Since its inception in 1963, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and its successor, the African Union (AU), have been hosted by Ethiopia. Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia was its first OAU chairman. Among the major pillars of the African Union’s mission is safeguarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of member states. Affirming commitments to its objectives, in its Cairo Declaration of Article 2 of resolution 16(1), the OAU pledged the independent African states to respect their inherited colonial borders. Through the Cairo Declaration, the OAU asserted that colonial borders be a sacrosanct boundary of African countries. In its effort to promote peace and security throughout the continent, the African Union established the Peace and Security Council in December 2003. The specific goal of the Peace and Security Council (PSC) is the “prevention, management, and resolution of conflicts.” In line with the above agreements and objectives of the African Union, we will see if Ethiopia deserves to continue hosting the African Union.
ETHIOPIA IS A THREAT TO REGIONAL PEACE.
Contrary to the objectives of the African Union, Ethiopia has been a source of instability in the Horn of Africa region. Following the 1977–1978 border war with Somalia, Ethiopia worked hard to make Somalia a failed state for three decades. In 2006, when Somalis started to organize themselves under the Union of Islamic Courts and began to bring normalcy to Somalia, Ethiopia invaded Somalia. The invasion of Somalia by Ethiopia created Al-Shabaab. In the pretext of fighting Al-Shabaab, Ethiopia is still in Somalia. According to the United Nations monitoring group report, Ethiopia, coupled with Yemen, is a major source of arms and logistics for Al-Shabaab.
As a continuation of its persistent effort to disremember Somalia, recently Ethiopia has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the breakaway unrecognized Somaliland. The MOU states that, in exchange for a share in Ethiopian Airlines and recognition of Somaliland as an independent country, Ethiopia will get a 20 km seacoast for building a naval base and commercial port. Such an agreement has all signs that indicate Ethiopia wants Somalia to remain a failed state.
Here is why:
- The MOU does not involve the Government of the Federal Republic of Somalia. Signing an agreement with Somaliland, which the world recognizes as part of Somalia, is in contravention of the African Union’s commitment to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of a member nation Somalia. If Ethiopia wanted to get a seacoast from Somalia, it should have negotiated with the Federal Government of the Republic of Somalia.
- Ethiopia is taking advantage of a neighboring country that is going through multiple challenges. Recently Somalia has been showing progress especially in its security sector. Neighboring countries like Eritrea have trained future Somalian Navy, Airforce, and Mechanized units. Such an effort to reconstitute Somalia did not bode well with Ethiopia. That is why Ethiopia is rushing to derail the effort to bring Somalia back from the Abyss.
- The MOU could antagonize Ethiopia with China, Turkey, Spain, and other countries that have similar secessionist problems. In the case of China, a major lender to Ethiopia, the recognition of Somaliland could pave the way for Taiwan to be recognized by the United States and some countries in Europe. Accordingly, China is expected to oppose the possible recognition of Somaliland by Ethiopia or any other country.
- The MOU does not have economic benefits to Ethiopia. The straight-line distance between Addis Ababa to Lughaya, Somaliland is 930 km. To build a road, a commercial port, and a naval base in Lughaya, Ethiopia will need billions of dollars that it does not have. Moreover, Ethiopia must pay an annual lease to Somaliland calculated based on an average of what Djibouti gets from leasing its land to foreign countries that have bases in Djibouti. For instance, the US base in Djibouti is 500 acres or 2.2 square km. and it pays $60 million a year. You can imagine how much Ethiopia needs to pay for the 20-kilometer seacoast. Even if Ethiopia pays half of what the USA pays to Djibouti, it is going to be a significant amount of money. All this money will be expended to show the world that Ethiopia has a navy on a leased base in Somaliland.
- The MOU is a danger to Ethiopia itself. Ethiopia is currently fighting with an Oromo separatist group, and the Tigrayans have harbored their long-held interest to separate from Ethiopia. Thus, the recognition of Somaliland by Ethiopia could open a floodgate for other countries including Somalia to recognize and support Ethiopian secessionist groups.
After being colonized by Italy for 50 years (1889-1941) and ten years (1941-1951) under the British Interim Administration, the United Nations forced Eritrea to be federated with Ethiopia in 1952. In 1962, Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie unilaterally dissolved the Federation and annexed Eritrea, triggering a 30-year armed struggle in Eritrea. Eritrea, which had a distinct flag, parliament, and national boundaries based on the 1900, 1902, and 1908 colonial agreements between Ethiopia and Italy, was turned into an administrative region of Ethiopia. Although the annexation of Eritrea happened two years before the 1964 Cairo declaration, it was a clear indication that Ethiopia had not been committed to peace and security in Africa. After 30 years of war and destruction, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) completely liberated Eritrea in 1991. Through the UN and the AU monitored referendum, Eritrea became an independent country on May 24, 1993. Again, in violation of the 1964 Cairo declaration, in 1998 Ethiopia claimed the Badme region of Eritrea and conducted a two-year devastating war against Eritrea. In 2002, the Eritrea and Ethiopia boundary commission based on the colonial agreements of 1900, 1902, and 1908 declared Badme was an Eritrean territory. Ethiopia rejected the ruling and occupied Badme and other Eritrean territories for twenty years. As a continuation of the Ethiopian leader’s act of undermining colonial boundaries recently, the current Prime Minister of Ethiopia Dr. Abiy Ahmed attempted to replace the 1964 Cairo declaration with Ethnic-based boundaries. He argued that because the Afar Ethnic group lives in both Eritrea and Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Afars should have a say on the Eritrean Red Sea. He continued to say because Somalis live in both Ethiopia and Somalia the Ethiopian Somalis should have a say on the Indian Ocean. In violation of the 1964 OAU declaration, he claimed to have a historical right to own a port and corridor to the sea. These statements clearly indicate that Ethiopia is not serious about the 1964 Cairo declaration and the 1982 UN convention or Law of the Sea.
