The relation between Ethiopia and Somalia has not been a healthy one. In the recent historical period, one major and one lesser war were fought between the two countries. The empty dream of the so-called "Greater Somalia", an expansionist policy, had brought to Somalia nothing but hostility and conflicts with all its neighbors, especially Ethiopia. Moreover, Somalia had always allied with all groups and countries it believed were anti-Ethiopian and had disturbed Ethiopia's peace. On the other hand, Ethiopian Somalis had resisted the oppressive system in Ethiopia. Related to this, Somalia had succeeded in mobilizing a large number of Ethiopian Somalis as allays in its attempt to execute its expansionist policy. In this regard Ethiopia has been exposed to threats emanating from Somalia and other quarters.
Ethiopia, for its part, rather than responding to the threat by respecting the right of Ethiopian Somalis and by fostering brotherhood between the peoples of Ethiopia, so Ethiopian Somalis could live in voluntary unity with their other fellow Ethiopians, resorted to dismantling Somalia to the extent possible. The policy was to respond to Somali aggression by taking the war to Somalia and, along the way, aggravating the contradiction between the Somali clans.
The situation has now fundamentally changed. The "Greater Somalia" ideology has been discredited. It is now over ten years since Somalia has become stateless. On the other hand, in Ethiopia, a constitution in which peoples' rights are guaranteed is being implemented. Ethiopian Somalis are living in brotherhood and voluntary unity with other Ethiopians in a newly defined, inclusive Ethiopian identity. Together with other Ethiopians, Ethio-Somalis are, in the spirit of equality, democracy, development and an Ethiopian identity, resting on strong foundations and contributing to the building of the country. Ethiopia's vulnerability to the "Greater Somalia" ideology has been greatly diminished.
On the other hand, the disintegration of Somalia has in itself brought ever-growing danger. The crisis in Somalia has allowed religious extremism to take hold. Somalia has become a haven and conduit for terrorists and extremists. Anti-peace elements are using the country as a base and place of transit in order to threaten Ethiopia's peace. Somalia's disintegration has brought danger to the peace in our country.
b) Significance of the relations
There is no condition whereby Somalia could contribute as a source of investment and financial development or as a significant market for Ethiopia. After a process of some length, followed by peace and stability in Somalia, there is the chance that it could become a significant market, but this is difficult to imagine in the short and medium term. Regarding natural resources, all the big rivers in Somalia flow from Ethiopia. The irrigation schemes in Somalia which effectively served the people are in a poor state. On the other hand, as our country steps up its development, we will have to dam the rivers for irrigation purposes. The harnessing of rivers in Ethiopia can help Somalia resist floods, and so the benefit would be mutual. But on the other hand, these rivers could be used in Ethiopia - mainly in the Somali region - for development purposes. This could create a minor conflict but the problem can be tackled by the principle of give and take in a way that takes into account the national interests of the two countries.
As can be understood from the above, in the short and medium terms, Somalia does not have a positive or negative influence of note in the development of our country. And yet, in Somalia there are numerous ports that can provide services to Ethiopia. Starting from the port of Zeila which gave services to Ethiopia during its long history, all the way to Kismayo, there are no less than seven ports in Somalia that can be used by different parts of our country. These possibilities could significantly contribute to our development, but due to the "Greater Somalia"-driven conflict and national oppression in Ethiopia, they were never seriously considered (not to forget that Ethiopia had ports of its own). The current collapse of the state in Somalia makes it unrealistic to think of using the ports at the present time.
Even if the chances to use the ports were to arise, and though that would increase Somalia's relevance to our development, one cannot see a positive role that Somalia can play at this time. On the negative side, it is worth noting that the disintegration of Somalia has posed dangers for peace and stability in Ethiopia. This situation has spoilt the image of our sub-region, and the Horn is now perceived as an area of conflict. Our chances to attract investment have been reduced and the "Somalia effect" has contributed to the uncertainty about regional peace and the lack of economic linkages between the two countries.
c) Policy Direction
Our proximity to Somalia would be beneficial to our development if there were peace and stability in Somalia. Peace can come to our region if a government committed to fighting disorder, terrorism and extremism in cooperation with its neighbours is established in Somalia. Some circles say that the establishment of such a government in Somalia would once again resuscitate the ideology of "Greater Somalia" and that peace, democracy and development in Somalia would, in that case, not benefit Ethiopia. This view is fundamentally wrong and dangerous. First, of all, from now onwards, our country safeguards the unity of its peoples not by denying them options but by helping them recognise and confirm in practice, the option based on equality, mutual development and democracy.
