Ethiopia: The Self-Proclaimed, Self-Serving Spokes-Country for the Horn of Africa

Meles shamelessly wants to act as a self-serving, self-proclaimed spokesperson for South Sudan and Djibouti

By Afrah Negash,

One of the norms in international relations is that states air their concerns over events and issues directly to world public opinion. In the Horn of Africa, it seems that a new norm underway by which one country grants itself the role of speaking on behalf of others.

For some years now, Ethiopia has assumed the responsibility of speaking on behalf of the sovereign states in the Horn of Africa, especially on the nature of their relations with Eritrea. It has become common for Ethiopian officials to state that Eritrea is supporting a rebel group in Djibouti, Southern Sudan, Western Sudan, and even Yemen.

Recent statements by officials in Addis Ababa better illustrate this preoccupation. In the aftermath of the Qatari mediated agreement between Djibouti and Eritrea, the Ethiopian government attempted frantically to cast doubts on an agreement reached between two sovereign’ countries. At one point, Ethiopia decries the absence of involvement by regional bodies in the Agreement that therefore cannot be taken seriously because it lacks transparency (as if the sanction it champions against Eritrea were not).

What is even more amusing is Addis Ababa’s argument that the conflict was so big to be handled by a small country such as Qatar, regardless of its effective role in the inter-Lebanese conflict and its long-standing engagement with Sudan’s crisis in Darfur. Months later, the Ethiopian Prime Minister echoed the same skepticism by explaining in a Reuters interview, that; “the Djibouti deal is a too early to say situation, the diplomatic glad-handing is frantic and nothing new and any change in policy is simply an attempt by Eritrea to remove “the noose of sanctions from around its neck”.

Contrary to such pronouncements several regional and international organizations as well as governments have in fact applauded the agreement. On many several occasions, Djibouti Eritrea’s counterpart in the agreement has publicly stated that the border conflict is over and that what remained is the legal process on the delimitation and demarcation of the common border pursued by Qatar.

Later on, allegations emerged from Addis Ababa about Eritrea’s support for Djiboutian rebels. In an interview with local media outlets P.M. Meles Zenawi, claimed that, “Eritrea is also arming and sending terrorists into Djibouti soil to sabotage the country’s April election process.” To date, this statement, remains without corroboration from any other source, including the party directly concerned and supposedly most aggrieved the “Djibouti government”. Ethiopia’s attempt to speak on behalf of others did not end with Djibouti; Southern Sudan is another case in point.

In a recent interview on Awate website Melse Zenawi argued that, “South Sudan is not in good terms with Eritrea. Before South Sudan is born, Eritrea is beginning to destabilize South Sudan. Those in the know in the region, they know among other things the Eritrean regime is beginning to arm a militia group led by a certain gentleman known as George Athor.”

Was there any statement from the SPLM accusing Eritrea of such act? NO!

Again, in the run to Southern Sudan independence, the Ethiopian government is claiming that Eritrea will not recognize the new state. In fact, Eritrea has already extended a de facto recognition of the new state following the 98% vote in support of self-determination during last January Referendum and has already assigned a new ambassador to Juba.

In reality, therefore, there is no evidence whatsoever of deteriorating relations between Eritrea and its neighbors except in the minds of Ethiopia official. The legitimate question then, is why is Ethiopia so keen to speak on behalf of other sovereign states in the Horn of Africa?  Who gave them that right? And, what are the bases for thinking that countries of the region cannot articulate publicly their concerns? The answer is simply Ethiopia has NO right to speak for any country in the region and the mere attempt to do that demonstrates colonial mentality of dictating your will on other sovereign entities.

Clearly, the one straightforward answer to all of the above questions is intertwined with the core issue that bedevils stability and instability in the entire Horn of Africa. Simply put, all of the above issues are linked to Ethiopian efforts to divert attention from the refusal to fulfill its obligation under international law on the demarcated borders with Eritrea, not to mention its flagrant disregard to good neighborly relations typify by its invasion of Somalia.