Category: English

Eritrean migrants hold barbecue dinner for Israeli soldiers near Gaza border

An Eritrean volunteer helps feed hungry Israel Defense Forces near the Gaza Strip, Jan. 16, 2024. Photo by Rina Castelnuovo.(January 17, 2024 / Kibbutz Be’eri / JNS)Dozens of Eritrean migrants hosted IDF soldiers serving on the border with Gaza to a festive barbecue dinner on Tuesday, showing support for the country where they have sought shelter.The extraordinary event saw the workers-cum-asylum seekers and an IDF artillery unit stationed on the outskirts of this southern kibbutz, which was hard-hit in the Hamas invasion, break bread together.

“We feel that this is our country, and what happened on October 7 happened to us as well,” said 36-year-old Yhselu Gebrem.

Gebrem, who has lived in Israel for 12 years, noted that this was the fourth time their group of Christian Orthodox Eritreans who oppose the totalitarian government that has ruled Eritrea for the last three decades, ever since their country’s independence from Ethiopia, had come to volunteer on the Gaza-border, including previously offering a helping hand to farmers.

“We came to support the people of Israel during their difficult hour and to be at your side,” said Michael Russoi, 30, who came to Israel 14 years ago and works in a supermarket in Ashdod. “We saw what happened on [Oct. 7] and there are simply no words to describe it. Your enemy is the enemy of us all.”

Eritrean volunteers prepare the feast near the Gaza border, Jan. 16, 2024. Photo by Rina Castelnuovo.

A full spread

As a thunderous explosion of artillery pierced the air, the volunteers, who had funded the 24,000 shekels ($6,350) kosher catered barbecue event for hundreds of soldiers, manned the tables set up under a star-studded sky, working the grill of steaks, hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken and kebab that along with salads galore would be soon devoured by a hungry army of soldiers, used to mostly packaged foods.

“It is heartwarming to see all the civilians who are coming here to be with us, and I am enjoying every moment of it,” said reserve soldier Amir Alfedi, 23, from the town of Gan Yavne, near Ashdod. “It warms our hearts and our stomachs.”

Bashar, a Druze soldier, tersely said, “We have no other country,” and was then embraced by his fellow soldier.

More than half a dozen languages could be heard mixing in the crowd, including Hebrew, English, French, Russian, Arabic and Tigrinya.

“We came to say we are with you,” offered Teshema Kiflon, 33, who came to Israel from Eritrea 13 years ago and now lives in Tel Aviv.

Unity with the people’s army

The bonding on a chilly winter evening offered a stark contrast with the pre-Oct. 7 bitter polarization that rocked Israeli society last year over judicial reform, and the internecine turmoil within the Eritrean community between supporters and opponents of the Eritrean government that erupted into open violence in Tel Aviv in September.

For now, at least, the war has changed all that and the brotherhood that is near-omnipresent nationwide grew even wider at the event to include the Eritrean community.

A ‘tiny minority’ in a troubled region

About 17,000 Eritreans live in Israel.

Amid uncertainty over their future, most of the Eritreans in the country are viewed as economic migrants and get their visas renewed every six months, and are not recognized as refugees.

Migrants’ supporters say Israel, a country founded upon the ashes of the Holocaust and built up by Jewish refugees, should welcome those seeking asylum. Opponents claim the migrants have brought crime to the poor south Tel Aviv neighborhoods where many have settled.

The debate over their future was not in evidence Tuesday as the now Hebrew speakers blended in with the crowd.

“We are a tiny minority in the region which share the same destiny,” said Habtom Ghebrezghiabher, 42, who lives with his wife and three children in Jerusalem after coming to Israel more than a decade and a half ago and has been granted refugee status. “We share the same culture based on shared Judeo-Christian values.”

“Israelis pride themselves on being reasonable, logical and liberal people,” said Tesfazion Berhe Gerhelase, an Eritrean opposition figure who has been living in exile in London for the last 25 years and who came to Israel for the event. “People don’t understand that there is no such thing here in this region.”

Category: English

Following Ethiopia-Somaliland deal, Somalia looks to Eritrea, Egypt for help

TOPSHOT - Students wave a Somali flag during a demonstration in support of Somalia's government following the port deal signed between Ethiopia and the breakaway region of Somaliland at Eng Yariisow Stadium in Mogadishu on January 3, 2024. Somalia vowed to defend its territory after a controversial Red Sea access deal between Ethiopia and the breakaway state of Somaliland that it branded as "aggression". (Photo by ABDISHUKRI HAYBE / AFP) (Photo by ABDISHUKRI HAYBE/AFP via Getty Images)The recent agreement struck between Ethiopia and Somaliland continues to reverberate across the region, while Somalia, which claims Somaliland as part of its territory, reaches out to regional countries to mobilize support.

