Framing the Debate: IGAD’s Detrimental influence in Somalia

27 Feb

By Faisal A. Roble
Feb. 26, 2011

On February 21, 2011, about 114 Somalis residing in the Diaspora (including this author) sent a letter to the Somali public and to several international players in the Somalia affairs, including the United Nations General Secretary, Ban Ki-Moon, Ambassador Augustine Mahiga and US Undersecretary for Africa, Mr. Johnnie Carson. The letter urged all sides to reject the unilateral mandate to extend the Transitional Federal Parliament (TFP) term for three more years 1.   The letter specifically underscored the troubling role the Inter Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD) has been playing in the Somalia affairs 2.   IGAD’s overreaching hand in the political and social life of Somalia is at best troubling and at worst perpetuating by design the status quo.

Sheikh Sherif & Sherif Hassan

The unilateral extension of the TFP mandate, as matter of fact, had originated not from the corridors of the Somali hallways, but from the first session of IGAD’s January 30, 2011 session, under the Chairmanship of Prime Minster Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia.  After that meeting, IGAD issued the following action regarding the Somali parliament:  “That the Transitional period ends on August 20, 2011 and the Assembly reached a consensus on the urgent need to extend the term of the current Transitional Federal Parliament.” 

Following IGAD resolution (Jan. 30, 2011), on February 3, 2011, the TFP leadership hastily drafted a motion (to extend its life for three more years) for which it selfishly and voted with overwhelming majority.  This decision coupled with other events that had unfolded in Mogadishu precipitated President Sheikh Sharif’s visit (along with some of his cabinet members) to Addis Ababa to get more clarification of the nature of the TFP mandate extension. 

However, reports coming from Addis Ababa unambiguously expressed the discord between the Somali side and the IGAD leadership; President Ahmed reportedly walked out of the IGAD meeting room twice.  Reliable sources reported that the president reacted with raw emotions to the unruly role IGAD is playing in the affairs of Somalia.  In particular, he was angered by IGAD’s insistence that his government must go and IGAD would not grantee similar extension to his administration.

It is at this vortex of events that one needs to assess whether IGAD‘s hand in the affairs of Somalia is detrimentally overreaching? 

The IGADD grouping was established in 1984 (Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, and Uganda with the help of United Nations offices) mainly in reaction to the highly publicized famine, which devastated Northern Ethiopia.  The overall objective of the grouping of the Horn of Africa nations at the time of its founding was to manage the infamous East African recurrent drought.  The headquarters for these six nations was purposefully selected to be Djibouti, the smallest and least threatening city state in the region.

In the vision statement of IGADD, which is mainly to mange drought and disaster, plus the promotion of economic integration of the member states, there was nothing that expressed or authorized this body to fashion the political direction of any member state, let alone take prominent role in how each parliament or their respective national institutions be managed.

However, with Ethiopia’s ascendency to political and military prominence since the mid 1990s, the vision was expanded to include security and political integration as a long term goal.  Ethiopia, owing to its recently acquired status as a populous landlocked country, worked hard through the AU and IGAD to utilize said vision statements for its dominance of the political space of the region. It is plausible to argue that Ethiopia under Meles Zenawi has been usurping IGAD authority in order to freely interfere in the affairs of its traditional rival nation – Somalia. As a matter of fact, Ethiopia invoked this part of the vision statement (security) when it invaded Somalia in whose aftermath thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of civilians were killed 3.

Two geopolitical factors, one regional and another global, seem to have helped Ethiopia become the most influential IGAD member in the affairs of Somalia.  First, the global factor is the Afro-Arab rivalry in the Horn of Africa, which until recently was rolled out at the level of the AU.  In the Afro-Arab conflict, Ethiopia presents itself as the Christian Island in the Horn of Africa.  Egypt, on the other hand, owing to its national security that is centered on the Nile River, presents itself to the Muslim residents of the region as the god father and the alternative power to Ethiopian leadership.  Ethiopian won the war, thanks to massive support from the West 4.  