As a result of this, we have created the condition whereby Ethiopian Somalis, no matter whether the ideology of "Greater Somalia" is revived or not, would choose to live in equality and unity with their other Ethiopian brothers and sisters. As our development and democratisation process gains momentum, our vulnerability to the effects of this and other similar slogans will be much reduced. Furthermore, it should be underscored that, since it has been the cause of much suffering first and foremost to the people of Somalia, this slogan of "Greater Somalia" has been discredited and its chances of revival are indeed very slim. In light of the encouraging political and economic situation in Ethiopia, the fact that Somalis live in both countries would actually ensure that they serve as a bridge that creates strong connections between the two countries, rather than as a factor of suspicion.
On the contrary, if Somalia enjoys peace and democracy, we will have the opportunity to use the Somali ports extensively and continuously and this would contribute to our development significantly. Such a situation would make it possible, in alliance with the new government, to stamp out anti-peace activities originating from Somalia. Both countries can work together to jointly develop river utilization plans. The way would also be clear to promote strong educational and cultural ties and interdependence in light of the educational and other related activities that are carried out in the Somali language within the Somali Region of our country.
By creating strong relations between the two countries regarding the use of ports and rivers, commerce, culture and so on, and seeing to it that the two peoples are benefiting from this, one could be sure that the peoples would resist activities designed to harm the relations that are proving to be so beneficial to them. Ethiopia would also gain direct economic advantages from this situation; in addition, when Ethiopia's eastern border ceases to be a source of threat, overall economic development would be enhanced. That is why, at this time, our major objective in Somalia is to see the establishment of peace and democracy, and based on that, the development of strong economic, cultural and political ties between the two countries.
This may be our wish and policy, but peace and democracy cannot be realised through our efforts only. Although we will do all in our power to contribute to the peace and stability of Somalia, as it is in our interest to do so, the responsibility to establish peace in that country principally rests on the Somali people and the political forces there. In addition to this, those external forces which can influence events should see to it that they use their authority to contribute to bringing about peace and democracy in Somalia.
The events of the last ten years in Somalia have not been encouraging, but we should not give up hope that peace and democracy will eventually come to Somalia. The country has disintegrated into different areas, and while some are comparatively, calm others are in continuous turmoil. Those who reap benefits from the absence of authority - a number of Somali groups, some traders, religious extremists, and their foreign friends - are bent on sabotaging in one way or another any effort aimed at bringing about peace in Somalia.
Although the Somali people long for peace, they have not been able to break out of the web of obstruction put in place by those who oppose peace and change. Although the international community wishes to bring about peace in Somalia, it is evidently not ready to exert all its efforts to realise this. Thus, it appears to us that the condition of instability in Somalia is likely to persist for some time. Therefore, our policy should not be limited to contributing to the emergence of peace and democracy only and, based on that, to forging strong ties; rather, it should also address what we should do if instability and turmoil persist.
Our fundamental policy remains to persistently work towards the birth of a peaceful and democratic Somalia. But in light of the continuing instability, the policy we pursue should essentially be a damage-limitation policy to ensure that the instability does not further harm our country, the region and the people of Somalia. If the instability is not stopped, the only option left is to limit the damage that may be caused. There are three main options to limit the damage.
First, we have to try to help those regions which are comparatively stable and do not shelter extremists and terrorists in order that the relative peace they enjoy is maintained and even strengthened. Those that can be mentioned in this regard are the regions known as Somaliland and Puntland. In the spirit of damage limitation and to assist these regions maintain their stability, it is necessary that the links be strengthened in such areas as trade, transport and the like in the interest of our country and the people inhabiting the region. The question could be raised regarding the recognition of Somaliland as an independent state.
Taking this initiative is not preferable to Ethiopia because it would create negative feelings on the part of Somalis living in the rest of Somalia and others would be suspicious of our intent. Therefore, our cooperation with these regions should not include recognizing the regional administrations as independent states. But we should continue to assist these regions in maintaining peace and stability, as it is to our advantage and the benefit of the peoples living in the area.
Secondly, we shall certainly continue to be exposed to various dangers as long as peace and stability elude Somalia as a whole. In recognition of this, we must create the capability to defend ourselves and foil any attack by forces of extremism, terrorism and other anti-peace elements originating in Somalia. In this regard we must always be vigilant.
Thirdly, we have to work in cooperation with the Somali people in the region, and the international community as a whole, to weaken and neutralize those forces coming from any part of Somalia to perpetrate attacks against our country. Obviously, the solution to all of this is the prevalence of democracy, and everything must be done to assist in reaching this solution. At the same time, however, we need to receive the understanding and support of the people of Somalia and the international community regarding what we are facing. While maintaining the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of Somalia, we have to ensure our right to safeguard our peace and defend ourselves.
Source: Ministery of foreign affairs of Ethiopia