Ethiopia has had a besieged mind-set over Egypt’s intent to keep it away from its development course for many years. Despite recent mutual attunes, visits by its high level delegation to Mogadishu and Hargeisa should raise eyebrows among Ethiopians, argues the writer, whose identity has withheld upon request.
Egypt’s recent diplomatic maneuvering and military, political and economic posturing in the Horn of Africa – predominantly Somalia and Somaliland – has been designed to target Ethiopia’s aspiration for development and peace. At best, they aim to put Ethiopia under siege, with the strategic intent to undermine its efforts of seeing through the completion of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
The clearest example of this was the recent sojourn by a high level team of the Egyptian state to Mogadishu, Somalia, and both Hargeisa and Berbera in Somaliland. Led by Mohammed Edris, the delegation spent almost a week, attempting unsuccessfully to persuade Somalians to turn against Ethiopia.
Edris is a veteran diplomat, who previously served his country as an Ambassador to Ethiopia for several years. It was right after his return home that he was promoted to the rank of Deputy Minister for African Affairs at Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Having an entourage of 14, comprising senior officials from various ministries, think-tanks, the navy, air force and military, as well as civil intelligence agencies, Edris’ visit to the Horn of Africa, in the first week of April 2016, was an attempt to exert his country’s control over the political and economic affairs of the region.
This should come as little surprise, with Egypt having joined the Saudi alliance against Iran’s incursion in the Gulf of Aden – a move that illustrated its desire to take the upper hand in the region and gain control of the Bab el Mendeb. Egypt has a great deal of concern that the crisis in Yemen will eventually affect the flow of international maritime traffic through the Suez Canal, resulting in a loss of revenue to its economy.
In Egypt’s books, Ethiopia is considered a regional power to reckon with. Through having a military presence and a degree of economic leverage nearby, they hope to be able to harass Ethiopia from pursuing its ambitions of completing the GERD.
The delegation held high-level, yet confidential, conversations with the Somalian authorities, including its President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, while visiting Mogadishu on the 3rd and 4th of April. Although the customary issues of bilateral cooperation in areas of trade, health and education – with an offer to provide scholarships to 7,000 Somalians – were announced, the very inclusion of senior officers from the military and intelligence agencies in the visit is evidence of Egypt’s insincere motives.
Egypt is of the view that the breakaway of Somaliland and the subsequent disintegration of southern Somalia, in 1991, is against its self-interest. It seeks to take the initiative in brokering a deal between the two Somalis, thus restoring a united and strong Somalia – an initiative already undertaken by Turkey – giving it the leverage to rebuild Somalia’s security, intelligence and military infrastructure. Edris’ team has actually asked both parties to stop the current negotiations with Turkey, and resume under Egypt’s auspices.
During their meeting, Edris tried to persuade President Mohamoud to let his country send in experts to conduct surveys on the need to rebuild training academies for the police and military forces. Not surprisingly, this is part of Egypt’s broader strategy to align itself with the reconstitution of Somalia’s security and military capabilities. Its long-term objective is to counter what they describe as “Ethiopia’s ambitious desire” and frustrate its insistence to have fair and equitable use of the Nile waters.
Edris also asked the Somalian President to allow his country use the facility in Beledogle – a former Somalia air force base – through a long-term lease. Egypt hopes to use this facility as a strategic location to operate its air force assets in its operations in Yemen, in support of Saudi Arabia.
Interestingly, it seems that Egypt has not been able to come to terms with the change of era in the region. The old way of pulling the strings in Ethiopia’s backyard is over and the response from the President was a grim reminder. President Mohamoud declined to take the offers of restoring his shattered military, rebuilding the training facilities and receiving Egyptian experts in Somalia. No less telling was his rejection of the request Egypt placed before him to use the old air force base.
He was, however, positive in the potential cooperation with Egypt on matters asides military and security affairs.
Ironically, President Mohamoud’s reluctance to have cooperation over military and security affairs is in sharp contrast to pledges made by his Chief of Staff, Mohamed Ali Aden (Gen.), who recently visited Cairo. He might well have been dazzled by the level of attention he received, which many equated to a red carpet reception. Meeting several senior military officers in Cairo, Aden agreed to allow Egypt to send in experts to assess the level of need in rebuilding military facilities, training grounds and other supports.
President Mohamoud is believed to have frozen these deals, as he understands that Egypt wants to use his country as a staging ground to flex its muscles against Ethiopia and GERD.
If the delegation’s stop over at the Port of Berbera is not included, not much changed to Edris’s team arriving in Hargeisa on April 5th. As with the visit to Mogadishu, the four-day visit to Somaliland included meetings with high-level officials of the breakaway state, including its President, Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud. Once again, the delegation insisted on speaking to the President behind closed doors, with similar issues once again being covered.
Egypt has placed its request to use the facility inside Berbera Airport to deploy its air force assets to support its operations in Yemen. It also extended its wishes to help Somaliland rebuild and expand the port, with the intention of securing a base there for the use of the Egyptian Navy.
Although these requests failed to get much traction in the eyes of President Ahmed Mohamoud, the delegation reinforced its desire to see a united Somalia, with the reunion of the two states. Edris expressed Egypt’s commitment to furnishing the opportunity for both parties to meet in Cairo for talks, replacing those currently being facilitated by Turkey.
If any concession was to be forthcoming from the Somaliland President, however, it was in his expression of willingness to send delegates to Cairo for dialogue with officials of the Federal Government of Somalia, while categorically rejecting the possibility of a reunion. His is a view consistent with the successive generation of leaders in the breakaway state, with the continued rapture in southern Somalia doing little to make them change their minds with regards a reunion.
Even in the preliminary talks with their folks in the south, as proposed by Edris, President Ahmed Mohamoud would want to first discuss with Egyptian senior officials as a prelude.
If Egypt’s delegation found leaders in Mogadishu reluctant, the experience in Hargeisa was one of cold feet. Not many of the senior officials were in attendance at the various meetings, implying that the Somalilanders, like their brothers in the south, understood what is at stake.
Egypt is hell bent on using Somalis to keep Ethiopia preoccupied with issues other than its developmental course. The recent visits to the two capitals are stark reminders of its long held determination to undermine Ethiopia. Yet, Ambassador Edris returned back to Cairo, leaving behind leaders discontented with his country’s appetency in meddling in Ethiopia’s backyard. No doubt, the times have changed.
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