According to Cliff Cliffe (2005), in recent years “the Christian right wing constituency in the US was influential in lobbying the Bush Administration to crusade against Islam in the Horn,” the result of which allowed Ethiopia to pursue an unbridled interference in the affairs of Somalia with impunity. This effort on the part of the right wing comes on the heels of the writings of one of America’s most influential academic; Samuel Huntington, in his book “Clashes of Civilizations,” 1996, particularly celebrated the horizontal conflict between Christian Ethiopian and Muslim Somalia 5.   His recommendations are exactly what IGAD is doing in Somalia: to use Western friendly cultures, read Ethiopia, to keep check on regional entities that are inherently “anti-Western civilization.” 

With Western countries teaming up with Ethiopia on: (a) breaking up Sudan (into South  North), and (b) arming and financially rewarding Ethiopia to suppress Islamic revivalism in the Somali peninsula, Ethiopia had effectively won the battle and assumed the leadership to oversees the Horn of Africa region for now.
Secondly, having the AU parliament headquarters located in Addis Ababa gives the Ethiopian authority significant advantage to unduly influence Somalia 6.   Today, anyone in the political theater of Somalia (from Aydid and Mohamed Dheere, to the Yusuf Gedi and Nur Cade regime, to the present leadership) must first receive Ethiopia’s blessing before assuming the top leadership.  The leadership of the sitting parliament in Somalia, for example, is closely associated with the geopolitical strategy of Ethiopia. 

In the Ethiopian culture, there is a feudal concept called “Dajidnad 7.”   It is a tool with which the emperor used to measure levels of loyalty and obedience of his followers.  Intricate and emotionally taxing system where the emperor used to assemble his subjects and let them stay for ours in the cold, “Dajidinad” is a mechanism by which the emperor used to see who reports quickly and expeditiously without complaining about the burden of his orders.  The recent political culture of Somalis reporting to Addis Ababa the moment they are given some level of office responsibility is akin to that feudal concept of “Dajidand” now exercised by Mr. Zenawi against his Somali surrogates.   All Somali heads of State and prime Ministers since Somalia’s state failed had done this culture of being tributary political entity to the Ethiopian leader and continue to do so.

A distant factor that gave Ethiopia more influence in the affairs of Somalia is the deterioration of the Eritrean state. With Eretria becoming a quasi rogue state in the eyes of the rest of Africa and the global community, Ethiopia has become more influential, particularly with respect to its relationship with Djibouti and Somalia.   Since the mid 1990s, beginning with the border conflict between Ethiopia and Eretria, both states used Somalia’s conflict as a proxy cause with Ethiopia having the upper hand.

The only time Ethiopia lost influence in the Somalia affairs since the fall of Siyad Barre is the short period when the Islamic courts ruled most of Southern Somalia.  Whether those forces will once again resurface to resist Ethiopia’s undue interference in Somalia’s affairs depends on how closely IGAD’s activity in Somalia mirrors Ethiopian-centered agenda.

Faisal A. Roble


2 IGAD (Inter Governmental Authority for Development) was known before 1995 as the Inter Governmental Authority for Drought and Disaster.

3 Ethiopia invaded Somalia on the Eve of Christmas, 2005, under the pretext that its national security was threatened by the takeover of most of Southern Somalia by the Union of Islamic Courts.

4 The last time Egypt or any other Arab nation played any meaningful role in the journey to restore an effective Somali state was in 1994 (the Cairo talks), which Ethiopia sabotaged by reconvening a parallel peace talks at the resort town of Sodare, Ethiopia.  The ascendency of Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, former TFG president

5Samuel P. Huntington, “Clashes of civilization,” (1996) makes unapologetically recommendations to use Ethiopia against Somalia in order to give supremacy to the values of Western Civilization.

6 There has been a long history of Afro-Arab rivalry, going back to the foundation of the Organization of African Unity, and know AU, over the leadership of the Horn of Africa region.  Somalia has been in the center of this rivalry.

7 Haile Gerima’s documentary film “Three Thousand Years of Harvest,” 1976, depicts Ethiopia’s cruel and inhuman feudal culture from which the concept of “Dejidanad,” a tool to debase the emperor’s subjects, comes from.

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Posted by on Febraayo 27, 2011 in Uncategorized


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