Bereket Gebru 11-07-16
Ethiopia’s engagement with its neighbors has increased tremendously under the current regime with bilateral and multilateral economic, diplomatic and military cooperation soaring in the past quarter of a century. The same period has seen regional stability and national unity deteriorate in the horn of Africa.
The period saw Eritrea secede from Ethiopia, the state of Somalia fizzle away to give way to numerous political entities still chasing sovereignty, Ethiopia and Eritrea go to war, the Sudan go through civil war and humanitarian crisis in Darfur, Eritrea go to war with Djibouti, South Sudan form its own state after seceding from the Sudan, Kenya and Ethiopia go through bloody aftermaths of elections, the new state South Sudan plummet into civil war and most of these countries hit by drought and famine at different times.
Ethiopia has been the most notable power pushing the region towards peace and stability. It held a peaceful referendum to let Eritrea claim its independence; it recognized Eritrea as an independent state; it brought numerous Somali factions to the round table through the Addis Ababa talks with hopes of establishing a strong Somali government; it tried to stabilize Darfur through its peacekeeping force; it settled its peacekeeping force in the Sudanese/South Sudanese disputed region of Abyei through backing from both governments; it is spearheading efforts towards normalizing the civil war in South Sudan; and it is host to the largest number of refugees who flee war and drought in the African continent.
Ethiopia’s foreign policy and security strategy that stresses peace and mutual benefit in its engagement with regional neighbors is the reason behind such a positive contribution. Ethiopia has also ventured into border crossing projects that are deemed to be vital in strengthening its relation with its neighbors. The potable water, electric power provision and railway connection projects with Djibouti, Kenya and the Sudan are just some instances of the country’s efforts towards regional economic interrelation.
Recently reports have, however, insinuated that Ethiopia has tracked back on one of its regional engagements by stating that the Ethiopian defense force left some areas of Somalia. In dealing with this issue, it is important to consider that Ethiopia’s military support to the government of Somalia intends to stabilize the latter, doing away with threats to peace and stability in Ethiopia that originate from Somalia.
Ethiopia’s foreign policy document clearly states in its part dealing with Somalia that the country’s relation with Somalia can contribute better to its development when there is peace and stability in the neighboring country. It goes on to state that regional peace through fighting unrest, terrorism and extremism is possible with the presence of a Somali government that stands in solidarity with other regional governments in dealing with the challenge.
A peaceful and stable Somalia can indeed be a positive factor towards peace, security and economic development in Ethiopia. Development efforts and democracy building could also benefit from a stable neighbor as the existing threats to peace emanating from Somalia would be replaced by opportunities for economic, social and political cooperation. Peace and stability in Somalia would, in general, help Ethiopia keep up its impressive economic growth and social development.
Apart from what we have in Somalia’s stability, the close social ties and long history of the people of the two countries also leaves Ethiopia with a great responsibility to do its part in returning Somalia to its former days of statehood and the glory that comes with it. Considering the people of Somalia are related ethnographically and through marriage with the people of Ethiopia, these strong bonds bestow upon Ethiopia a duty to contribute positively to normalize things in Somalia.
Accordingly, the Ethiopian defense force has conducted various military campaigns in Somalia at the request of its government and the African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). One of the most notable was its 2007 – 2009 campaign to annihilate the then prominent terrorist group “the union of Islamic courts.” In that campaign, the Ethiopian defense force along with the Somali people managed to completely wipe out the terrorist group. Its 2011 campaign then saw the confinement of Al-Shabaab Al Islamiya a.k.a Al-Shabaab to a small section of the country as the Ethiopian defense forces drove the terrorist group out of its former strongholds liberating the Somali people from its tight fists of oppression.
It was in January 2014 that the Ethiopian defense force received a request to serve the Somali people under AMISOM. Accordingly, the defense force accepted the request and sent 4,400 peacekeepers to serve in Somalia along with peacekeepers from other countries. Since then, this group of peacekeepers has been carrying out their duties under the auspices of AMISOM. Under its peacekeeping mission, the Ethiopian defense force controls the South Western Somali area between Baidoa and Gerbehare (Sector-3) and the area in Eastern Somali and its environs between Beledewein and Gorae (Sector-4).
In its areas of control, the Ethiopian defense force has managed to ensure peace and support the creation of a stable administrative structure. It is also laying the foundation for the first democratic national election in Somalia that will see the participation of the majority of the people of the country. It has also carried out activities towards the expansion of social services, social ownership of the security apparatus and creation of a conducive environment for humanitarian assistance.
Ethiopia, however, has a small number of defense experts that have been sent into duty by the Ethiopian government at the request of the government of Somalia. This small contingent is responsible for training, organizing and assisting the Somali security force build its capacity. This contingent force is not part of the Ethiopian peacekeeping force under AMISOM. It is set to return once it ensures that the Somali security forces have the required level of capacity. So, if there is any section of the Ethiopian defense force that has evacuated its post in Somalia and moved back to its country, it would most likely be a section of this small contingent and not of the peacekeeping force under AMISOM.
Considering the level of commitment Ethiopia has shown over the last couple of decades to the normalization of conditions in Somalia, an abrupt interruption of its mission would be highly unlikely. The fact that it has not recalled its peacekeepers shows yet again that Ethiopia is indeed dedicated to the creation of a stable Somali state.