On Saturday, 9 May, the Ethiopian armed forces admitted that they were responsible for the downing of a privately-owned Kenyan plane in Somalia earlier in the week. The Kenyan plane was shot down on Monday over the town of Bardale in southwest Somalia as it attempted to land. All six people on board died.
Initially, representatives had denied any knowledge of what had occurred as Somalia and Kenya called for swift investigation. However, in a statement to the African Union on Saturday, the Ethiopian army took responsibility for the tragedy. According to their statement, the Ethiopian soldiers stationed in the town of Bardale believed that the plan was on a “potential suicide mission.” They had been unaware of the “unusual flight” and identified the aircraft as a threat because it was flying lower than expected. The statement went to say “Because of lack of communication and awareness, the aircraft was shot down. The incident … will require mutual collaborative investigation team from Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya to further understand the truth.” The region where the plane was shot down is currently under the control of Somalian and Ethiopian forces, who have been deployed to the region as part of an African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia.
The plane, owned by African Express Airways, had been ferrying supplies to be used in Somalia’s fight against coronavirus. At the most recent count, Somalia has 928 confirmed cases and 44 deaths. Some of those who have died were government officials. The nation’s medical professionals are concerned that Somalia is at risk of a massive death toll, with issues such as a lack of testing kits hindering an effective response. There are also concerns that al-Shabab, an organisation with a history of blocking humanitarian aid, may try to disrupt government response in order to gain greater power in the nation. As such, the downing of this plane by Ethiopian troops is extremely tragic, and risks having follow-on effects that could result in more Somali deaths from COVID-19. However, admitting to the mistake and welcoming investigation does allow for progress to be made in future.
The downing of this plane already hinders Somalia’s response to COVID-19, and if communication between local government and foreign military is not improved, future humanitarian missions may be in danger. In the immediate aftermath of the event, Kenya’s foreign ministry urged that those flying humanitarian aid missions in the area take extra precautions to ensure they can achieve their goals safely.
A full investigation is a good step to ensuring such a tragedy does not occur again. It would also be prudent for Ethiopia to provide further humanitarian involvement to help the Somali government combat the spread of COVID-19. Overall, it is the people of Somalia who will be harmed the most by ongoing communication issues.