential election scheduled to take place mid next year. The Somaliland delegation also tabled a number of evidences accusing Puntland of providing sanctuary to ONLF and Oromo dissident groups.
The Somaliland delegation has agreed to send an advance team of military officers to Mogadishu to pave the way for the eventual deployment of Somaliland troops in Mogadishu and to extradite to Ethiopia members of the Ogaden clan residing in the territory of Somaliland. Ethiopian government believes that the ONLF is drawing support from Ogaden businessmen and some segments of the Issaq clan who largely hail from the Togdheer region of Somaliland. In light of these discussions, Somaliland was given the green light to secure the borders of the former British Somaliland.
According to the source, Meles has taken into confidence members of the Ethiopian opposition parties who have fully endorsed the proposed two-state solution for Somalia.
With the blessing of the Bush Administration, Ethiopian troops invaded Mogadishu and much of southern Somalia in last December. They were successful in overthrowing the radical Islamist dominated regime of the UIC and in installing divided and unpopular TFG.
His troops bogged down in the messy quagmire of Mogadishu where the remnants of the ousted Union of Islamic Court (UIC) continues to wage Iraq-style bloody insurgency, Meles is understandably frustrated with the apparent failure of the internationally recognized but toothless fledgling Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in pacifying the tumultuous Somali capital. The Somali experts in Addis Ababa view the two-state solution as a vital long-term strategy for Ethiopia´s national interest.
E-Mail: Tamrat.nega AT gmail.com