OP-ED: Ethiopia’s Perilous Path Threatens Somali Sovereignty and Global Stability

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FILE: PM Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia

The escalating tensions between Ethiopia and Somalia over territorial sovereignty are not just a bilateral issue; they portend broader regional and global consequences. The potential aggressive actions by Ethiopia risk destabilizing an already fragile region, setting off a chain reaction that could entangle various non-state actors and disrupt critical global trade routes. 

Ethiopia's recent MoU to establish a military pact with Somaliland, the self-declared region in Northern Somalia, raises significant legal and ethical questions on the international stage. This act could be interpreted as a challenge to the core principles of national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Somalia, cornerstones of the international legal system. 

This engagement seems to be in direct conflict with several pivotal international agreements and laws designed to protect these principles. Notably, the United Nations Charter, specifically Article 2(4), fundamentally prohibits states from using force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. Similarly, the Charter of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the African Union's Constitutive Act both emphasize the importance of respecting established boundaries. 

Furthermore, the principle of Pacta Sunt Servanda, a key tenet in international law that stands for the binding nature of treaties, also seems to be compromised. The Helsinki Final Act of 1975, which played a crucial role in the easing of Cold War tensions, underscores the significance of respecting the territorial integrity of states. Moreover, customary international law, a source of law consisting of the practice of states driven by the belief that such practice is legally obligatory, also supports these principles. 

Ethiopia's illegal engagement with the breakaway region of Northern Somalia, therefore, not only challenges the territorial integrity of Somalia but also risks undermining the established norms of international relations. Such a move could set a concerning precedent in a world where the respect for sovereign borders and the rule of law are already under strain. The international community, therefore, must carefully scrutinize and respond to this development, ensuring that the long-standing principles of international law are upheld. 

Potential Alliances Among Non-State Actors 

Ethiopia’s decision to enter into a military agreement with the Somaliland breakaway region in Northern Somalia might unintentionally trigger the formation of unexpected alliances. The aggressive stance of the government of Ethiopia will create an environment that encourages alliances among different non-state actors. This could potentially bring together groups like Al Shabab, a terrorist group based in Somalia, the Houthis in Yemen, and the notorious pirates operating in the waters around the Horn of Africa. 

Although these groups have backgrounds and will pursue goals they may find common ground in opposing Ethiopian aggression. The formation of such an alliance could trigger a chain reaction leading to an escalation in instability. The main concerns would involve a surge in activities and an increase in piracy and terrorism both of which pose threats to international peace and security. 

The involvement of these groups each with their capabilities and networks would present a security challenge to the entire region. Addressing this situation would require an understanding and a coordinated international response to prevent the worsening of the already volatile situation, in the Horn of Africa. 

Implications for Global Trade and Security 

The Horn of Africa is a nexus of critical maritime routes essential for global trade. An escalation of conflict could disrupt these routes, impacting the flow of key commodities like oil and consumer goods. This disruption could have ripple effects on global markets, leading to increased prices and supply chain instability. 

Furthermore, the broader implications for global security are profound. Ethiopia's actions could prompt international actors, including the African Union, the United Nations, and major powers, to intervene, either diplomatically or militarily, to restore stability. The situation could thus escalate into a larger international conflict, with far-reaching consequences. 

Policy Recommendations 

To mitigate these risks, it is imperative to pursue several strategies: 

1. Diplomatic Efforts: Intensified international diplomacy is crucial to persuade Ethiopia to retract the unauthorized MoU signed with Somalia's Northern region, reduce tensions, and honor and respect Somali sovereignty. 

2. International Cooperation: It is crucial to foster international cooperation to prevent the formation of alliances among non-state actors. Intelligence sharing and coordinated security measures could be vital in this regard. 

3. Strengthening Regional Security Measures: Enhancing security around key maritime routes is essential. This could involve joint naval patrols and increased surveillance to deter piracy and protect global trade. 

4. Addressing Underlying Issues: Ethiopia should respect the territorial integrity of its neighbors. Long-term solutions should focus on addressing the underlying socio-economic and political issues that fuel instability in the region. 

The potential for Ethiopian aggression against Somalia is a serious concern that requires immediate and concerted action from the international community. Failure to address this issue could lead to a destabilized region, endangered global trade, and increased threats to international security. Now is the time for preventive diplomacy and strategic planning to avert a crisis that could have far-reaching consequences.


Ismail D. Osman: Former Deputy Director of the Somalia National Intelligence & Security Agency (NISA). Specializing in writings on Somalia, the Horn of Africa's security, and geopolitical landscapes with an emphasis on governance and security. Contact: osmando@gmail.com. Twitter: @osmando.

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