On Thursday Ethiopian Prime Minister Haile Mariam Desalegn met with a high-level delegation from Somaliland, a self-declerated independent republic in North Somalia. Among the Somaliland delegation was Muse Bihi Abdi, leader of the ruling Kulmiye Party and expected successor of Somaliland’s ailing 80-year-old leader, Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud “Silanyo”. The delegation also included Somaliland’s ministers for foreign affairs, interior, and communication.
The meeting comes immediately after an embarrassing set back for Ethiopia in South Somalia, where its favored candidate for the Somali presidency, the former incumbent Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, was soundly defeated by Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo. Mohamud had actively sought Addis Ababa’s favor for his re-election campaign, visiting the Ethiopian capital several times and even becoming the first Somali president to visit the Ogaden, a Somali inhabited region forcibly annexed by Ethiopia in the late 19th century after an agreement with colonial powers. But Mohamud was unable to overcome his unpopularity for high-levels of corruption and divisive clan politics, and anger at his courting of Ethiopian support also contributed to his defeat. Admired for his honesty and hostility to corruption, Farmaajo’s victory was also interpreted as a rejection of Ethiopian interference in Somali politics.
Ethiopia’s quick meeting with Somaliland leaders after Farmaajo’s victory may indicate that it will grant greater support for the breakaway region to offset its setback in Mogadishu. Ethiopia is suspected of having a policy of supporting the fragmentation of Somalia into clan-based enclaves in order to prevent the emergence of a strong, unitary Somali state based in Mogadishu that may challenge Ethiopia’s dominant role in the Horn of Africa region. Greater support for the various statelets in Somalia, such as Puntland and Somaliland, will help Ethiopia “check” any challenges which may emerge from Farmaajo’s government.