Last week, landlocked Ethiopia and the breakaway region of Somaliland reached an agreement that would give Addis Ababa access to the Red Sea through the port of Berbera in exchange for their recognizing Somaliland’s independence.

The deal was widely condemned by Somalia, which deemed it a violation of its territorial integrity. Even within Somaliland, a split within the government has come to the open about the agreement. On Sunday, Somaliland’s defense minister Abdiqani Mohamud Ateye resigned to protest the deal. 

“Ethiopia remains our number one enemy,” Ateye said in an interview. 

Landlocked Ethiopia, for its part, defended the agreement.

“No party or country will be affected by this memorandum of understanding. There is neither a broken trust nor any laws infringed due to the memorandum of understanding,” the Ethiopian government said in a statement last week.


In 1960, the former British protectorate of Somaliland merged with the former Italian protectorate of Somalia to form the Republic of Somalia. In 1991, Somaliland declared its independence after years of civil war and the fall of Siad Barre's regime in Somalia.

Although not recognized internationally, Somaliland has a functional government and an elected parliament.

The 177,000-square-kilometer territory lies on the southern coast of the Gulf of Aden, a strategic waterway that connects the Arabian Sea to the Red Sea.

Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country with a population of more than 123 million, has sought access to the sea ever since losing its Red Sea ports after Eritrea declared independence in 1991. Since then, Ethiopia has relied on a vital trade corridor with neighboring Djibouti, with more than 95% of its imports and exports passing through this main conduit, according to the World Bank.

Ethiopia pays around $1.5 billion annually to Djibouti in port fees, proving costly for the country, one of the poorest in the world, with a per capita gross national income of $1,020, per the World Bank.

Somalia’s reaction

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud signed on Saturday a law nullifying the agreement between Somaliland and Ethiopia.

“This law is an illustration of our commitment to safeguard our unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity as per international law,” he said in a post on X.

On Tuesday, Mohamud concluded a two-day visit to Eritrea, where he met with his Eritrean counterpart, Isaias Afwerki, to discuss regional developments.

Speaking to Eritrean state TV after his meeting with Afwerki, Mohamud said that “Eritrea has been in support of preserving the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Somalia.”

One day before embarking on his Eritrean visit, Mohamud hosted an Egyptian delegation dispatched by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in the capital of Mogadishu.

During the meeting on Sunday, the delegation reiterated Cairo’s unwavering support for Somalia's sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity, a statement issued by the Somali presidency said.

The delegation also conveyed an official invitation to Mohamud to visit Egypt.

People stand next to the Independence Monument, depicting a hand holding a map of the country, in the city of Hargeisa, Somaliland, on September 19, 2021. - For 30 years, Somaliland has tried unsuccessfully to convince the world of its case for statehood, holding democratic elections and avoiding the anarchy that engulfed the rest of Somalia. (Photo by EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP) (Photo by EDUARDO SOTERAS/AFP via Getty Images)
People stand next to the Independence Monument, depicting a hand holding a map of the country, in the city of Hargeisa, Somaliland, on September 19, 2021.  (Photo by EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP) (Photo by EDUARDO SOTERAS/AFP via Getty Images)

Egyptian-Somali relations have steadily grown since Mohamud’s election in June 2022. Cairo sought Mogadishu’s support in its dispute with Addis Ababa over the latter’s Grand Ethiopian Dam.

At the same time, Egypt has maintained balanced ties with Somaliland, and officials from both parties have exchanged visits in the past years.

What’s next

The controversial deal has raised concerns of its impact on the already volatile region. The US, European Union and African Union have all called on the concerned parties to exercise restraint and resolve their disputes through dialogue.

Just a week after the deal was struck, the military leaders of Ethiopia and Somaliland met in Addis Ababa on Monday to discuss military cooperation, according to a statement by the Ethiopian military on Facebook.

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Category: English

Ethiopia Losing Its Way (Part III)

ethiopia eritrea somalia Horn of Africa mapIn part two of this series of “Ethiopia Losing its way,” we noted that “the region would go once again into a new cycle of violence which it does not need.” The controversy of the matter is not one of leasing of a port. Some of the ports of Somalia are already managed by other countries and they include the port of Mogadishu, which is currently managed by a Turkish company and the port of Berbera, which is managed by a UAE company.

It is, indeed, an attempt of acquisition of a region of Somaliland by Ethiopia through a dubious process of which, even the administration of Somaliland, let alone Somalia, the sovereign owning nation, is not aware and unprepared for. Ethiopia has been whining, as always, of lack of access to a sea forgetting that it never had access to a sea except for a brief period during which Eritrea was infused through, again a dubious process,

into Ethiopia, and which gave rise to the thirty-some war of liberation by Eritreans which ended in its independence in 1993. 

