EDITORIAL: Why Somalia must learn from confusion on Ethiopia statement
EDITORIAL | There was an embarrassing spectacle on Wednesday night as Somalia’s Foreign Ministry attempted to disown a statement it had put up on its social media pages, encouraging parties to the Tigray conflict in Ethiopia to sue for peace.
Somalia, by that statement, was following the calls already raised by regional leaders who have all asked Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to go slow on military operations and use peaceful means to resolve the issues.
But it has been obvious that the Tigray question dialogue no longer applies to parties, who don’t even recognize each other and Prime Minister Abiy has termed the Tigray People’s Liberation Front as a criminal gang.
So how did Somalia come to have an egg on its face? It began with a statement drafted by Ahmed Isse Awad, who was fired on Thursday night as Foreign Minister and replaced with Mohamed Abdirazak.
Mr. Awad, a veteran diplomat in the Somali Foreign Service, had drafted the statement ostensibly after the Presidency directed him to do so. But he had a blank cheque in this endeavor; tasked to express in words of his choice and length of his determination.
The statement was posted on the Foreign Ministry Twitter account on Wednesday evening, only to be deleted and a clarification offered via Awad’s official handle.
With the statement neither fake nor true, Mr. Awad chose to call it “invalid.” But there are further questions: As the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Awad was Somalia’s top diplomat, often speaking on behalf of the government abroad. His lasting in the position implies he had been trusted with those tasks. What happened on Wednesday? Did the statement anger Ethiopia who have rejected any calls for dialogue with the criminal ‘junta’ TPLF?
All suspicion points to a series of phone calls from Addis Ababa to Villa Somalia to Awad’s office. After all, it is an open secret that Somalia is currently closer to Ethiopia than any other time in history, however controversial. The statement, however, depicted the government as one unable to approve its own communication.
Traditionally, there have to be channels where information released on sensitive matters have to be assessed and their impact judged before publication. Granted, these checks often create their own bottlenecks and so there are tendencies to circumvent them.
But this only assumes that there is a government that can stand by its statements without feeling pressured to recant. Whatever happened on Wednesday was a show of dishonesty. Rather than deny there had been no statement and that what was circulating was invalid, how about recalling the statement admit there were errors, and promised to republish a proper one?
There are no organizations or individuals without goofs or mistakes. But honest civil servants admit their mistakes and promise to stay in the right line in the future.
Awad had been caught in previous missteps but was unlucky this time after an ax fell on his post.
We are aware that the initial decision was to have him transferred to another position, then he was given an ambassadorial role to Kenya; both of which he declined.
While the Prime Minister has the powers to shuffle, sack, promote, or demote his Cabinet; we truly hope that this debacle on Wednesday leaves behind important lessons on how to communicate better in the future.