Opinion: Ethiopia’s renewed efforts to influence Somalia’s presidential election

Somali Hassan Sheikh Mohamud (second right), receives Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, ahead of the 28th IGAD Heads of State Summit in Mogadishu on Sept. 13, 2016. [AMISOM Photo / Omar Abdisalan]

Somali Hassan Sheikh Mohamud (second right), receives Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, ahead of the 28th IGAD Heads of State Summit in Mogadishu on Sept. 13, 2016. [AMISOM Photo / Omar Abdisalan]

Ethiopia is desperately trying to get Hassan Sheikh Mohamud re-elected as a president of Somalia. The evidence of this effort was encapsulated in a recent report by a think-tank affiliated with Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry and external intelligence. Ethiopia’s renewed agenda goes against the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Somalis and members of the Somali Federal Parliament. This antipathy was witnessed in the recent parliamentary elections, where President Mohamud’s choice for first and second speaker deputies of the House of the People Farah Sheikh Abdiqadir and Abdulkadir Al-Baghdadi, respectively – were soundly defeated.

There’s a simple logic to Ethiopia’s calculus: always work against the wishes of the Somali people by trying to impose your leadership choice upon them, because, as a deeply clannish, polarized and savage people, Somalis must be under the armpit of the enlightened Tigray junta in Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia’s electioneering in Somalia is nothing new. What’s new; however, is its change of tack. When, in 2004, Ethiopia successfully strong-armed the warlord-infested parliament it concocted in Kenya to elect Col. Abdullahi Yusuf as the president of Somalia, its narrative was that the “Hawiye clan is reviled by Somalis and thus [is] unfit to lead Somalia.” Hence the installation of a Daarood president, who, at the time, couldn’t even set foot in Mogadishu until after two years, riding on an Ethiopian tank.

At the time, Ethiopia’s propaganda machine, aided and abetted by Somalis suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, portrayed the Hawiye clan as a murderous, extremist and even terrorist bunch, hell-bent on pilfering both public and private resources, and who are inherently anti-law and order.

Fast forward a decade.

Ethiopia is selling the exact opposite narrative: that the Daarood clan are uniquely unqualified to lead Somalia, because they’re irreparably meek and squatters at the periphery. Furthermore, Ethiopia is framing the Daarood as super-weak vis-à-vis al-Shabaab, notwithstanding the overwhelming evidence that, in the Daarood-controlled regions of Puntland and Jubbaland, al-Shabaab is either routed altogether or on the run, thanks to the efforts of the authorities there.

Ironically, Ethiopia is now depicting the Hawiye as the only bulwark against al-Shabaab and people of law and order, despite the overwhelming evidence that the terrorist organization is thriving in the Hawiye-controlled regions of Galmudug, Hirshabelle, and Benadir. Further, the Hawiye outnumber any other clan among the top brass of Al-Shabaab.

The point is not, who, between the Daarood and the Hawiye, is better. It is Ethiopia’s naked attempt to exploit the deeply clannish mentality of the Somali people by pitting major clans against each other to produce the desired result for Ethiopian foreign policy: a perpetually weak and fragmented Somalia at war with itself.

Externalizing domestic crisis

A major motivation for Ethiopia’s renewed intervention in Somalia is to externalize domestic crises that have rocked the 100-million nation in 2016. Ethiopia, since 1991, is dominated (literally and figuratively) by the Tigray minority, which, according to the official figures, are fewer than Somalis. This minority has a stranglehold on the politics, economics and, crucially, the security apparatus of the State.

Through the Ethiopian People’s Democratic Revolutionary Front (EPDRF), the ruling party, which now controls 100 percent of Ethiopia’s rubber-stamp “parliament,” the Tigray minority exploits its position of power to manipulate the rest of the major ethnic groups, principally the Oromos and Amharas. Increasingly, however, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (a constituent of the EPDRF) is looking for ways to distract both domestic and international attention away from the burning crises at home.

Somalia is the perfect theater of operations for Ethiopia to turn attention away from its appalling human rights record.

Ethiopia has been involved in Somalia’s affairs in various capacities since 1996 when Ethiopia’s troops first invaded Gedo region. Since then, Ethiopia’s stated foreign policy agenda towards Somalia was simple, if quintessentially colonial in nature: divide and rule.

The implementing network

No one is more qualified to implement this momentous task than General Gabre, a cantankerous, diminutive man who’s been the de facto case officer for Somalia since 1991. Gen. Gabre rapidly rose through the ranks and, in 2006, as Ethiopia’s fully fledged military occupation got underway, he was promoted to “head of the Political Bureau for Somalia,” a rank that’s superior to both the ambassador and the commander of their forces.

In recent years, Gen. Gabre, who freely roams around Mogadishu’s posh hotels and homes of power bases, has changed uniform. He was made the Special Envoy of the IGAD (another largely Ethiopian outfit) to Somalia, a role that allows him to operate freely (and seamlessly) within Somalia and among IGAD member states, to advance the stated objective of Ethiopia.

But Gen. Gabre needs local enablers.

Over the past few years, he has found three perfect moles: Farah Sheikh Abdiqadir, a lawmaker and President Mohamud’s closest ally, Mustaf Sheikh Ali Dhuhulow, another lawmaker and a former minister known for his showmanship. The third is Mohamed Jama Mursal Geelle, a new member of parliament, minister of telecoms and, for several years, Gen. Gabre’s aide.

Farah is the ringleader, assisted by Geelle and Dhuhulow.

The Network is working hard to get President Mohamud re-elected, but their test case (Farah’s bid to be elected as first deputy speaker of parliament) failed spectacularly. The network knows that Ethiopia’s political projects have an unmistakable record of failure: Abdullahi Yusuf failed in 2004, so did their 2006-2007 invasion. Their 2009 attempt to get Prime Minister Nur Adde elected as president failed, as did their 2012 attempt to get Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali elected president.

In 2015, they tried to install Ahmed Abdisalam Aden (a former ally now backing Prime Minister Sharmarke’s bid for president) as the president of Galmudug. That, too, failed miserably, as did the 2016 attempt to get Ali Abdi Waare elected president of Hirshabeelle.

In 2017, the writing is on the wall: their choice for president will also fail.

With such a terrible track record, one would hope that Gen. Gabre and his Tigrayan handlers would learn a dear lesson: that Somalis, despite their deep divisions, have consistently rejected Ethiopia at the ballot box (and in the bullet box, too).

Now that the prospects of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s re-election are dead on arrival, it behooves the newly formed Federal Parliament to elect a leader who will not kowtow to Ethiopia’s hateful and destabilizing policy toward Somalia.

In fact, fidelity to the Somali national interest should be a litmus test for all aspirants for political and governmental office. Credible candidates must make their stance against Ethiopia unequivocally.

It’s clear that the results of the 2017 presidential election will be the final coffin on Ethiopia’s meddling in Somalia. On behalf of the Somali people, I call on all lawmakers to refuse to vote for Ethiopia.

Abukar Mohamed-Wardi can be reached at abukarwardi@gmail.com.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Sahan Journal’s editorial policy.

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