African borders are a complex tapestry reflecting a rich mosaic of ethnic groups and cultures that spans multiple nations.
Beneath that patchwork, there is a smoldering issue of Ethno-nationalism which is too visible in Somalia in relation to its neighbors.
As a result of the recent geopolitical development, Kenya and Ethiopia find themselves at a particular juncture where dealing with Somalia expansionism has become a critical issue to preserve their territorial integrity as well as regional stability and peaceful coexistence.
Across the continent, many ethnic groups straddle borders that separate between African nations while their identities transcend the borderlines.
Borana in Ethiopia, for instance, extend all the way across the Kenyan border, while Afar in Djibouti share blood ties with their brothers in Ethiopia. The Maasai people too, live in both Kenya and Tanzania. This is a true emblematic of the complex ethnic landscape of the continent.
In 1964, African heads of states convened in Cairo and made a solemn pledge to respect the borders that existed on their achievement of national independence. This resolution, borne out of the need for harmony among African nations, aimed to prevent border conflicts caused by ethnic affiliations. Yet, Somali Irredentism poses a serious threat to this framework of border stability.
Entrenched in the principle of inherited ownership over all territories Somalis inhabit in East Africa, Somalia has historically disputed the borders of its neighboring countries.
In the 1960s, insurgencies were ignited in Kenya and Ethiopia, with Somalia asserting claims over Somali-inhabited regions and later on in 1977, Somalia directly waged war on Ethiopia in an attempt to seize the Somali region of Ethiopia by force.
Despite African Union’s principle to respect colonial borders, Somalia elites never cease to advocate for the regaining of these perceived ‘missing territories’.
President Hassan Sheikh who recently addressed the public in protest of the MoU between the Republic of Somaliland and Ethiopia underscored this sentiment and openly declared that there are territories Somalia is supposed to reclaim (implying the Somali regions of Ethiopia and Kenya). He described Ethiopia as a traditional enemy to Somalia.
In a similar vein, Somalia-born US lawmaker Ilhan Omar has stated that her country of origin Somalia will one day search for its missing lands.
In late 2006, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, head the committee of the Islamic courts Union (ICU) that then controlled much of Somalia, declared, “We will leave no stone un-turned to integrate our Somali brothers in Kenya and Ethiopia and restore their freedom to live with their ancestors in Somalia.”
Moreover, on January 3 this year, the Somali Ministry of Interior, Federal Affairs and Reconciliation released on its official twitter account a poster featuring a map of a previously unrealized Greater Somalia, with the Somali flag drawn over all Somali inhabited areas, including parts of Kenya and Ethiopia, although it was deleted later on.
To mitigate Somali Irredentism, official recognition of the Republic of Somaliland as a sovereign and independent nation emerges as pivotal solution which could end the dream of uniting all ethnic Somalis under the Somalia administration and also upholds the African union’s pledge to respect existing borders at the time of independence as articulated in the 1964 AU declaration.
Such recognition not only realizes Somaliland’s long over-due dream of recognition, but also serves as a deterrent against further Ethnonationalism ambitions to disrupt the colonial borders agreed by the AU.
In light of the recent MoU between Ethiopia and Somaliland, Ethiopia is set to become the first country to officially recognize the Republic of Somaliland as a sovereign nation, setting a precedent for regional stability.
Kenya, with its Somali-inhabited regions, faces similar imperative to protect its territorial integrity against Somalia’s ethnic expansionism and to prevent future border disputes, Kenya must uphold the AU 1964 declaration of adhering colonial borders and support the recognition of Somaliland.
The issue of Somalia Irredentism surpasses national boundaries, threatening the stability of the region. Kenya and Ethiopia, as key players in East Africa, must take proactive steps to address this challenge, recognize Somaliland and defend the sanctity of existing borders at the time of independence.
The recognition of Somaliland serves not merely as a diplomatic gesture but as a strategic step for safeguarding the security and prosperity of East Africa. The time for action is now, as Kenya and Ethiopia chart a course towards a future defined by stability and mutual respect among nations in East Africa.
Ismail Shirwac is a diplomat based in Nairobi currently serving as the First Secretary of the Republic of Somaliland mission in Kenya