Ethiopia's Analysis of Somalia's Political Situation: "A Web of Obstruction"
Jun 03, 2012 - 9:19:04 PM
By: Dr. Michael A. Weinstein
On May 11, the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a position
paper, "Ethiopia's policy towards Somalia," which defines where Addis Ababa
stands in the current conflicts in the territories of post-independence
Somalia. The tightly structured document provides an account of what the
Ethiopian government judges to be a change in Somalia's threats to Ethiopia
(from a Greater Somalia agenda to Islamic terrorism); a vision of a
best-case scenario for Ethiopia's relation to Somalia (focused on access to
Somali ports and cooperation on water sharing); a reading of the present
political situation in Somalia; and guidelines for Ethiopia's response to
For the purposes of the present analysis, the important part of the document
is its reading of the present political situation in Somalia; that reading
is straightforward and realistic. It should serve as a touchstone for any
discussion of the political dynamics of Somalia today.
Ethiopia's Reading of Somalia's Political Dynamics
The most telling feature of the Ethiopian document is its failure to mention
anything about the roadmap process, which has been orchestrated by the
Western "donor"-powers through the United Nations, and which is supposed to
eventuate in a new constitutional government for Somalia by August 20, 2012.
That process appears to be at the forefront of every other actor's mind;
Ethiopia is alone in passing it by. Addis Ababa seems to have judged that
the entire "transition" of Somalia to an altered political arrangement will
have no significant effect on its policy towards Somalia.
Addis Ababa has made the judgment "that the condition of instability in
Somalia is likely to persist for some time."
Metaphors can be revealing. The ones used by the "donor"-powers/U.N. have
become so familiar to followers of the Somali scene that they have become
nearly literal to the observing mind: roadmap, dual-track, and transition -
all of them transportation metaphors that connote movement and destination.
Ethiopia offers a counter-metaphor: Somalia is trapped in a "web of
obstruction." A web has been cast over the road and there will be no
movement until is it is removed.
As Addis Ababa sees it, the web has been cast by actors "who reap benefits
from the absence of authority," among with it includes "a number of Somali
groups [which ones?], some traders, religious extremists, and their foreign
friends." Meanwhile, the "international community" is "evidently not ready
to exert all its efforts to realize" the aim of a condition of peace in
Somalia. Evidently, Addis Ababa does not believe that the "transition" is
going anywhere. The web of obstruction has blocked the road.
Ethiopia's analysis is accurate as far as it goes. Indeed, all that is
needed in order to make it accurate is to broaden the list of obstructionist
web casters to include all the actors involved in post-independence Somalia,
including, of course, Addis Ababa. All of them have cast the web and all of
them are enveloped and embedded in the web: all the Somali factions, the
regional actors, and the international actors. None of them is leading the
others; there is no protagonist - there are only antagonists, each one with
its own interests, not one willing to give an inch. They come from all
directions, some intent on picking
Somalia apart, others trying to hold on to what they have, each one taking
its own position in the web. "Although the Somali people long for peace [do
they? all of them? on compatible terms?], they have not been able to break
out of the web of obstruction," so says Addis Ababa's document. Who has the
will and the means to break out of the web? It is a strange web - hundreds
of spiders spinning a web in which they entrap themselves, not one outside
Only a literary approach will do for an analysis of this situation. One
needs a picture in order to orient oneself - a fanciful, surreal picture if
need be. A roadmap with two tracks that the actors straddle (how can they
move?). A web without a spider that makes it and stays outside it, but one
made by many spiders which catch themselves inside it as they push and pull
against its threads, unable to break out of it.
How did this happen? A simple principle of political process explains it
all: it is impossible to achieve a stable political organization without
having first prepared the way through social reconciliation. Yet social
reconciliation would involve a protracted process of give and take in order
to succeed. If anyone is most responsible for the web of obstruction, it is
the international actors who are not ready to exert themselves yet insist on
(mis)managing the process. Under those conditions the regional actors and
the Somali actors scramble to get whatever they can at the expense of the
international actors and each other. That is how the "web of obstruction" is
made as the efforts of the actors end up being at cross-purposes.
Ethiopia's Policy Towards Somalia
Lacking any expectation of stability in the territories of post-independence
Somalia, Addis Ababa announces that it will pursue a "damage-limitation"
policy, which amounts to attempting "to weaken and neutralize those forces
coming from any part of Somalia to perpetrate attacks against our country."
It is not only Ethiopia that is pursuing a damage-limitation policy. All of
the actors are in a defensive mode (although ready to seize opportunities
for aggressive action), except perhaps for newcomer Turkey, which is in the
process of getting caught in the web.
Damage limitation is what one tries to do when the work of reconciliation is
Report Drafted By: Dr. Michael A. Weinstein, Prof
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Received on Sat Jun 02 2012 - 20:57:49 EDT