Ethiopian government leaders are deeply divided over policy regarding the situation in Somalia, where Ethiopian troops have helped prop up the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) since 2006.
Informed sources in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa have confidentially told Garowe Online that the policy dispute is partly due to differences between Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Seyoum Mesfin, the country’s influential foreign minister.
Mesfin told a regional conference in Addis Ababa this week that Ethiopia will not keep troops in Somalia “indefinitely” and that Somali leaders must work together at this “critical time.”
Ethiopia’s foreign minister is linked to a top general who commanded Ethiopian forces in Somalia, until he was replaced by Prime Minister Zenawi after TFG President Abdullahi Yusuf accused him of taking bribes.
In October, a conference organized in Kenya by the Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) was an “Ethiopian plot” to remove Yusuf from power, the sources added.
But divisions within IGAD – hostilities between rivals Ethiopia and Eritrea, tensions between Sudan and Kenya – have made the regional body an ineffective foreign policy tool, despite threats to impose sanctions on select Somali leaders.
The conference ended with IGAD leaders, including Foreign Minister Mesfin, verbally chastising the TFG leadership for failure against the rising tide of Islamic rule.
President Yusuf has since declared that Ethiopia can withdraw its armed forces from Somalia at any time and remarked that Addis Ababa can make an “independent” decision.
But Ethiopian Prime Minister Zenawi, who has been in power since 1991, is not fully supportive of the pullout initiative and fears the consequences.
Yusuf, a seasoned fighter, has refused to budge to Ethiopian pressure and is now traveling the Arab world for support, including visits to Libya and Sudan.
He remains a powerful figure inside Somalia, with a solid base support and loyal troops spread out between Puntland and Mogadishu.
Further, Ethiopian Prime Minister Zenawi suspects that Yusuf can use Darod clan ties to bolster the ongoing insurgency in Ethiopia’s Somali-inhabited Ogaden region.