28.7.2022: Mogadishu, Somalia
It was merely a few days ago when President Abdel Fatteh Al-Sisi told the media that he discussed the issue of GERD and the Nile river with his Somali counterpart, President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud which caused a whirlwind in the Horn of Africa.
The Egyptian President Al-Sisi told reporters that he and President Hassan Sheikh jointly condemned Ethiopia’s “unilateral policies”.
“We were in agreement on the dangers of unilateral policies regarding projects on international rivers, as well as the inevitability of commitment to the principal of co-operation and prior consultations among littoral states to ensure no damage is done to any of them,” the statement read.
It appeared as though Somalia had, yet again, involved itself in a geopolitical conflict that it had nothing to do with. We have seen this occur during President Hassan Sheikh’s first term when his government decided to cut relations with Iran in favour of Saudi Arabia despite the fact that Somalia had no particular diplomatic issue with Iran. Instead, Riyadh offered Mogadishu $50M in January 2016 in exchange for Somalia cutting relations with Tehran.
Remarkably, speaking to BBC Somali, Villa Somalia spokesman denied that the two President’s discussed the issue of the Nile river and GERD.
“During the meeting held between the two President, there was no discussion of that topic. However, the Nile river flows through numerous countries.
The position of the Somali government is clear, it is the peaceful mutual use of the Nile river within the framework of international laws and agreements”, explain Spokesman Kaar.
Therefore, the question becomes if the President position is clear, why did he not deny the claims made by Egyptian President, Abdel Fatteh Al-Sisi during the press conference?
Speaking to journalist in Mogadishu, Spokesman Kaar explained that simply because President Al-Sisi spoke about such an agreement does not mean the President reached such agreements:
“The President was present at the conference and he did not talk about it (GERD) is my first point. Secondly, the Egyptian government can have concerns regarding the Nile river, however I have made Somalia’s position clear”, explained Kaar.
He went on to say that if there was truth to President Al-Sisi’s statement, the President would have “agreed with the statement”.
Does silence equate to denial?
“Silence gives consent.” So states an ancient maxim of law, and derived from this maxim is the legal concept of tacit admission. In other words, agreeing to something or approving it without actually saying so, often because they are unwilling to admit to doing so.
The reality is that it does not. If one accuses someone else of something, if the accused were to standby and passively bypass the accusation, it would imply acknowledgement that there is some truth to the mentioned statement. Otherwise one would vehemently denied false accusation, at least logically. Especially if the false statement could have a profound impact on the geopolitics in the Horn of Africa.
When the Kenyan newspaper, The Star wrote an article in 2021 alleging that the Somali government and Nairobi signed an agreement brokered by Qatar to resolve the maritime dispute, the Somali government vehemently denied the accusations immediately. Likewise, if the accusations made by the Daily News Egypt are making irresponsible and false statements, the Somali government must publicly address this and deny the allegations rather than simply denying the President ever spoke about it when asked by Somali media outlets in Mogadishu.
Any Defence/Security Deals?
Images released by Villa Somalia of the President’s trip to Egypt showed some of members of his delegation including the newly appointed National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) Director Mahad Salad and the Roble-era Minister of Defence, Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur.
The Defence Minister, Abdulkadir Nur met with his Egyptian counterpart Lt Gen. Mohamed Ahmed Zaki Mohamed in Cairo. We can only assume NISA Director Mahad Salad met with his Egyptian counterpart from the General Intelligence Directorate (GID).
Many have questioned why the President chose the most senior officials in Somalia’s defence apparatus to attend meetings with him. Some have theorised the possibility that the President and his delegation may have signed security deals in Cairo. Indeed, the awkward situation and botch handling of President Al-Sisi statement regarding talks has already raised the eyebrows of many Somalis.
However, Spokesman Kaar also denied such things had occured.
“There was no such agreements”, said the Spokesman when asked by a journalist.
It is a vague response. It fails to explain what was discussed between officials or what the agenda of the meetings between Somali and Egyptian security officials were.
So what next?
Irrespective of the botched handling of the situation, the simple fact that the Somali government has made clear that it is remaining neutral on the issue of the Nile river and only supports peaceful solutions to impasse is a positive step after many negative steps in recent days.
The next trip for the President must be Addis Ababa to meet Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed. Interestingly, PM Ahmed was not able to meet Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov during the latter’s visit to Ethiopia indicating the PM might not be well. There have been unconfirmed reports that Abiy Ahmed could be having health issues which could explain the delayed trip to Addis Ababa.
Regardless, the President must demonstrate that Somalia is there to support dialogue and solution between two friendly powers in the region rather than side with any particular country.