Hemedti in attendance as leaders focus on war in Sudan
The 42nd Extraordinary Assembly of IGAD Heads of State and Government held in Entebbe on January 18, 2024, did not dig deep into the row brewing between Ethiopia and Somalia. Instead, more than two-thirds of the meeting’s proceedings focused on the war in Sudan.
A brief paragraph in the IGAD communiqué issued after the meeting states “[the IGAD meeting] reaffirmed the cardinal principles of respect for the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Somalia; and any engagement should uphold the above cardinal principles, and any agreement or arrangement should be with the consent of the Federal Government of Somalia.”
Analysts observe the statement is ambiguous, neither denouncing nor recognizing the recent MoU signed between Ethiopia and Somaliland.
Although IGAD seems to stress that any agreement with Somaliland must be done with the consent of the Somali government, it remains unclear whether IGAD is referring to future deals or the one signed on January 1.
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IGAD called, again, for constructive dialogue between Ethiopia and Somalia.
The extraordinary assembly was requested by Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud (PhD), who is furious with Ethiopia’s intentions to recognize breakaway Somaliland in exchange for sea access.
Following his request, Ismail Omar Guelleh, Djibouti president and IGAD chairperson, convened heads of states and governments in Entebbe on Thursday. The meeting was supposed to focus on the escalating tensions between Addis Ababa and Mogadishu, and the brutal war in Sudan.
However, neither Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) nor General al-Burhan, the Sudanese military commander and de-facto leader, were present in Entebbe.
The Ethiopian government excused itself by saying the meeting was short-notice, and clashed with a “commitment to a prior engagement.” In fact, PM Abiy arrived in Kampala on January 19, 2024, but to attend another meeting; the 19th Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit, held on 19 to 20 January 2024 under the theme “Deepening Cooperation for Shared Global Affluence.”
On the other hand, IGAD’s invitation to Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti) led al-Burhan to refuse to attend, calling the invitation extended to his rival “a violation of Sudan’s sovereignty, IGAD charters, and rules governing the work of international and regional organizations.”
Hemedti, meanwhile, took up the invitation and attended his debut IGAD summit, which some analysts say gives him some diplomatic weight.
“I was pleased to participate in the 42nd Extraordinary Session… which discussed the ways to halt the ongoing war in the Sudan,” Hemedti tweeted.
The IGAD session called on Sudan’s warring generals to sit down for a face-to-face meeting within the coming two weeks.
Following the end of the Entebbe meeting, the Somali President was seen trying to engage attendees, such as IGAD Secretary General Workneh Gebeyehu, in informal but intense conversation.
Inside sources told The Reporter that President Hassan Sheikh expected the assembly to denounce the MoU, which the Somali government has labeled illegal.
Only five of the eight IGAD members attended the extraordinary session, but several officials and representatives from the UN, AU, Arab League, EU, and others were present. Dignitaries from the US, Saudi, UAE, and Turkish government were also in attendance.
The Arab League has issued statements rejecting the deal between Ethiopia and Somaliland. The AU, EU, US, and China have issued statements reiterating their recognition of Somalia’s sovereignty, but stopped short of denouncing Ethiopia’s move.
In an effort to garner support, Somalia has been making efforts to forge alliances with Cairo and Asmara. President Hassan Sheikh embarked on a diplomatic tour in the weeks following the MoU signing. At the same time, Hemedti went on his own tour around Africa, including a stop in Addis Ababa, for much the same purpose.
IGAD and the AU have both called for dialogue and a de-escalation of tension between Ethiopia and Somalia. The AU has further proposed to deploy High Representative Olusegun Obasanjo to mediate talks between the two.
The Somali government has rejected the notion of talks unless Ethiopia retracts its deal with Somaliland.
Nonetheless, Ethiopia has expressed strong willingness to pursue the terms of the deal. The MoU offers 20 kilometers on the Somaliland coast for a commercial port and naval base, in exchange for recognition of Somaliland’s statehood.
Somalia has suspended diplomatic ties with Ethiopia, claiming that Somaliland remains within its territory and has no power to sign a bilateral deal independently.
Fears mount that the tensions will escalate into conflict, but analysts argue it is unlikely as both countries are in a fragile state due to years of protracted internal conflicts and instability.
During the IGAD meeting, EU and US representatives warned that any escalation between Ethiopia and Somalia would add fuel to the ongoing conflicts in the Horn and complicate the shadow the Gaza conflict is casting over the Red Sea.
Ambassador Mike Hammer, US special envoy to the Horn, said Washington is particularly concerned the tensions could undermine globally-backed efforts to combat al-Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia.
He mentioned troubling indications that al-Shabaab is using the MoU to mobilize new fighters.
“We are particularly concerned that the increasing tension over the MoU threatens to disrupt the fight that Somalis, along with Africans and regional and international partners including the US, are waging against al-Shabaab,” said Hammer.
Annette Weber, the EU special envoy to the Horn, said the crises have a common link with the Red Sea, which she noted is a critical waterway carrying 10 percent of global cargo.
The West is taking a stance against any further potential aggression between Ethiopia and Somalia, leaving Mogadishu with little option but to use diplomatic efforts to pressure Addis Ababa into scrapping the deal.
However, analysts observe that since Ethiopia is an IGAD anchor state and seat of the AU, there is hardly a regional or international entity that could force Addis Ababa to retract the MoU.
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