Overpowering Gratitude Vs Vexing Misgivings
By Ahmed I. Hassan
This is the chapter on Somaliland-Ethiopia Relationship in a book titled “Somaliland: The Legacies of Non-Recognition” which is still in the works. I thought a preview of this chapter would not be out of place in contributing to endeavors towards examining and understanding a highly complex subject—AIH
omalilanders will, in all likelihood, always be grateful to Ethiopians.
This is because once upon a time, Somalilanders, thoroughly attrited, were fleeing in mass on foot for dear life. And Ethiopia happened to be the only country where they found the safe havens which saved them from almost complete genocide.
Why did the Ethiopians do it? Was it a manifestation of their core humanity and decency? Was it because the influx was so massive and the border so long and porous that the Ethiopians could not effectively stop the Somalilanders from crossing into their country? Was it the implementation of an Ethiopian well-thought of policy that had been meant to achieve certain ulterior objectives? Was it that the arrival of the Somalilanders took the Ethiopians unawares and that they were simply faced with the fait accompli of the Somalilanders being in their country after the fact?
For the Somalilanders, the answers to these questions are purely academic.
Furthermore, the gratitude somewhat subdues whatever misgivings or disappointments that Somalilanders may harbor about Ethiopia’s real or apparent policies on the issue of Somaliland’s reclamation of its independence. Or, for that matter, whatever misgivings or disappointments that Somalilanders may harbor about Ethiopia’s real or apparent policies towards Somalia.
Indeed, there is a great deal of unease and disenchantment which many Somalilanders feel about their current relationship with Ethiopia. In the spirit of free and candid debate, I intend to express my musings on that subject later in this paper. But in the meantime first, I would like to elaborate on why the gratitude is so overpowering.
For the Somalilanders, an immensely weighty consideration in the matter is that, at their hour of most dire need, they found the indispensible safe havens they so sorely needed in Ethiopia. And for that happenstance alone, the Somalilanders are and will be grateful to the Ethiopians. Short of an Ethiopian act that would call for or lead to an assault on Somalilanders’ existence or freedom, the gratitude should and will endure.
Overpowering Gratitude Vs Vexing Misgivings
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An Unlikeliest Silver Lining In The Darkest of Clouds
nce upon a time Somalilanders, thoroughly attrited, were fleeing in mass on foot for dear life. The Somali armed forces—supposedly their very own; supposedly instituted to protect them—was using every weapon on the book in bombarding them from the rear and above. They were desperately looking for any direction to escape from the merciless army on their hot pursuit.
Unfortunately, on one side laid the Gulf Aden. Deep Blue Sea! Only in biblical times, specifically in Moses’, with his magic rod that allegedly had dried up a passage in Red Sea, was a whole nation known to have crossed a sea. The fleeing Somalilanders could certainly not count on divinely empowered Mosesian benefits. So no dice there!
And neither was another optional getaway route: the Djibouti border. The Northerners had not been able to elude the reach of the Somali regime’s long and suffocating tentacles in Djibouti even at better times and even when their fleeing numbers had been a countable few rather than the masses on the move now. It had not been lost to them that the Djibouti government had been, to all intents and purposes, a subservient puppet of the Somali regime in as far as the regime’s policies towards the Northerners were concerned. Had not Djibouti, they reminded themselves, been enforcing a longstanding policy of handing over—on demand despite international law or plain old decency if nothing else—any Northerner to the regime on request or whim? Besides, not only was this border too far away, too short in length and too heavily guarded on both sides, it also had other impediments such as electrified fences and mine fields—relics from the colonial times.
The only remaining alternative was towards the border with Ethiopia. But that option, too, offered the Somalilanders running away from imminent danger nothing but great apprehension. They were all too acutely aware, historically speaking, that there had been no love lost between the Ethiopians and the Somalis. From the times of Ahmed Gurey in the fifteenth century, the Somali-Ethiopian relationship had been one of conflicts, hatred, rivalries and mistrust. The two countries had gone to war twice since the inception of the Somali Republic in 1960. Though Ethiopia eventually prevailed, the last war in 1977 had been especially ferocious and costly to both nations.
