The delicate security situation in and around the Horn of Africa by mid-May 2010 began to get dramatically worse, with the potential for major problems for the international sea trade - particularly in energy products and manufactures - through the Red Sea/Suez sea lanes, as a result of major foreign involvement in major, and imminent, elections in Somaliland and Ethiopia.
Arguably, the situation in Somaliland is the less stable of the two situations, although they are directly linked, given their contiguous borders, and the fact that Somaliland is now the key overland trade link for Ethiopia to Red Sea shipping. Moreover, actions in Somaliland in the second week of May 2010 showed an intensity which has all but overturned the prospect for free and fair elections, and has heightened the possibility that the election could be hijacked by pan-Somalists who would return the stable region to a union with Somalia, which is presently without any meaningful government.
Terrorist actions inside Ethiopia continued to escalate in the run-up to the May 23, 2010, Parliamentary elections, with a number of direct incidents inside Ethiopian territory involving Eritrean troops. There has been a build-up of Ethiopian Defense Force (EDF) personnel near the Eritrean border in Tigré Province, among other areas, checking particularly for incursions and to determine whether land-mines or improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have been lain during the night by Eritrean personnel. At least one landmine was found by a Chinese road construction company on May 11, 2010, 7km outside Sheraro on the road to Humera near Shire Endaselassie, in Tigré.
Clashes since the beginning of May 2010 in Ethiopia’s ethnically Somali region — which the Somalis call the Ogaden and which was once the Harerge province of Ethiopia — between EDF personnel and (now more importantly) the Regional Special Police Force (RSPF) against insurgents of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) have ramifications not only for Ethiopia but also for Somaliland. The ONLF is supported by the Eritrean Government and had links with al-Ittihad al-Islami, which has subsequently — with the effective disintegration of al-Ittihad — become blurred with the Somali al-Shabaab group, which is in turn supported by elements of the al-Qaida movements, and, more surreptitiously by the Iranian Government. Significantly, the ONLF has consistently undertaken armed warfare against Somaliland as well as Ethiopia.
Two senior ONLF commanders were reported killed in early May 2010 in clashes with the RSPF in the Korahe and Warden zones of the Ethiopian Somali region, although one of those killed had apparently been mis-identified by the RSPF, and later called the BBC Somali service to say that he had not been killed.
On the whole, however, the Meles Government has the security situation largely under control inside Ethiopia, and was totally prepared for the uptick in security incidents from Eritrea and Eritrean-sponsored organizations in the country. This is the fourth general election which the Meles Zenawi EPRDF Government has faced, and, if anything, it is well geared toward any escalation which might lead to a renewed open conflict with Eritrea. Indeed, the one major embarrassment for the Meles Government is that it helped create the Eritrean crisis, because of the longstanding Meles relationship with Eritrean leaders Isayas Afewerke while the Dergue was still in power in Ethiopia (1974-1990), and before Eritrea was independent.
Essentially, many Ethiopians blame Prime Minister Meles for giving Eritrea independence from Ethiopia in 1993, only to have Eritrea then become hostile to, and invade, Ethiopia. Today, however, Eritrea is militarily and economically weak, and has enlisted considerable aid from such allies as Egypt to enable it to sustain hostility against Ethiopia, containing it as a landlocked state.
However, because of the landlocked status which Ethiopia now has since it gave independence to Eritrea, and included in Eritrean territory some Ethiopian lands and ports which had never historically been Eritrean, Ethiopia is now heavily dependent on the stability and goodwill of Djibouti and Somaliland (former British Somaliland).
Somaliland’s Presidential elections had been due to be held in 2009, but were delayed due to a total breakdown in the voter registration system. For some time, some members of the Somaliland Election Commission, have become financially compromised to a mix of opposition groups and external influences, notably from the Interpeace movement which is effectively a self-sustaining non-governmental organization (NGO), but which claims association with the United Nations. Interpeace, mainly through its offices in Nairobi, has been funding opposition parties and — possibly indirectly — individuals within the Election Commission. As well, Interpeace funded the provision of new “biometric voter registration cards”, which it had made for the Commission in South Africa.
Interpeace recently gave the opposition officials and the National Election Commission (NEC) officials with whom it had a relationship an ultimatum. Either ensure that a Presidential election was scheduled to be held before the end of July 2010, or Interpeace would cut off its secret funding and other support. The Election Commission came out with a call, in early May 2010, for the Presidential election to be held on June 26, 2010, Somaliland’s national day. Somaliland Pres. Dahir Rayale Kahin, of the Unity of Democratic Alliance (UDUB) Party, not wishing to be seen as the obstacle to elections — for which Somaliland’s foreign supporters, particularly the US, UK, France, and the EU generally had been pushing — agreed to the date, even though it gave the Government less than six weeks to prepare for the event.
The major problem was that the voter rolls had been heavily tampered with because Interpeace had been given a contract by its colleagues in the Electoral Commission to prepare them. At the same time, the “biometric” voter registration cards began being distributed — and are now continuing to be distributed — throughout the country.
What has emerged, however, is that the cards are by no means “biometric” or secure, and they have been distributed with a clear intent to create a fraudulent result. Some individuals have been issued with 17 or more cards, enabling multiple votes from a single individual, for example.
Interpeace and some of the key opposition figures reacted swiftly, vigorously, and with hostility when the Somaliland media received a leaked copy of the confidential Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis of April 21, 2010, carrying the report entitled Somaliland’s Presidential Election Assumes Growing Priority as Major Powers Sense Strategic Urgency of the Horn Situation. This report made it clear that there was an improper relationship between Interpeace — whose members have been linked to organized manipulation of elections and insurgency groups in the Balkans, and elsewhere — and opposition politicians in Somaliland. As well, the report made it clear that some opposition politicians were not only linked with the policies and actions of the al-Shabaab terrorist group in neighboring Somalia, but had also advocated either a pan-Somalist outcome for the area — in other words having stable and peaceful Somaliland rejoin war-torn Somalia — or the introduction of shari’a law as the governing law of Somaliland.
All of this puts the US State Department, and the European governments supporting Somaliland, in a difficult position, having so strenuously pushed Pres. Kahin to re-schedule the Presidential elections at an early date, to be followed rapidly by Parliamentary elections for the House of Representatives (lower house) and the House of Elders (upper house).
None of the major governments with a vital interest in Somaliland — including those regional states hostile to it, such as Eritrea, Egypt, and Somalia, which see Somaliland as a vital lifeline for Ethiopia — can been seen to call for a delay in the Presidential election until basic transparency and security can be restored to the voting system. On the other hand, the present conditions pave the way for an absolute hijacking of the election on June 26, 2010. Moreover, numerous opposition sources have made it clear to GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs that they will not rely solely on being able to hijack the ballot, and were ready for major street action and other destabilizing incidents to ensure that the ruling UDUB party did not win the election.
Not only is Somaliland in a key position in the counter-piracy conflict which is based out of the neighboring Puntland region of Somalia, it is vital to the world trading community’s control of the Red Sea and adjacent maritime region. There are also considerable oil and other mineral reserves at stake in Somaliland territory, and the Somaliland port of Berbera, for example, is to be a key node in the major Internet cable which would link the African East Coast with the high-speed global systems.
At the same time, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is also pushing its naval presence into the region, as well as into the Persian Gulf, for the first time since the Ming Dynasty 600 years ago, something which has not gone unnoticed in Washington. How long will Beijing ignore Somaliland? That is, assuming Somaliland remains intact after the June 26, 2010, Presidential election.
Analysis from GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs Stations Addis Ababa and Hargeisa, and other sources. © 2010 Global Information System.