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A pragmatic snapshot of Ethiopia’s foreign policy in the sub region

A pragmatic snapshot of Ethiopia’s foreign policy in the sub region


Abdulkadir Mohammed




onflict in its very nature disrupt peace and tranquility of a given nation and shake its socio economic and political makeup. Besides, in this overly intertwined world, the spillover effect counts a lot as success of a given state is directly related to peace, amity and stability in its neighbors.

There were and are zealous critics that always tend to consider Ethiopia’s diplomatic engagement in neighboring countries either as farcical or having an interventionist mentality. Hence, it is imperative  to enunciate scenarios (if any) that warrants Ethiopia’s  engagement with peacemaking initiatives in neighboring countries and what returns it may accrue by doing so.

For a nation to do well, government machineries and resilient institutions should be put in place.  Here, it is pertinent to make a historical comparison on the situation of Ethiopia and Somalia in the early 1990’s. During those days, both states were ruled by military junta, engaged in lingering wars and there were no space for the civilians to lead peaceful life.

Ethiopia by that time was hell to dwell as the Dergue regime suppressed all sorts of dissent by every means. For this very reason, ethnic based armed groups proliferated against the regime and Ethiopia was believed to have been at the brink of disintegration.

When we see the case of Somalia, the Ziad barre regime was already fractured as it could not provide the requisite peace, stability and basic necessities for its citizens. Besides, it could not relinquish the totally hallucinated intention of building greater Somalia.

Many speculated that these two states are nearly on the same page with regard to their immediate upcoming fate i.e. dissolution. Nonetheless, after the demise of the stratocracy, what miracle on earth happened for Ethiopia to emerge as a strong, thriving nation whereas Somalia; as a struggling and failed state?

The bottom line is that, Ethiopia healing from those scars hugely engaged itself in building strong institutions which in turn helped in consolidating power. The role of individuals and shady elite interests were curbed and everyday life channeled through predetermined rules and procedures. Accountability established in all the system to rectify misdeeds. Yet in Somalia, instead of establishing effective and effectual institutions, the key players in every aspect of life became powerful individuals and clan chiefs which personified the state system according to their personality cult and demand.  Far-flung from building institutions, one clan step over the other in search of dominance, serving peoples interest left astray and they could not even manage the differences they have let alone to introduce a full-fledged state.  This has paved the way for corruption, lack of good governance and anarchy by which its impact brought far reaching and Trans boundary setbacks.

A quintessential manifestation for Trans boundary chaos in the sub region is Somalia. It has not had an effective central government since 1991 creating a fertile ground for multi clan based militant groups. In fact, Ethiopia beginning from the early 90’s was a victim of terrorist attacks which had been mounted from groups like Al-Ithad Al Islamia: a brutal breed from neighboring Somalia. Amongst the recent phenomenon’s, we had also witnessed the rhetoric of Jihad pronouncement against Ethiopia by the Union of Islamic Court principally led by Hassan Dahir Aways. However, why does a terrorist act persist in countries like Kenya and Uganda whereas its incidence dramatically declined upon Ethiopia? Is it because the terrorist groups have no more interest in tarnishing Ethiopia’s image?

There were countless plots foiled by joint collaboration of the peace loving people and security task force. By appraising its vulnerability, Ethiopia learnt a lot on how to tackle such malevolent acts. Thus, mobilized huge resources by introducing citizen centered protection mechanisms and massively invested in its diplomatic engagements so that neighboring instabilities get an attention from the international community. For one’s surprise, Ethiopia; after effectively tackling those problems goes to the extent of being the major contributor of peace keeping force in the world.

The other destabilizing element is the regional proxy of Al-Qaeda i.e. Al shabaab. It used to be locally focused even if some of their recruits were from countries such as Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda by which special training is offered to them about non-conventional warfare and insurgency. The more recruits from those mentioned countries, the multifarious the internal stability of these countries fall at stake which in turn bring about regional disruption. Perceptive of practical facts, militant groups even go to the extent of infiltrating their spies and other missionaries to such camps so that they can wage an insurgency from within. For instance one can take the case of Kenyan refugee camps where lots of Al shabaab insurgents conscript members and destabilize the state. Such instances will leave the countries future remain uncertain. The attack in Garissa could be cited as potent evidence. Thus, it is important to calculate the level of imminent threat posed against Ethiopia.

The conflict both in Somalia and South Sudan brought about large scale humanitarian chaos leaving millions into catastrophic starvation and subsequent increment in death toll. This would require the international community and development partners to divert large sum of wealth (which could have been destined for development causes) into humanitarian assistance. In addition, migration and internally displaced people numerically over whelm and it would have an impact on neighboring countries coffer as they are expected by international Law and custom to provide shelter.

Conflict prone regions being safe haven for breeding terrorism; bring about utter complications due to their susceptibility for acts of terrorism, organized crime and piracy. These acts may happen in Somalia but its drastic effect would bear cumbersome responsibility to other countries like Ethiopia and its citizens at large. For the worse, these illegally financed groups use the money in order to fund acts of terrorism in the region bringing further vicious circle of glitches.

The success of Ethiopia is directly correlated to peace and stability in its neighboring states. Its engagement in bringing law and order in those countries is driven by the desire and only the desire to bring about peace, stability and development to the conflict torn and prone sub region: not the mediocre thinking of mere ‘expansionism’ as some declare. Otherwise, the logic of the sinking ship and its crew will hold true to the Somalia and South Sudan people and the sub region at large.

Ethiopia; as written in black and white under the Foreign and National Security Policy document; is fully determined for good neighborliness and friendship among states. It reiterates that sustenance of its growth and development cannot be secured if neighboring countries are at persistent violence and instability. Hence, to avoid the spillover effect, it is doing its best to bring peace and stability in the sub region and its outcome can be witnessed from fostering peacemaking causes and the role it plays in the fight against international terrorism. Hereunder discussed could be cited as an example.

First, after a protracted mediation process mainly hosted and brokered by Ethiopia, a federal government was established in Somalia even if it is not to its full stature. Apart from the victory they got in bringing their own constitution, they have now an assembly where they can speak their mind and deliberate on issues of concern. This is a tremendous outcome which Ethiopia gets full credit.

Second, more or less Ethiopia played the midwifery role when South Sudan came into existence. That event ceased decade’s long war between the north and south sparing civilians from further catastrophe. Besides, the tension which grew between South Sudan with the republic of Sudan in the disputed Abiye region came into resolute by deploying Ethiopian peace keeping forces. As there was severe mistrust between the two, had there been no such deployment, the persecution could have been enormous.

Third, the latest rift in South Sudan between government and opposition political elites also brought grave humanitarian loss and sufferings. Ethiopia as a member of IGAD intensively engaged itself in hosting and mediating peace processes by bringing warring groups together to find a lasting solution even if it is found to be rough.

In a nutshell, the reasons given above abound, political progress remains the key in ensuring long-term stability in the sub region especially in Somalia and South Sudan. Ethiopia shall avow itself of continuing its effort in fostering peace process and fighting insurgency with or without support of the international community at large, as it is incumbent to do so as internal security is the essential pre requisite for further progress in all other endeavors.

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