Ethiopia’s continuous border conflict with Sudan in the Alfashaga region also indicates Ethiopia’s lack of commitment to settle international border problems in line with the 1964 Cairo Declaration. When the Tigray war started, Sudan reclaimed what it called land that was occupied by Ethiopia. The border problem between Sudan and Ethiopia is a dormant conflict that could erupt at any time. Also, recently, some news has been circulating that Ethiopia has become the United Arab Emirates’ weapon transshipment destination to Sudan’s reengage general Mohammad Hamdan Dagalo aka “Hemedti”. Again, such interference in the affairs of a sovereign nation is another evidence that Ethiopia is a destabilizing factor in the Horn of Africa.
ETHIOPIA HAS A LONG HISTORY OF VIOLENT REGIME CHANGES AND PERSISTENT CONFLICTS:
Focusing on the history of modern Ethiopia, Emperor Haile Selassie, the first OAU chairman, was overthrown in a violent military coup by a Marxist–Leninist junta, the Derg. On the morning of 23 November 1974, the Derg executed 54 Haile Selassie’s Ministers, and six were killed in a shootout with the executioners. Haile Selassie was assassinated on 27 August 1975 by the then Ethiopian Military Junta. The catastrophic famine of 1983–1985 was what brought the Derg junta government the most international attention. Mengistu’s government is estimated to be responsible for the deaths of 500,000 to 2,000,000 Ethiopians, mostly during the 1983–1985 famine in Ethiopia and close to 750,000 people due to the red terror execution of civilians. Consistent with what the Derg military Junta did to Haile Selassie, after waging a war for 17 years, the Tigray Liberation Front (TPLF) toppled the Derg Marxist Leninist Junta in 1991. Although the TPLF is credited with what resembles an economic change in Ethiopia, the ethnic-based federalism system it established continues to be a time bomb in Ethiopia. Ethnic conflicts in Ethiopia are believed to have killed close to two million and displaced five million Ethiopians. The Oromo and Amhara youth uprising toppled the Tigray liberation front-led government in 2018 and brought the current Prime Minister, Dr. Abiy Ahmed, to power. Although in the beginning, the transition of power seemed peaceful, it was followed by a deadly conflict between the Ethiopian Federal Government and the TPLF. The conflict resulted in the death of close to two million people in Tigray, Amhara, and Afar and the widespread destruction of property and infrastructure. Regardless of the ongoing wars in Amhara and Oromo, recently the Prime Minister of Ethiopia Dr. Abiy Ahmed made a dangerous speech to his parliament that could destabilize the whole Horn of Africa region. Ethiopian leaders continue to have a strong appetite for conflict and they do not seem to survive without it. In the meantime, people in Tigray and Amhara are dying of hunger, and the federal government is warning the state governments not to say anything about it. The Abiy government does not want anything that interferes with his hot propaganda topic that Ethiopia got access to the sea. The news has become a staple of state-controlled activists, Radio and TV, and it will continue for months to come.
The saddest part of the story is a leader, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, whom Ethiopians and people of the neighboring countries hoped would change the trajectory of war and conflicts in Ethiopia and received a noble prize, has become the prime instigator of war in Ethiopia. On top of the ongoing wars in Amhara and Oromo and the dormant deadly conflict in Tigray, currently, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is eying an invasion of neighboring countries, especially Somalia and Eritrea. Therefore, Ethiopia’s continuous disregard for the 1964 Cairo declaration on colonial boundaries and its persistent internal conflicts do not reflect the values of the African Union. In fact, the Ethiopian utter disregard for the African Union’s declarations and agreements is making the African Union weaker and partial. The recent threat of the Prime Minister on neighboring countries and its MOU with the unrecognized breakaway state of Somalia should be a warning bell to the African Union. If Ethiopia continues to undermine the African Union’s declarations and agreements, it may be disqualifying itself from continuing to be the host of the African Union. It is time for the AU and its member states to send a strong warning to Ethiopia. If not, AU will be irrelevant.
Awet N’Hafash and Eternal Glory to our Martyrs.