It was in 2000 when 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 “tiny country” of Djibouti couldn’t handle it for lack of capacity and resources. When they realized that there could be Somali government emerging from Arta, they decided to persuade, and to some extent arm-twist some of their Somali allies to get into the upcoming government. They had succeeded in doing that by compelling the late RRA Chairman, Shati-gaduud, to attend Arta Conference. They tried similar tactics with then Puntland President and the late President of Somalia, Abdullahi Yusuf. On this attempt, they way they played with Yusuf was amazing.This is how:Ethiopian government had sent an executive aircraft owned by Saudi-Ethiopian billionaire, Amudi, to Garowe, Puntland, with the Ethiopian Chief Protocol Officer onboard, to pick up Yusuf’s delegation to Addis Ababa for talks. Three-men delegation headed by Yusuf and including myself boarded that plane. 
As we landed in Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, a fleet of government limousines were waiting for us at door of our carrier. We didn’t hand our passports to protocol or Immigration officers. We were lodged at Addis Hilton. Instead of inviting us for talks at their offices, they started conducting informal conversations at President Yusuf’s hotel suite. Diplomats and deputy foreign minister then, now Ethiopian Envoy to UN, Dr Takeda Alemu kept visiting us in the hotel. Our impression was that they were preparing a bigger official meeting with foreign minister Seyoun, who was recently killed in ongoing Tigray War in Ethiopia and late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. During those informal chats at hotel, 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 Yusuf’s proposal. They ordered Jama Blue’s charter planes to pick up Mogadishu warlords from KM50 Airstrip on the outskirt of Mogadishu. They all accepted our invitation to Addis Ababa. What had happened afterwards is a political drama and conspiracy with high stacks.After two days of informal conversations at hotel, Dr Takeda Alemu and his team of diplomats thought that Mr. Yusuf was prepared and ready to hear the latest Ethiopian position on Arta Conference. They told us that Ethiopian leadership was earnestly advising Puntland State to participate in Arta Conference, adding that President Ismael Ghuelleh would declare public holiday in Djibouti were President Yusuf landed 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 for a charter plane for ourselves from the owner, late General Khalif Isse Mudan, who ran now defunct Damal Airlines, to fly into Bole and pick us from Addis. Ethiopian officials were unaware of our planning, actually we didn’t care about it.
I was the contact person of our delegation, and had scaled down and shut off communication with the Ethiopian diplomats on any updates or developments or the decision we made to respond to their proposal on Arta Conference.  In fact, Ambassador Sahle-werk Sewde, then Ambassador to Djibouti, and now president of Ethiopia, tried to impress me as a young man to no avail.With all our plans set, I contacted ambassador Sahle-werk 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 Hilton Hotel, where we were staying. He was with his team of diplomats and officials. We looked acted very cold and disappointed. We told told them that Puntland Cabinet, Parliament and traditional elders had made decisions early on and to make any changes we had to gi back to Puntland for consultations. Seyoum was speechless. So be it. 
We had left Addis Ababa on the next day, Sunday, for Gakkayo, without exit and entry visas stamped on our passports, an unusual immigration incident in Ethiopia.
Since then, Abdullahi Yusuf and Seyoum Mesfin weren’t in speaking terms , up until Mr. Yusuf was elected President of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Mbagati, Kenya, in October 2004. Mesfin was not happy with the election of Mr Yusuf, and even earlier on Ethiopia had been trying to sabotage the Conference as they felt the pressure of isolation by Djibouti, Arab League Member States, the foreign minister of Kenya then, Kalonso Musoka, 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 Mbagati Conference. This friction escalated into the highest level when Ethiopia had championed for regime change in Somalia and sanction Mr Yusuf to bring in ” Islamist Moderate”, Sheikh  Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, as the next president of Somalia in 2009, helping in doubling Somali new members of parliament to a mindless number of 500 to depose Mr. Yusuf in a hastly arranged Djibouti Conference. Understanding the situation, Mr. Yusuf had resigned and went into exile in Yemen.

Author: Warsame Digital Media WDM

About the blogger: This blog is associated with the former Chief of Staff in Puntland State Presidency, 1998-2005. He also worked with the UN and World Bank Joint Secretariat for Somalia’s Re-construction and Development Program (RDP), 2005-2006, as a Zonal Technical Coordinator for Puntland and later as National Aid Technical Coordinator with the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia and European Union. He is now an independent political analyst and commentator on current issues and occasionally gives historical perspective on modern Somalia’s politics. He lives and works in Toronto, Canada. He can be reached at:

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