Ethiopia’s MOU with Separatist Region Stokes Calls for Greater Somalia


On January 1, 2024, Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced he entered a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the leader of the secessionist region in Northern Somalia Muse Bihi. The MOU called for a strip of land estimated at 20 KM for a naval base and access to the sea for Ethiopia. 

The United States State Department issued a general statement expressing support for Somalia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Many other countries and regional organizations issued similar statements. 

However, the State Department and Department of Defense (DoD) pursue policies contrary to the issued general statement. The most recent example of these policies is the development of American military base in Berbera, a northern Somali city controlled by the secessionist movement. The politics of the military base fueled conflict in the region. 

In 2022, Stephen J Townsend, the commander of US AFRICOM, visited with secessionist leaders in northern Somalia. Townsend remains the highest US service personnel who visited the area and lent the separatist region DoD prestige.

Townsend toured the Berbera base and fed his findings to superiors. A few paragraphs made into the early drafts of the 2023 National Defense Appropriation Act(NDAA) requesting the classified reports. 

Tibor Nagy, a former US Assistant Secretary and Ambassador to Ethiopia, has a forceful advocacy position for the secessionist movement. Nagy has been vocal about splitting Somalia and for the US to recognize the separatist region. 

Nagy has been leveraging the messaging and relationship he developed while on the State Department payroll. In a recent promotion video to split Somalia, Nagy confessed that he worked contrary to formal State Department policy as US Ambassador to Ethiopia.

The statement in the film confirmed what many Somali unionists suspected for a long time. That US “One Somalia” policy only exists on paper. Practice is different. 

Somalis across the region and around the world reacted very negatively to Ethiopia’s MOU with the secessionists in Northern Somalia. Somali-Americans in Ohio and Minnesota are on the tip of the spear to resist balkanization of Somalia. 

Organizing committees have emerged in Columbus, Ohio, and Minneapolis, Minnesota. These committees engaged congressional members, the State Department, and other organs of the American government with foreign policy jurisdiction. 

These grassroots groups are delivering a verified petition to prevent invasion of a sovereign nation by another. Somali-Americans are concerned Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia could lead to Iraq type fiasco when the US invaded in 2003. 
Calls for preparation for Ethiopia’s invasion are growing louder among Somalis in the region. Somalis are calling for a similar movement to the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF)

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, a covert rebellion started to form to free the Somali region in Eastern Ethiopia. The movement united under the WSLF umbrella. 
WSLF drew support from Somalis across the peninsula, and it was devoid of the type of clannish politics bedeviling Somalis today. The movement made a significant contribution in rebelling Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia in 1964. 
Somalia gained independence from Britain and Italy in 1960. The young country barely started forming a formal army when Ethiopia troops crossed the border into Somalia in 1964. 
WSLF was the vanguard of the small units of Somalia’s formal troops to engage the invading Ethiopian troops. The movement made a vital contribution to the defense and preservation of Somalia.
Nearly 60 years later, calls to bring back the WSLF type of movement to rebel against Ethiopia’s overtures are growing louder in the horn. The atmosphere is undoubtedly suitable for such a movement. 
Suspicion of Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s intentions had been running high in the Somali region of Ethiopia. Regular Ethiopia troops embedded with Afar and Oromo militia had been pushing Somalis further east in Sitti state inside the Somali region for several years now. 
The new wave of displacement of Somali population is linked to potential oil and gas fields in this region. The railroad to export fossil fuel from the Djibouti port goes through this region. 
Political leaders in the Somali region of Ethiopia have resisted oil and gas extraction in this region over disagreements over revenue sharing with Addis Ababa. Addis Ababa responded with gentrification, a process of removing Somalis and replacing them with the Afar and Oromo ethnic groups. 
The influx of other ethnic groups in large cities, such as Jigjiga, irked Somalis. Amhara and Oromo ethnic groups dominate the local government apparatus in Jigjiga. 
Some locals have dubbed Jigjiga as the only federal city after Addis Ababa. All other cities of similar size in Ethiopia are administered by local ethnic groups. 
The MOU triggered a new wave of rage. A concert in Jigjiga known for showcasing the latest Somali traditional songs and dances spontaneously changed to a Somali unity atmosphere. Youth in Boroma, the capital of Awdal region where MOU referenced as an area to be annexed, took to the streets and vowed to bear arms to resist Ethiopia’s overtures. Even youth in secessionist stronghold Hargeisa protested by burning posters advertising MOU. 
Farah Moalin, a current member of Kenya Parliament representing Northern District Front (NFD) Constituent Dhadhab, pledged 5,000 fighting men to defend Somalia against Ethiopia’s aggression. The firebrand politician was speaking at Garowe, Somalia, and participated in the inauguration of regional leader Said Abdullahi Deni.
Political anxiety among Somalis skyrocketed when information indicated that Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is at loggerheads and plans to replace the current leader in the Somali region of Ethiopia, Mustafa Mohamed Omar(Cagjar). 
Cagjar has reportedly objected to deploying local police from the Somali region of Ethiopia to reinforce secessionist militia deployed to areas referenced to be annexed from Somalia in the framework of the MOU. According to a translation by @Toddschoenber, a verified account on the X platform(Formerly Twitter), Cajar posted the following statement on Facebook:
“Residents of the Somali region have endured difficult situations that have left them alone. I am not interested in, nor can I bear, the wars and repressions that take place in their homeland, which has become a staging ground for unrelated hostilities. It’s strange to regard them as cannon fodder on a day when others wish to burn them. The region’s residents live during the optimal time for security, independence, and growth. It is in our best interests to build on previous accomplishments, which can only be achieved through political stability and security.”
The secessionist movement in Hargeisa is in no position to enforce the ceding of Somalia’s territory to Ethiopia. The movement suffered a string of defeats in the Sool, Sanaag, and Cayn (SSC) regions after an armed uprising started in late 2022. 
A similar uprising against separatists is forecasted in the western Somalia region of Awdal. The population in Awdal has vehemently objected to Abiy’s annexation plan. 
Boroma, the capital of this region, was the first city Somali youth demonstrated in support of Las Anod’s rejection of secessionists. The tune the Boroma youth chose in their protest became a rallying cry for the SSC uprising. 
The tune was composed in Jigjiga. The theme is a type of genre that makes Jigjiga unique among Somali culture centers. 
The Somali region of Eastern Ethiopia, SSC, and Awdal’s struggle for liberation are linked by culture, literature, and country. The MOU Ethiopia entered with secessionist Somaliland stoked calls for greater Somalia. In almost Unisom, Somalis around the globe, including Americans of Somali descent, joined the call to rekindle the WSLF type of defense mechanism. Human resources and financial and political contributions had been pledged. 

Author is a Technology Entrepreneur and long time civic leader. Follow him @fuguni.

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