The Ethiopians, certainly, could not be expected to forget that the causes of these conflicts had been the pursuit of one or the other people to dominate the other on either religious or ethnic grounds. In more modern times, the ugly legacies of colonialism and Somalis’ post-independence quest for “Pan-Somalism” had been intractable issues of contention. The Northern Somalis—the very ones now in flight from fellow Somalis’ brutality—were that quest’s most ardent promoters as they had amiably demonstrated when they had sacrificed their own independence in 1960 in order to set the ball rolling towards the achievement of this goal.
On every fleeing Somalilander’s mind swirled a dreaded question: Would the Ethiopians be indifferent or even be gleeful at the spectacle of the slaughter that had been taking place amongst the theoretically hated Somalis by refusing refuge to those of them fleeing from it?
t did not help the wretched and hunted masses’ sense of helplessness that the governments of Ethiopia and Somalia had, just months earlier, reached the most unlikely of agreements. For years, the Somali National Movement (the SNM), a rebel group consisting mostly of Northern Somalis and with rear bases in Ethiopia, had been waging an effective guerrilla war against the Siad Barre regime. Siad’s extraordinarily brutal
counterinsurgency measuresi had been proving counterproductive. These countermeasures had succeeded only in inadvertently swelling the ranks and coffers of the SNM thus making it even more formidable and threatening.
To make matter worse, other rebellions were coming on steam in other parts of the country, especially in South/ Central Somalia and around the nation’s capital, Mogadishu, the docility of whose residents the regime had been in the habit of foolishly talking for grantedii.
By this time, the regime had felt so threatened that its only concern became its own preservation. Acutely aware of the failure of its hitherto applied counterinsurgency measures, it realized that as long as SNM rebels were enjoying their sanctuaries in Ethiopia, it would have been impossible to defeat or contain them. Throwing to the wind all pretenses of national responsibilities, national interests and principles, the regime made Ethiopia an offer it could not refuse.
Somalia would forfeit all territorial claims on Ethiopia and would officially recognize the inviolability of the hitherto disputed borders between the two countriesiii. As a sweetener, Somalia would additionally expel all anti-Ethiopian rebels that had been operating from within Somalia and would deny them any further sanctuaries and assistance.
In return, Ethiopia should expel the SNM and all other opponents, whether armed or unarmed, of the Somali regime from its territories and cease all assistance, in any form or shape, that Ethiopia had been awarding them.
As mentioned earlier, the regime already had under its belt a rewardingly (for the regime) operative and reciprocal no-opponent-in-either-country pact with Djiboutiiv. Now, if cemented and rounded with this far more comprehensive and watertight treaty with Ethiopia, Siad Barre confidently calculated, it would mean the inescapably certain annihilation of not only the stubborn SNM insurgency in particular, but also the final solution of what he had perceived as the Northerners’ inherent irritations and threats to his regime in general.
Such an agreement with Ethiopia would furthermore flush out the SNM combat troops out of their Ethiopian hideouts and into the open. With their superior firepower and resources—in fact the resources of an entire country arrayed against an essentially ragtag, though motivated, rebels—all that the regime’s army had to do was finishing off defenseless sitting ducks. The regime only had to pull the noose, which it had ingeniously custom-made for SNM’s exposed neck.
All that remained for Siad Barre was to sign the dotted line with his Ethiopian counterpart, Mengistu Haile Mariam and how eager was the Somali dictator to do exactly that without wasting another moment or allowing trivial matters like national interests, principles, honor or simple human decency or suchlike to be on the way.
The Ethiopians could not believe their stroke of luck. To them, Siad Barre’s proposal amounted to all their wishes and dreams served to them on a silver platter. They had everything to gain and nothing to lose by agreeing to the Somali dictator’s offer without delay. Why would they care if the deal would essentially mean the near certain slaughter of the Somali rebels both governments had been hosting—i.e. the SNM in Ethiopia and the anti-Ethiopian Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF) Somali-Ethiopian rebels operating from bases in Somalia? The slaughtering would befall on Somalis alone and no harm would come to a single Ethiopian. And would such a treaty not be the merciful end, at long last, of the sharp and painful Somali thorn that had been pricking their sides for so long.