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Three Reasons why Djibouti’s Foreign Minister Should not be Allowed to become the next African Union Commission (AUC) Chairperson

Mahmoud Youssouf, the fiery and polarizing Foreign Minister of Djibouti, has boldly thrown his hat into the ring for the highly contested position of Chairperson of the African Union Commission. With this move, he becomes the third contender from the East African region, following in the footsteps of the charismatic opposition leader and ex-prime minister, Raila Odinga. However, Youssouf’s candidacy has quickly gained momentum, placing him as the second frontrunner in the race. Despite facing stiff competition from the former Somali deputy prime minister and current federal parliament member, Fawzia Yusuf, Odinga’s strong backing from numerous African leaders has solidified his position as the ultimate frontrunner. The stage is set for a fierce battle as these three powerful candidates vie for the coveted role of AU Commission Chairperson.

Despite the fact that the Djiboutian Foreign Minister harbors a strong desire for the coveted AU Commission chairmanship, his ulterior motives are rooted in seeking geopolitical dominance for his country alone. This narrow-minded ambition, fueled by his personal political ideologies, blatantly disregards the importance of promoting fair economic integration and sustainable peace in the Horn of Africa region. In essence, his flawed intentions can be attributed to three crucial factors.

It’s noteworthy that Djibouti, long aligned with Somaliland, has kept its unrecognized neighbor in a diplomatic purgatory. Privately, particularly to influential players like the United States, it has downplayed Somaliland’s importance. However, Djibouti has taken a public stance against the Somaliland-Ethiopian Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), indicating a recognition of Somaliland’s potential as a significant economic rival to its port and geostrategic economy.

Considering this perspective, Djibouti’s strong support for Somalia’s stance on the MoU, coupled with its recent closeness to Mogadishu and President Hassan Sh. Mohamed, raises suspicions. Djibouti might be hedging its bets in the African Union race by potentially backing both Somalia and its own Foreign Minister. This strategy aims to prevent Kenya’s candidate, Raila Odinga, a known ally of Somaliland, from obstructing Abiy Ahmed and Muse Bihi’s emerging alliance.

Reason #1:

Mr Yousuf’s candidacy poses a potential threat to Somaliland’s recognition, an issue that has been under consideration since a unique UN study in 2005 commended it as deserving international acknowledgment. When Congressman Payne inquired about the penalization of Somaliland in 2008 due to Mogadishu’s disarray, Djibouti’s Foreign Minister deflected blame onto Ethiopia, citing its opposition to a stronger Somalia, which he claimed bred instability and balkanized Somaliland. This argument is a typical red herring peddled by those who refuse to acknowledge Somaliland’s achievements in democracy, state building, and strong institutions, feats which are rarities in both the Horn of Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Reason #2:

Mr. Yousuf’s support for Abdullahi Yussuf’s presidency in Somalia was grounded in a misguided belief that he had previously quashed the SNM in Somaliland, a feat he thought could be replicated. Contrarily, during that period, Abdullahi Yussuf led the SDDF rebels against Siad Barre, who later bribed them to abandon their pursuit of change. What demands scrutiny is Mr. Yousuf’s denial of the Isaaq genocide perpetrated by Siad Barre. His hope that another Darod politician, hostile towards the Isaaq, could repeat such atrocities is deeply troubling and unfathomable.

Reason #3:

Mr. Yousuf supports the Houthis, causing harm to African trade: In a political forum organized by the Heritage Institute in Djibouti in 2023, Youssouf stated, “God bless the Houthis…We didn’t want to be part of the US coalition…the attacks need to stop as they harm our economy but we share the same feelings with the Houthis.” This statement is not only ironic, but also alarming as it shows that Youssouf supports the Houthis who are attacking commercial ships in the Red Sea, ultimately impacting African trade between the Gulf and EU countries.

For two decades, Foreign Minister Mahamoud Ali Youssouf has advocated policies that seem to hold Somaliland hostage, delaying its development until Somalia catches up, a strategy akin to a forced, unratified, and illegal union. From advocating a Saudi livestock ban that stifle economic growth, to blocking Chinese-Ethiopian plans to develop an oil export hub in Somaliland’s Berbera port, and undermining Somaliland’s democracy by promoting politicians with Djiboutian passports, his actions have been questionable.

The African Union requires leaders who encourage unity and economic integration, rather than those who propagate a divisive, colonial mentality. The last thing the AU needs is a politician like Yousuf, who obstructs potential agreements such as the Ethiopia-Somaliland MOU — a plan that could economically liberate approximately 120 million people, a feat seven times more impactful than the American Marshall Plan that provided relief for 17 million Europeans.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Guled Ahmed is a Resident Scholar with the Middle East Institute and an expert in Horn of Africa Security and Development.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, or viewpoints of Somaliland Chronicle, and its staff. 

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Notice: This article by Somaliland Chronicle is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 4.0 International License. Under this license, all reprints and non-commercial distribution of this work are permitted.

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