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Somalia and Ethiopia

Reader in History of Africa and African Diaspora, Middlesex University, London

TML Daily: In Canada, there is an opinion according to which Ethiopia's intervention in Somalia to rout the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) and strengthen the Transition Government of Somalia (TGS) is aggression against Somalia. Can you please explain the context for us?

Hakim Adi: The context for the conflict is that Ethiopia is both very close to the TGS -- which is recognized by the UN, the African Union (AU), and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) (comprising the East African states of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda) as the only legitimate government of the country -- and it is concerned about what it calls the "terrorist activities" of the UIC. Elements of the UIC, which is said not to be homogenous, had declared a jihad against Ethiopia. Ethiopia has been concerned about border incursions being made by the UIC, in the context of the support of separatist organizations in the Ogaden, and most importantly the forces of the UIC are believed both by the UN and Ethiopia as being backed by Eritrea, contrary to UN sanctions. Of course the UIC was also at loggerheads with the TGS. The two governments, Ethiopia and Eritrea, have not resolved their border and other differences. Ethiopia considers Eritrea to be a major force for instability in the region, which has attacked all its neighbours and been to war with Ethiopia.

Ethiopia has been the major backer of the TGS since its inception in 2004 and has sent military advisers to train and support its forces. The UIC claimed this broke UN sanctions. Ethiopia also played a key role in the process which led to the formation of the TGS. Hitherto Ethiopia has also supported the political process and talks involving both the TGS and the UIC. Its official position is that it has no opposition to the UIC as such but only to that part of its leadership which was engaged in "hostile terrorist activities" in league with Eritrea and others.

The Ethiopian Government claims that its main aim is development of Ethiopia, since this is the overriding concern and need of the population and that they will not be diverted from it by the UIC or by Eritrea. Ethiopia entered into negotiation with the UIC in two meetings in Djibouti and Dubai to avert war but, according to Ethiopia, the UIC continued with its attacks on the TGS and its threats of jihad against Ethiopia and actually infiltrated into Ethiopian territory. Ethiopia says that because of this activity and after exhausting other avenues, together with the TGS and other Somalis, it took military action.

Ethiopia stresses that this was swift and precise and took place outside major cities. It says the military action was targeted at a section of the UIC leadership rather than the rank and file. According to Ethiopia there was little opposition and much support from the Somali population which also attacked the UIC. The Ethiopians continue to insist that they wish to leave within weeks, that they cannot afford to be in Somalia and that their main priority is development. The Ethiopians also have little time for those who suggested they will be drawn into an Iraq style conflict in Somalia, or who predicted great Somali hostility to their involvement. In their view this was the hope of Eritrea and their enemies -- and based on a number of false premises, and they are determined to thwart their enemies' plans.

TML: Where does Ethiopia stand on Somalia's future?

HA: The Ethiopians stress that the future of Somalia lies with Somalis and they urge support for an African (i.e. AU IGAD) "stabilization force," IGASOM, to assist the TGS. Talks are underway at the moment to establish such a force. So far Uganda has officially offered troops (subject to parliamentary approval) and five other African countries including Nigeria and South Africa, are said to be considering the possibility of sending troops. Recently it has been reported that the TGS has asked Ethiopia to continue to train its armed forces, a request which Ethiopia has agreed to but the Ethiopian government has also again pledged that its troops will be leaving Somalia in a matter of days.

TML: Can you comment on the role of the U.S.?

HA: As to the role of the U.S., Ethiopia's position is as stated by President Meles Zenawi in the press conference held in Addis Ababa on January 11, i.e. that it did not act in concert with the U.S. and that there were no U.S. special forces, etc. At the same time, Ethiopian government public statements appear to give little or no recognition to the global situation as concerns the striving of the Anglo Americans for hegemony and the role of the "war on terror" to achieve the U.S. hegemony. Meles distanced himself from the air strike, or at least from future air strikes. He did this in what might be described as a diplomatic manner rather than a forthright one, by suggesting that these pose dangers to civilians and cannot generally be surgical.

