Abiy's unbridled ambitions stoking tensions in neighbouring countries

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy. [AP photo]

The world is increasingly unstable with embers of war almost everywhere. Within countries and regions, official and unofficial war instigators appear to be unrestrained as they go around doing what they want even as they shift blame to others.

They manipulate media and related institutions that manufacture opinions to justify questionable behaviour.

Leaders deliberately mislead their people and lose believability and ability to lead. They lose power and become so erratic that they plunge countries and regions into instability and possible wars. This is happening in Eastern Africa where the overlapping regions of IGAD, the Great Lakes, and the EAC are suspicious of each other.

Practically mortgaging countries by overly relying on extra-continental forces, leaders claim local omnipotence and compete for prominence in conspicuous extravagance and wastage of public resources.

The IGAD, despite hosting the African Union in Ethiopia, stands out as the region most prone to embers of war. It generates refugees and people displacement and is a depository of global pity as well as a playfield for geopolitical rivalry.

Its leaders dream of recognition as great and excel at listening to sycophantic praises and to their own advice. They therefore find nothing wrong with fanning the embers of war and in plunging their region into constant instability.

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy is good at creating internal and regional instability and fanning the embers of war. Having earned a Nobel Peace Prize for ending the war with Eritrea, he probably believes he can do anything. He seemingly sees himself as a reincarnation of Menelik II, the 1896 victor of Adowa over the Italians whose big expansionist dream was to reach the sea.

It was a dream that Emperor Haile Selassie entertained and Abiy wants to realise. While the British, Italians, and French stopped Menelik and made Ethiopia landlocked, Abiy would like to ‘unlock’ it probably at the expense of Eritrea, Somalia, and Kenya.

There are, however, some checks to Abiy’s ambitions. With internal frictions limiting his dictatorial tendencies, he has had to fight various peoples seeking more autonomy. He tries to divert attention from domestic problems by rekindling the dream of accessing the Red Sea by being regionally provocative and inconsistent in alliances.

He talks of possible war to get access to the sea and breaks the AU principle of not interfering in the internal affairs of sister republics. He has also promoted secessionism by entering into a deal to recognise breakaway Somaliland.

This has provoked the Somali people who, although internally fragmented, found reason to minimise their differences and re-unite against likely Ethiopian aggression. Being primarily Somali, even people in Somaliland do not support the Ethiopian deal. The Al Shabaab militia would take the offered occasion to rebrand itself into general acceptability as defender of Somali collective interests.

For Somaliland leader Musa Bihi, Ethiopian recognition in exchange for access to the Red Sea would probably open the gates of acceptability as an independent player in the expanding international arena. Abiy fanning the embers of war is regionally disconcerting, like the unending feuds in Congo and Sudan. Egypt and Sudan support Somalia and so do the Americans and Turks with their military bases in Mogadishu.

With former ally Eritrea on Somalia’s side, Abiy is an isolated liability that can inflict regional damage. The Sudan civil war, however, complicates matters for Kenya’s image. Although several IGAD members received Sudanese militia leader Dagalo, Khartoum directed its anger at Nairobi, implying that Nairobi and Addis could link up against Khartoum and Mogadishu.

Although Kenya has security understanding with Ethiopia, that understanding does not extend to endorsing Ethiopian appetite for territorial expansion and violation of AU principles. In addition, the Ethiopia-Somaliland deal is potentially injurious to Kenya’s commercial and geopolitical interests.

President William Ruto assured Somalia, but he still faces the challenge of extricating Kenya’s image from an emerging Abiy engineered Eastern Africa quagmire.