There is a Somali proverb which says “Aanu wada hadalno wa aanu heshiino”, when translated means; initiating dialogue between opposing sides will finally end in peace.
This is an apt description of mediation in peacebuilding; voluntary acts of facilitation by a third party (e.g. Djibouti) to help disputants (in this case; Somaliland and Somalia) reach a sustainable peace agreement.
So let us idealize what the characteristics of the mediator should be. They should be impartial, neutral, committed and well experienced in the disputed issues and familiar with their indigenous perceptions, cultures, values and norms.
The mediation process in Djibouti between Somaliland and Somalia which took place on the 14th of June, 2020 is unprecedented in its kind, both due to the caliber and number of delegations participating such as the President of Djibouti, Mr. Ismail Omer Gelle; the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Mr. Abiye Ahmed; the President of Somaliland, Mr. Muse Bixi; the President of Somalia, Mr. Mohamed Abdillahi ‘’Farmaajo’’; the Ambassador of United States, Mr. Donald Yamamato and finally, various other delegations from IGAD, AU and EU.
An interesting detail to note is that there remains a period of only months before the duration of the presidential term of Mohamed Abdillahi Farmaajo comes to a close. This has raised many questions in the minds of the Somali people, again both of the ‘timing’ and the sudden ‘high priority status’ accorded to the meeting by the United States and the Ethiopian governments in particular and the international community in general. To illuminate what this entails, I believe we have to look at the interest held by these two countries in Somalia and what is at stake.
In 16th of February, 2017, President Mohamed Abdillahi Farmaajo was elected in a landslide by the Somali congress. They elected him with the high hopes that by giving him the mandate to lead the country, President Mohamed Abdillahi Farmaajo will enact his election promises of forming a concise, hardworking and qualified government which upholds law and order, transparency, oppose structural corruption and nepotism while minimizing acts of terrorism by Al Shabaab in the country. A lesser known but just as significant reason for the strong backing of the current administration initially was the expectation that they would form a strong government that can withstand any foreign military and political interference within Somali affairs in general and particularly from the historical enemy of Somalia, Ethiopia, under the guidance of their representative in Mogdishu, then, the strong man General Gabre.
Fast forward to today, after three years and a half in office, the Somali people have become disillusioned with President Mohamed Abdillahi‘s inept handling of the government which has worsened the daily life of the people of Somalia, a fact reflected by the lack of progress in every issue the government had promised to tackle. To pinpoint out how things went wrong for the Somalia President, we have to go back towards the first steps he had taken:
Despite the Somali government adopting the federal system, the President had started to suppress the authorities of the federal states and chose to go into direct confrontation with them, expending valuable time and resources. He did succeed in controlling and putting under his influence; the two states of South West and Hir Shabelle with the help of the Ethiopian government led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. However, in turn, the President has lost the trust of the other federal states. Puntland and Jubaland states have nearly cut ties with the federal government while Galmudug state is in turmoil and their administration had collapsed due to interference from the presidential administration.
With regards to why Ethiopia are providing strong support of the Somalian President, it is important to remember that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power as a result of the political upheaval caused by the uprising of the Oromia people – and thus the first time an Oromia official rules Ethiopia. Prime minister Abiy Ahmed, being well aware of the historical suppression and oppression of the Oromia by the Amhara and Tigre rulers, has sought to seize this opportunity afforded to him and change the longstanding foreign policy stratagems of his predecessors in spite of the imminent risks to his administration that is expected from his foes inside Ethiopia; particularly the leaders of Amhara, Tigre and the Oromia Liberation Front. This has compelled Abiy Ahmed to find new alliances and that is why he has made peace with Eritrea, the traditional foe of TPLF and Somalia, the traditional enemy of Amhara.
President Mohamed Abdillahi, with the help of his mentor Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, has put a lot of diplomatic and economic pressure on Somaliland and tried to stop the flow of international donations and investments to the country, including the expansion of Berbera port by DP World, of which interestingly, there are currently rumours that Ethiopia is seeking to freeze its 19% share ownership of the Berbera port. This all demonstrates the subtle desire of the Somalia President to demonstrate influence within the region and showcase strong leadership despite the risk of actually being perceived as spiteful and vindictive by the Somali people.
The United States and other western countries have pumped billions of dollars to stabilize Somalia by strengthening its security and armed forces and pay the salaries of 21,000 UNISOM soldiers present in Somalia. The end goal of these countries with their involvement is generally considered to involve limiting the influence of countries such as Turkey and China in the region. Despite their intentions however, the reality on the ground shows that little has changed in respect to the security situation with explosions and attacks by Al-Shabaab occurring regularly in the capital Mogadishu and across Somalia in general. Furthermore, nepotism and corruption have become the norm in Somalia, an ongoing matter of disappointment for the western countries who had high hopes for the administration of President Mohamed Abdillahi to seriously tackle this issue.
With the presidential term of Mohamed Abdillahi Farmaajo coming to an unsatisfactory end, his allies, namely the United States, Ethiopia and other western countries have sought to launch a last ditch attempt in salvaging his legacy among the Somali people by holding a high calibre mediation conference in Djibouti between Somaliland and Somalia. Their bet was to demonstrate that Somaliland are willing to come back to the fold of Somalia and this would be a winning proposition to the Somali public. In their diplomatic sessions, it was clear that they felt that an apology from Somalia by President Mohamed Abdillahi to the people of Somaliland for the atrocities committed to them by Siyad Bare would be enough to heal all wounds and provide grounds for immediate reunion. However, the fact remains that Somaliland approached this opportunity for mediation to take some time to build trust between the two states and in addition, the fulfillment of the outcomes from the three previous agreements. The main outcomes that had resulted from this latest attempt at mediation namely included joint management of the air space in Somaliland; a stop to the placement of any obstacles towards the flow of international aid and investment to Somaliland and co-operation in security and free movement of the Somali people between the two countries.
With the Djibouti mediation coming to a deadlock, a communique was finally issued calling for the formation of three committees to tackle the three issues mentioned above as a means of ensuring that the meeting did not officially end up as a failure, but which has to be admitted, will not bear further fruit as past history has already taught us.
Eng Bashe ( Ismail) Abdi Gaboobe ( MA in peace building from Coventry University )
Email: gaboobe _3@ hotmail.com