by Muuse Yuusuf
Thursday, November 15, 2018
I could not believe my eyes when I watched leaders of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia enjoying a meeting in what seemed a love affair in the northern Ethiopian city of Gondar. Their body language said much about their intimate relationship and passion for the talks. Sitting in a semi-circle, they squeezed in a tiny sofa as though they were young lovers indulging themselves in a romantic dinner, sipping Ethiopia’s famous coffee.
Abiy Ahmed, the Ethiopian prime minister, the host, did not hide his love when he rested his hands on Somali leader’s thighs while conversing with the Eritrean president, Afwerki. Surrounded by other two leaders, president Formaajo of Somalia appeared to have been receiving much of the attention. It seemed though the two leaders were supporting the Somali leader and were showing him that they were not conspirators. However, the young Somali leader’s body language seemed to exhibit loneliness, caution and anxiety. His face tense, and his hand on his chin as though he was shutting his mouth to exclude himself from other leaders’ passionate conversation.
President Formaajo could be forgiven for feeling that way, and for showing caution in this new found love. This is because he is the odd one among the trio for cultural reasons. Afwerki and Abiy both speak Amharic and Tigrinya and are Christians, causes of perpetual conflicts in the Horn. President Formaajo is Muslim and speaks Somali.
Although English would have been the lingua-franca of the meeting, imagine how uncomfortable president Formaajo would have felt if Abiy and Afwerki’s’ multi-lingual mind had forced them to speak in Tigrinya or Amharic at some point during their summit. This psycho-lingual scenario happens to multi-linguists when they fail to control their thoughts. Understandably, president Formaajo’s mind would have had to deal with awkward questions and conspiratorial theories such as are they plotting against me in a region known for its treacherous politics?
Just like other social interactions, language and body language are powerful tactics that world leaders and diplomats use for their advantage. They use them to cajole, charm, undermine or destroy other leaders in order to achieve their national interests. In diplomatic circles, there are many occasions where leaders deploy body language such as walking away to void greeting leaders of countries that are perceived enemies, or tapping other leaders’ shoulders as a sign of trust and approval.
Anyhow, flames of the current love triangle was sparked by the Ethiopian leader’s visit in the Horn. His diplomatic charm has helped improve relations between these countries. Diplomatic ties have been restored, as closed borders have been re-opened particularly between Eritrea and Ethiopia who have been in a state of war for some time. There are ongoing diplomatic efforts to end the border conflict between Eritrea and Djibouti. There is even talk of closer political and economic integration in the region although in reality this is a distant dream.
This new love is welcome, and is a sign of hope in a region known for its perpetual conflicts and droughts.
However, caution is required from the Somali side given that Ethiopia and Eritrea had been engaged in a proxy war in Somalia during the religious wars in mid-2000. Ethiopia has particularly been a divisive factor throughout Somalia’s political history.
Furthermore, in Somali history there were occasions when Somalia found itself as a victim of regional conspirators, for example the late Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya and Haile Selassie’s hostile opposition to pan-Somalism.
For now, let the leaders enjoy their honeymoon, and let goods and people cross borders particularly between Eritrea and Ethiopia where families had been separated due to the border conflict in 1990s, which claimed thousands of lives. Let us hope that the love affair between Abiy and Afwerki will not be short-lived as the fate was for the late Meles Zenawi and Afwerki who dragged their countries to bloody and disastrous wars.
Let president Formaajo enjoy his status as the ONLY president recognised by the Ethiopian and Eritrean leaders who have committed themselves to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Somalia. This must be a sign of relief for the president who is locked in power struggle with the so called “presidents” of the regional states.