It was in 2000 when the Somali Reconciliation Conference was being held in the Djibouti town of Arta. In the beginning, Ethiopian leaders thought the conference to be fruitless and waste of time as the “tiny country” of Djibouti couldn’t handle it due to a lack of capacity and resources. When they realized that Somali government could emerge from Arta, they decided to persuade, and to some extent arm-twist some of their Somali allies to become part of the upcoming government. They had succeeded in doing that by compelling the late RRA Chairman Shaatigaduud to attend the Arta Conference. They tried similar tactics with the Puntland President and then the late President of Somalia, Abdullahi Yusuf.

In an attempt to give you an inside view of how Ethiopia operates, the way they played with Yusuf was amazing to behold. To begin with, the Ethiopian government sent an executive luxury jet owned by the Saudi-Ethiopian billionaire Amudi to Garoowe, Puntland, with the Ethiopian Chief Protocol Officer onboard, to pick up President Yusuf’s delegation to Addis Ababa for talks with Ethiopian leaders.

A three-man delegation led by President Yusuf and that included me boarded the plane. As we landed at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, a fleet of government limousines was waiting for us as we got off the luxury jet. Surprisingly, we didn’t hand our passports to protocol or Immigration officers. We were lodged at the luxury suites of Addis Hilton.

As we settled, instead of inviting us for talks at their offices, they started conducting informal conversations at President Yusuf’s hotel suite. Diplomats and the deputy foreign minister came, and then the Ethiopian Envoy to the UN Dr Takeda Alemu kept visiting us in the hotel. Our impression was that they were preparing a bigger official meeting with then foreign Minister Seyoun, who has recently been killed in the ongoing Tigray War in Ethiopia, and also with the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

As ice was broken, during the informal chats at the hotel, President Yusuf suggested that we could expand the meeting to include Mogadishu warlords, who also had disagreement with President Ismael Omar Ghuelleh of Djibouti on the handling of the Conference by marginalizing warlords in favor of civil society. The Ethiopians concurred and welcomed President Yusuf’s proposal. They ordered Jama Blue’s charter planes to pick up Mogadishu warlords from the KM50 Airstrip on the outskirts of Mogadishu. They all accepted our invitation to Addis Ababa.

What happened afterwards is a political drama and a conspiracy with high stakes. After two days of informal conversations at the hotel, Dr Takeda Alemu and his team of diplomats thought that President Yusuf was prepared and ready to hear the Ethiopian position on the Arta Conference. They told us that Ethiopian leadership was earnestly advising Puntland State to participate in the Arta Conference, adding that President Ismael Guelleh would declare public holiday in Djibouti if President Yusuf were to land in Arta. Big mistake! We listened politely to them and told them we would respond shortly. Immediately, we had reached out to Mogadishu warlords to stay put in Mogadishu and not to board the Ethiopian charter plane. We also had contacted Jama Blue and our team in Nairobi not to send the plane to Mogadishu. We ordered a charter plane for ourselves from the late General Khalif Isse Mudan, who ran the now the now defunct Damal Airlines, to fly into Bole Airport in Addis Ababa and airlift us from Addis.

Ethiopian officials were unaware of our planning, and actually we didn’t care about it. I was the contact person of our delegation and I scaled down and shut off communication with the Ethiopian diplomats on any updates or developments or the decision we made in response to their proposal of Arta Conference. In fact, Ambassador Sahle-worke Sewde, then Ambassador to Djibouti and now president of Ethiopia, tried to impress me as I was a young man, but to no avail.

With our plans all set and all confident, I contacted Ambassador Sahle-werke to arrange a meeting with Minister Seyoum Mesfin on the following Saturday, a holiday in Ethiopia. The minister, in sports uniform and running shoes, met us in his office at ministry opposite the Hilton Hotel, where we were staying. He was with his team of diplomats and officials. We looked very cold and disappointed. We told them that Puntland Cabinet, Puntland Parliament and traditional elders had made decisions early on and to make any changes we had to get back to Puntland for consultations. Seyoum was speechless. So be it, we said quietly, and we showed no remorse.

We flew out of Addis Ababa the next day, Sunday, for Galkayo, without exit and entry visas stamped on our passports, an unusual immigration incident in Ethiopia. Since that fateful day, Abdullahi Yusuf and Seyoum Mesfin weren’t in speaking terms, up until Mr. Yusuf was elected President of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Mbagathi, Kenya, in October 2004.

Mesfin was not happy with the election of President Yusuf, and even earlier, Ethiopia has been relentlessly trying to sabotage the Conference as they felt the pressure of isolation by Djibouti, Arab League Member States, the Foreign Minister of Kenya then, Kalonzo Musyoka, among others, who wanted re-election of AbdulQasim Salad Hassan, the outgoing Transitional National Government (TNG).

Political friction between Puntland and Ethiopia continued throughout the course of the Mbagathi Conference. This friction escalated to the highest level when Ethiopia had championed for regime change in Somalia and sanctioned President Yusuf to bring in “Islamist Moderate Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed as the next president of Somalia in 2009, helping him double the number of Somali new members of parliament to a mindless number of 500 to depose President Yusuf in a hastily arranged Djibouti Conference.

Outnumbered and understanding the situation, President Yusuf resigned and went into exile in Yemen.

By Ismail Haji Warsame | Former Chief of Staff of Puntland State Presidency | Warsame Digital Media | X: @ismailwarsame



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