There seems to be no letup in the international pressure piling on Ethiopia in the wake the deal it signed with the self-declared Somaliland Republic to lease a 20-km stretch of Somaliland’s sea coast to establish a military base as well as a commercial maritime zone in exchange for shares in its neighbor’s flagship carrier, Ethiopian Airlines, and formal recognition as an independent state sometime in the future. The move, which has thrown the Horn of Africa into a political turmoil, has drawn the ire of Somalia given it believes that it entails the loss of sovereignty over a territory it considers to be rightfully its own as well as the likes of Egypt, the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Qatar, Turkey, the United States, the African Union and the European Union have also sided with Somalia, albeit less vociferously, urging for the de-escalation of tensions and respect for Somalia’s sovereignty. As Ethiopia seeks to play its card smartly so as to ease the pressure bearing down on it, it has on its plate a far more difficult task that will determine the success or failure of the deal.
Presently, Ethiopia finds itself in one of the most difficult chapter in its long history. Ever since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed assumed office almost six years ago, the nation has witnessed a deadly civil war, a relentless cycle of deadly violence that at times had ethnic dimensions, and an astronomical rise in the cost of living. Predictably, it’s the majority poor who have disproportionately borne the brunt of the calamities which have befallen the country. Consequently, Ethiopia figures among the group of states that are fragile. The exacerbation of the conditions that have earned it this unenviable classification is apt to push it over the edge and may well lead to a collapse. This specter calls for prompt action to arrest the rot that threatens to set in. Otherwise, the future will not bode well for it as well as the already unstable region of the Horn of Africa, making the consummation of the port deal highly unlikely.
Although the port deal with Somaliland is vitally important for the realization of Ethiopia’s quest for access to the sea, there is no arguing that the considerable dividends it offers, particularly on the economic front, cannot be enjoyed unless the country is united. Undertaking a port infrastructure development and associated projects requires a stable political environment, a huge investment outlay and most of all forging a strong unity if it is to see the light of day. Establishing a strongly united Ethiopia would require addressing a range of complex historical, political, and social issues. The first order of business should be to promote inclusive governance and political representation. This involves implementing fair electoral processes, ensuring diverse representation in government institutions, and creating opportunities for meaningful political participation for all citizens. Investing in education and public awareness initiatives aimed at developing understanding and appreciation across these groups can go some way towards building common ground and reduce intergroup tensions.
Fostering open dialogue and reconciliation processes is another strategy that contributes to laying the groundwork for stronger unity. Empowering the national dialogue commission to carry out its solemn duties impartially, undertaking community dialogue initiatives, and exerting efforts to preserve and promote the cultural heritage of all communities is of the essence in this regard. So is forging a sense of collective responsibility for the country’s future as well as shared national identity and pride with a view to unite citizens around common symbols, values, and aspirations. Furthermore, ensuring respect for human rights and the rule of law for all citizens is essential for building a strong and united nation. Upholding the rights of minorities, protecting freedom of expression, and ensuring equal access to justice are critical components of this effort. Additionally, it’s imperative to improve economic opportunities for all citizens in order to reduce the sentiment of economic disenfranchisement and create a more stable environment.
The Ethiopian government has rebuffed the barrage of criticisms from with and outside to the deal it inked with Somaliland. While projecting confidence may stand it in good stead as it attempts to diversify Ethiopia’s access to seaports, it would not count for anything in the absence of a strong bond between its diverse people. A unified Ethiopia can present a strong and cohesive front to external forces seeking to exploit its internal divisions and dependence on foreign aid and investment, enhance its ability to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and enable it to have greater diplomatic leverage and influence on the international stage. By uniting its people and institutions, Ethiopia can navigate the complexities of the domestic, regional and international politics with strength and resilience, safeguarding its future for generations to come.