The presidents of Somalia and Eritrea on Monday signed an agreement to establish diplomatic ties after over a decade of animosity, in the latest lightning rapprochement between Horn of Africa rivals.
Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s three-day visit to Asmara coincides with an extraordinary peace process between Eritrea and Ethiopia — part of dizzying change in a region burdened by war, proxy conflicts, isolation and iron-fisted rule.
“The two countries will establish diplomatic relations and exchange ambassadors,” read a “joint declaration on brotherly relations” signed in Asmara by Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and Mohamed.
The declaration came just three weeks after Ethiopia and Eritrea declared an end to two decades of conflict, rapidly restoring diplomatic ties and flights between their capitals.
The history of the three nations, and their fallouts, have been intertwined.
Somalia and Eritrea were once close. Under Somali dictator Siad Barre, the military regime in Mogagishu backed Eritrea’s long fight for independence from Ethiopia, which was attained in 1993.
In 1998, Ethiopia and Eritrea began a bloody two-year war over their shared border which left 80,000 dead before settling into a bitter cold war.
After the fall of Barre in 1991, Somalia fell into chaos.
By around 2006, it became the site of what observers called a proxy war between Eritrea and Ethiopia.
Ethiopia backed a weak interim government in Mogadishu while Eritrea was accused of backing the Islamic militants fighting to overthrow it, a charge it denied.
The United Nations Security Council in 2009 imposed an arms embargo and targeted sanctions on Eritrea for its alleged support of the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab militants, which continue to launch regular deadly attacks despite losing territory in recent years.
The declaration placed special emphasis on its support for the Somali government.
“Eritrea strongly supports the political independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Somalia as well as the efforts of the people and government of Somalia to restore the country’s rightful stature and achieve the lofty aspirations of its people,” it said. The document, posted on Eritrea’s information ministry website, also said the two nations “will endeavor to forge intimate political, economic, social, cultural as well as defense and security cooperation.”
They will, in addition, “work in unison to foster regional peace, stability and economic integration.”
End of ‘epoch of conflict’
At a state banquet on Sunday, Afwerki bemoaned the gloomy post-Cold War history of the Horn of Africa.
He said the region had been destroyed by “ethnic and clan cleavages” and “external pillage and internal thievery” in the speech which also lashed out at the “micromanagement of anarchy” by the United Nations and NGOs.
“Under these bleak realities, interventionist and expansionist regional agendas in the name of religion, cultural intoxication under various extremist ideologies, terrorism, piracy, human trafficking, as well as trade in weapons and narcotics became the new normal,” he said, according to a speech posted on the information ministry’s website.
“But this epoch of crises, conflict and instability is not inherently sustainable. As such, it is nearing its end. We are indeed entering a new, transitional phase.”
Ethiopia, which is undergoing lightning reforms under new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, has already formally requested that sanctions be lifted against Eritrea.
And in the wake of Ethiopia’s peace with Eritrea, its other neighbor and rival Djibouti asked the U.N. Security Council for help mediating a long-standing border dispute that has soured relations with Asmara.