As to other links with the U.S., the Ethiopians may have concerns about the aims of the U.S. in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere and have certainly not always seen eye to eye with the U.S. government. But their main concern seems to be to get the very necessary aid and assistance to safeguard and build their own very poor country without actually compromising themselves and endangering their own sovereignty. They have had some military training from the U.S., police training from Britain amongst others. They have had economic and other assistance from China. They also work with the World Bank and IMF, so long as this is in the interests of the people of Ethiopia. So far they conclude that they have done this successfully on the economic front. Their attempts to focus on the economic development of Ethiopia and serve the well-being of their people have always been their paramount concern. They would like to follow through to its conclusion the emphasis on the democratic involvement of the people in decision making that was a feature of their program in coming to power. However, dealing with the security situation in the Horn of Africa is a constant. As a result, they seem to still rely on the western models of political processes and institutions even though they have found the U.S. and Britain to be fair weather friends when aid was cut off following the unrest at the time of the last election.

There is also the claim that UN Security Council resolution 1725, which relaxed the arms embargo in favour of the TGS and the future IGASOM and infuriated the UIC, was a deliberate attempt by its co sponsor, the U.S., to destabilize the situation. It certainly led to an escalation of hostilities between the UIC and the TGS, the former backed by Eritrea, and some other countries, and the latter by Ethiopia. Although the U.S. and possibly Eritrea can gain from instability this does not favour Ethiopia nor Somalia. It should be pointed out the UNSC resolution was also co sponsored by the three African members on the Security Council, Congo, Ghana and South Africa, and supported by the TGS.

TML: So there is no question that Ethiopia committed aggression against Somalia as a U.S. proxy?

HA: According to The New York Times of January 13, 2007, "[i]n the weeks before the military campaign began, State Department and Pentagon officials said that they had some concerns about the impending Ethiopian government's offensive in Somalia. But as the Ethiopian's march toward war looked more likely, Americans began providing Ethiopian troops with up to date intelligence on the military positions of the Islamist fighters in Somalia, Pentagon and counterterrorism officials said. According to a Pentagon consultant with knowledge about Special Operations, small teams of American advisers crossed the border into Somalia with the advancing Ethiopian army. 'You're not talking lots of guys,' the Pentagon consultant said, speaking on condition of anonymity. 'You're talking onesies and twosies.'" However, the Ethiopian government disputes this version of events. Prime Minister Zenawi claimed that there were no 'special forces' involved but that Ethiopia has received some intelligence from the U.S.

The U.S. is certainly fishing in troubled waters, just as it did by creating and supporting various so-called war lords in the past. On the other hand the TGS is supported by the UN, AU, IGAD etc. and so it seems Ethiopia is confident that while it may have acted against the letter of UN and AU resolutions it is clearly supporting the legitimate government by acting to support the TGS as well as defending itself both against the UIC and the provocation of Eritrea. Since it is more likely that it is the U.S. which stands to gain from instability in Somalia it is difficult to conclude that Ethiopia is acting as its proxy -- while it is clear that Ethiopia is acting in what it sees as its national interest.

TML: Ethiopia speaks of its enemies as terrorists using what looks like the same language as that used by the U.S. in its self-serving "war on terror." Can you comment?

HA: Yes, the language is the same. However, as I said, Ethiopia has its own preoccupations. In today's international climate, it does not help to assess the situation on the basis of the old adage: one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. The situation in Africa is very complex as a result of all the problems past and present inherited from colonial rule and today the interests of the U.S. in particular as well as others to force all countries to submit to their dictate. The African peoples are quite capable of sorting out these problems without outside meddling.

TML: Thank you very much.

Source: http://www.cpcml.ca/Tmld2007/D37006.htm#1

For further information on Somalia and Ethiopia

(12 Jan) THABO MBEKI , President, Republic of South Africa

For Your Information: The Ethiopian Explanation

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