Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has a mountain to climb in his latest bid at mediation between Somaliland and Somalia.
A proposal this week to have Dr Abiy accompany Somalia's President Mohamed Abdullali Mohamed alias Farmaajo to visit Somaliland’s President Muse Bihi Abdi in the capital Hargeisa as part of efforts to warm relations between the two, was rejected by the would-be hosts.
President Bihi Abdi rejected Farmaajo’s inquiry, even though he did accept an apology issued by the Somali president on past atrocities in Hargeisa committed by former president Siad Barre.
Bihi Abdi said the apology was “timely”, but then told local parliamentarians on Tuesday the request for a visit by both Dr Abiy and Farmaajo was “just ridiculous.”
Dr Abiy reacted by sending an emissary to Hargeisa, in the wake of a public rejection for his proposal. But the move was ruined by the tough stance taken by bureaucrats in Mogadishu and Hargeisa.
“Farmaajo’s visit to the Republic of Somaliland is absolutely a day dream and mission impossible,” said Liban Yousuf Osman, the Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister in Somaliland. “The government of Somaliland stands for the protection of its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.
Rashid Abdi, a researcher on the Horn of Africa and Gulf argued that the Ethiopian premier may be the latest sensation in the Somalia mediation, but he may have misstepped already on the issue.
“The Ethiopian administration lacks depth of knowledge on the Somalia and Somaliland relations. It is clear from events of the past week, the two are not capable, at this stage, to hold direct talks without a neutral mediator, preferably beyond the Horn of Africa. I think PM Abiy’s diplomacy has run its course. It is sowing tension. Addis ought to step back,” he tweeted.
Somaliland, which was initially called British Somaliland Protectorate, has grievances against Mogadishu going back to Barre’s regime. In 1988, Barre bombed Hargeisa, targetting secessionist war lords, but killed an estimated 10,000 civilians according to official records. However, Somaliland authorities say 200,000 were killed.
President Bihi Abdi, a retired air force pilot, was a member of the rebels that fought against Barre who was later deposed in 1991 plunging Somalia into chaos.
Somaliland then declared Independence from Mogadishu in May 1991, but is internationally considered a breakaway region of Somalia.