Just months after winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Ethiopia’s reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is fighting accusations of his interfering with the affairs of neighbouring countries.
In November, two United Nations reports accused him of being lukewarm in South Sudan peace process and fuelling fires of instability in Somalia; two of the countries he has been closely involved in as the chairman of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.
In South Sudan, where Igad midwifed a revitalised peace agreement in September last year, Abiy’s government, Uganda and Kenya were accused of being inconsistent in ensuring the deal is implemented.
“Over the past year, the Igad and member states neighbouring South Sudan – specifically Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda – have not demonstrated full and consistent engagement in the peace process,” a UN report said.
“The government of Salva Kiir, in particular, has benefited from the inconsistent approach of the region.”
Ethiopia, which chaired Igad until last Friday, and Kenya have only given piecemeal support, with occasional visits or bilateral meetings, the report by the UN Panel of Experts says.
Both countries refute the charge, separately saying that they have in fact borne the brunt of violence in South Sudan by hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees and losing business.
On Friday, Ethiopia’s ambassador to Kenya Meles Alem told the Nation that the allegations do not hold water.
“One of the pillars of Ethiopian foreign policy is non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. That is our track record,” Meles said.
“As a good neighbour, we have only played constructive roles.”
Kenya on the other hand accused the UN team of passing the buck, arguing that Kenya suffers whenever South Sudan is at war as its businesses close and it hosts refugees.
This past week, a number of Somali politicians have been vocal, accusing Ethiopia of helping the federal government interfere with the states.
The Forum for National Parties (FNP), the coalition which brings together six parties, wrote to Abiy telling him to stop “the unfortunate renewal of Ethiopia’s involvement in Somalia’s domestic politics”.
The politicians said Ethiopia is deploying non-Amisom forces in the country, referring to the African Union Mission in Somalia.
“The Ethiopian National Defence Forces have been repeatedly involved in illegal activities whose outcome could at best undermine the fragile state-building and nascent democratic processes in Somalia,” they wrote on Friday.
The FNP letter came on the backdrop of complaints by the Jubbaland administration following two incidents in Gedo.
Jubbaland, whose president is Ahmed Madobe, said Ethiopian soldiers forced administrators in Buala Hawa, Dolow and Luuq towns in Gedo region to renounce their allegiance to Jubbaland.
In another incident, Jubbaland Vice President Mohamud Sayyid reportedly sought refuge in Mandera, Kenya after escaping a kidnapping attempt by Ethiopian forces.
Pressed, Jubbaland and FNP did not provide proof of the maltreatment. Meles told the Sunday Nation that his country’s role in South Sudan and Somalia have been limited to the peace process.
He said Ethiopia deploys peacekeepers who follow available regulations.
“We have played a constructive role under the auspices of Igad to bring peace and stability in the two countries. In fact, Ethiopia hosts a million refugees and we treat them as our citizens,” the diplomat said.
Accusations against Ethiopia began in Somalia last year.
A UN Panel of Experts on Somalia in its 2019 report said Ethiopia had interfered with the vote in South West where Mukhtar Rubow – a former al-Shabaab deputy head – was barred from running.
When South West residents protested, forces loyal to Rubow fought Ethiopian soldiers, resulting in several deaths, the UN experts said.
“The role of the Ethiopian forces in the arrest of Rubow has the potential to inflame anti-Ethiopian sentiment among communities in the region, who were previously known to share information on al-Shabaab movements with them,” the panel said.
Ethiopia, at the time dismissed the report as a fabrication. As Somalia’s Galmudug state gears for its elections, politicians accuse Addis Ababa of playing a role again.