Prime Minister Abiy must stop his idle talk and apologize to Somalia for violating its sovereignty and territorial integrity to spare the region unnecessary tension

Abiy’s administration should not repeat his predecessor’s miscalculation on Somalia. No amount of saber rattling or pressure will change Somalia’s position on its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Weeks after sparking a huge diplomatic dispute with Somalia for violating its sovereignty, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is still stubbornly refusing to openly accept his terrible blunder and change course. Instead, he has continued to issue word-salad statements that neither addressed Somalia’s core concern nor allayed the region’s fear about a possible military confrontation between his country and Somalia.

Abiy’s memorandum of understanding with a disaffected clan leader to set up a naval base along the Red Sea coastline was seen as a declaration of war and an insult to every Somali everywhere on the globe.

The Ethiopian leader’s arrogance is now the most acute threat to the wider Horn of Africa and to Ethiopia, which is already in the middle of two ethnic-based rebellions that are opposed to his rule.

The youthful prime minister, who appears to be living in a fantasy world of his own, must get down off his high horse and apologize to Somalia for violating its sovereignty and territorial integrity to spare the region a new conflict.

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s decision not to talk with Abiy until he reaffirms Ethiopia’s respect for Somalia’s country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is very rational and must be lauded. Abiy shouldn’t be rewarded for engaging in illegality.

“Why do I speak [to Abiy] because he’s taking part of my country and he’s claiming [it],” President Hassan said, stressing that Somalia won’t accept Ethiopia to “grab” a part of its territory.

“Ethiopia has no right to do that [MOU],” said President Hassan in an interview with Al Jazeera. “Diplomatically [and] legally, it has no right to do that.”

The problem between Ethiopia and Somalia, President Hassan said, is not about Addis Ababa’s desire to have a commercial access to the sea, “but the question is how Ethiopia is going to have that access.”

In his public statements, the Ethiopian prime minister skirted the core issue that triggered Somalis’ anger: The violation of their country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. In fact, Ethiopian officials and their media have been arguing that the MOU was just fine, and that Hargeisa had the authority to act as an independent country and enter into agreements with others.

On Jan. 19, Abiy reiterated his colorless excuses, saying his landlocked country faced “insurmountable challenges” that hindered its ability to fulfill the demands of its people for “adequate and sustained livelihoods and to ensure their development.”

“Ethiopia continues to seek peaceful and mutually beneficial and negotiated solution to such a challenge,” Abiy said, as if Hargeisa was a separate country over which Somalia had no sovereignty.

His National Security Adviser Redwan Hussien has also been waffling on about the MOU, his words dripping with tastelessness and typos. In one message on X, formerly Twitter, he said Ethiopia would “listen to friends for a possible coordination of efforts lowering rhetoric.”

“[We] Will continue striving to steadily reach at [sic] a conclusion with amicable considerations which benfit [sic] all,” Hussien said, as if the aggrieved country was Ethiopia and not Somalia.

What Prime Minister Abiy and other Ethiopian officials fail to understand is Somalis’ love for their country and their dislike for Ethiopia’s expansionism. Somalis literally burst their blood vessels when they heard of Ethiopia’s intention to annex a part of their country after the still-Ethiopia-occupied Ogaden region. The MOU has already rekindled the perennial blood feud between the two countries. And Abiy’s pomposity has only deepened their mutual distrust.

Ethiopian officials should know that Somalis won’t accept their sovereignty to be violated by any country — Ethiopia, no less. Perhaps blinded by hubris, Ethiopians do not seem to understand why Somalis are furious and making a big fuss over the MOU with a treasonous ringleader.

But the earlier Addis Ababa grasps the extent of the local and regional repercussions of its reckless action and rectifies it the better. Ethiopia under the Tigray People’s Liberation Front underestimated Somalis’ willingness to defend their country and paid a heavy price for that.

Abiy’s administration should not repeat his predecessor’s miscalculation on Somalia. Ethiopia’s 2006 invasion of Somalia was so disastrous that it eventually led to the TPLF’s downfall. As likely as not, Abiy’s fate wouldn’t be any different if he persists in his slaphappy bellicosity.

Abiy shouldn’t tempt fate when he still have a chance to step back from the precipice. No amount of saber rattling or pressure will change Somalia’s position on its sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence.

With all its political, security, social and economic challenges, Ethiopia shouldn’t pick a fight with Somalia. It won’t end well for Addis Ababa, which has already antagonized Eritrea, Egypt and Sudan and spread jitters across the wider Horn of Africa with its expansionist tendencies.

A mosaic of more than 80 ethnic groups, who’re at each other’s throats, Ethiopia is a puny nation in the grand scheme of things and has no economic and military muscles to impose its will on other countries.

Abiy’s Ethiopia — almost Humpty Dumpty — badly needs peace and internal cohesion more than any other country in the region. Its economy is in the doldrums, insecurity is rife across the country and its social fabric is in tatters, raising legitimate questions about its future unity.

A leader who cares about the well-being of his country shouldn’t have courted an external dispute on top of raging local problems.

Abiy’s search for supremacy in the region is a wild-goose chase. The old Ethiopia that once aspired to control Khartoum and Lake Victoria is long gone and won’t ever come back whether he and his minions liked it or not.

What is doable, though, is having good neighborly relations with other countries, which is good for Ethiopia’s future and for the region’s stability.

As the U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Mike Hammer said recently the Horn of Africa “can ill afford further conflict.”

The worsening diplomatic dispute between Somalia and Ethiopia can easily be resolved if Abiy sees the error of his ways and makes amends to Somalia for signing an MOU with refractory Muse Bihi, who lords it over the Hargeisa entity, a clan administration in the country’s northwestern region.

It’s painful to see Ethiopia, which hosts the African Union headquarters, acting irresponsibly and in clear disregard of the norms of good neighborliness and international law.

Ethiopia should row back on its hostile, age-old policies toward Somalia, stop interfering in its internal affairs and genuinely apologize for violating its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Addis Ababa must also repeal its MOU with Hargeisa and respect the U.N. and African Union Charters. That’s not too much to ask for.

“Let Ethiopia recognize the sovereignty, the territorial integrity and the political independence of Somalia, the federal republic of Somalia,” President Hassan said. Then, he said, Somalia and Ethiopia can talk.

“Somalia has not initiated this problem,” President Hassan said. “It’s Ethiopia that initiated it and the ball is in their court. They have to open the means, the conducive environment to communicate and negotiate and to dialogue. It’s up to them. It’s not up to us.”

We fully agree with President Hassan on this.

Ethiopian leaders have got to stop harping on their peoples’ lack for sea access and instead inculcate a respect for international borders into them. Ethiopians must be taught how to contentedly live within their geographical straitjacket, sealess as it’s. Madcap schemes, like Abiy’s Jan. 1 MOU with Muse, will not help Ethiopians break free from their fate of being a landlocked country.

But, with proper vision, Ethiopia can prosper sans the Red Sea or the Indian Ocean, as Switzerland, Luxembourg, Austria and others have done before. Abiy just needs to take a leaf out of President Paul Kagame’s book and adopt good governance to develop his country.

It’s past time Abiy focused on the internal ills of his tottering country and resisted making a mad dash for Somalia. For, all his predecessors took a whack at it, but miserably failed.

As the most educated leader to ever rule Ethiopia, Abiy can be a tad bit creative and work hard to help his citizens utilize their abundant resources within Ethiopia.