The region, although inhabited by the same group of people, has always been divided into the highland people and the lowland people and respect of the two groups were always mutual. Each, however, stayed in its turf and attempts by one or the other to take over the another’s territory either through deception or force always ended in vain and failure. The case of Eritrea or the attempt of Somalia to take back the Somali State in Ethiopia are but prime examples of the recent such attempts.

The most disheartening of the current attempt of the Ethiopian Administration to find its way into the sea is the propagation of an MOU, which entices a weak partner (a small group of men and women in Somaliland not involving its own citizenry and population and other important parties within the region including its own ministers) desperate for recognition and willing to pay/or give away anything to earn wrongfully  a fistful of dollars, since they know that their time of stewardship of Somaliland is over, and promises recognition of Somaliland in some indefinite time in the future.

The Ethiopian Administration, of course, made a big error, in its assessment of the situation. They assumed that the Somali quarrels have reached a point of no return to Somali-ness. How wrong is the Ethiopian Administration is this regard! It has brought back to live the Somali self and the Somali spirit and the Somali soul. The Ethiopian Administration forgot that Somalia is the only country in Africa which made its borders in 1960 and overruled the colonial borders unlike the rest of Africa. Its central governance died in the process of making further changes to those borders when it attempted to take back the Somali State in Ethiopia in the last century. 

In its recent troubled history, Somalia  and Somalis were, indeed, prepared to forgo the ways of the old, and the antagonisms that prevailed and they were prepared to live at peace with Ethiopia and Ethiopians. The old ideologies of separateness and discords were being dumped and the people of the Horn of Africa States were prepared to live with each other, trade with each other and be as good neighbors as they can be.Alas! The new Ethiopian Administration saw weakness in this closer relations on the part of Somalia and Somalis. The new Administration forgot that Somalis are organized as clans who may live in distant lands but would come to rescue each other in times of trouble. The Ethiopian administration, indeed, forgot that Somalis are some sixty million strong, some of whom who live at its doors  and in the power corridors of his administration, while others live in the seats of most powers in the world and that they have a say in the decision-making processes of many countries. The Ethiopian administration further forgot that Somalis are in the armies of the most powerful countries of the world and some countries even name some of their regiments after Somalis, like the Somali battalions in Ukraine. The Administration, indeed, forgot that a third of Ethiopia is actually a Somali territory and that Somalis constitute a large part of some twenty-five to thirty million people in his own 120 million i.e. between 20% to 25% of its own population. No sensible administration as weak as Ethiopia with its own internal strives and external pressures,

embarks on interfering in  a neighboring nation, like Somalia.

The actions of Ethiopia in this new 2024 has thankfully galvanized the Somali and reminded them of their place in this world, their country and their seas and lands and the social media outburst is a better presenter of this than we could ever do in a few lines. Somalia was one of those few countries that did not ratify the African border resolution of 1964 in Cairo, Egypt and considered many parts of the Horn of Africa, inhabited by Somalis as part of its territory and to be reclaimed. Since then, it has accepted Djibouti (Ex-French Somaliland) as a separate state and came to live with the Somali State of Ethiopia as part of Ethiopia and the NFD of Kenya as part of that country. 

This new attempt to break up the country is seen by Somalis as an afront to its existence and triggers a giant sleeping lion to reclaim its turf. Did the Ethiopia Administration help the peace of the region and the world, for definitely other powers would get involved such as the UAE, the fly that must fall into every trouble spot in West Asia and Africa and even in other parts of the world? Egypt and Turkey, and of course the big powers like the United States, the UK, France, Russia and China would also be involved. Hasn’t the Ethiopian Administration only caused more chaos in the region adding to its own woes in the Amhara State, in the Benishangul State and in the Tigray State and, in its won turf, the

Oromia state, and others?

The 2024 actions of the Ethiopian Administration were probably designed to appease the rising anger against it by its own population, but it has backfired on it as most nations of the world do respect the sanctity and sovereignty of Somalia despite its fractured governing system, which it has been working on and with success for some years amending  to reconstitute itself. The wrong aspiration of Ethiopia to take over other people’s lands and seas could not be as wrong as anything could be, in this twenty first century, when Africa and especially the Horn of Africa States were supposed to be closer together and cooperating. A few bucks from that troubled country in West Asia may have been the trigger of this wrong policy and would not help it appease its own population. Was this also triggered by the want to obtain un pugno di dollari  using that 1964 film of Sergio de Leone before the FANO arrives in Addis Ababa. Ethiopia must be losing its way!

Dr. Suleiman Walhad

Dr. Suleiman Walhad writes on the Horn of Africa economies and politics. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..