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Ethiopia: Politics - Ethiopia And Somalia
Addis Ababa, February 24, 2007 – A lack of relevant fact and background information characterizes most reporting on recent developments in Somalia. Media performance has been shallow: full of hype and repetition, little background, no historical perspective, highlighting of negative comments and predictions.
The Ethiopian operation was not undertaken because the US urged it. Ethiopia has no desire to occupy or dominate Somalia--only to keep it from being a danger to the region. Ethiopia was invaded by Somalia in 1977 and invaded by Eritrea in 1998--it did not simply "fight a war" with them.
Meles did not act to divert attention from internal troubles. Somalia has no historic existence as a state. It has been a disruptive element in the Horn of Africa since it came into existence in 1960.
It has been in a condition of anarchy since 1991. The Islamic Courts declared war on Ethiopia and claimed Ethiopian territory... The AU, the UN, the US and most Western countries recognize Ethiopia's entitlement to act in its own interests as well as those of the Somali people...
Ethiopia is one of the oldest continually existing states in the world. In the 7th century BC local rulers in what is today northern Ethiopia and Eritrea were already constructing massive stone buildings, dams and roadways. Emigrants from South Arabia mixed with native Africans, developed writing and high technology that culminated in the great obelisks at Aksum, the largest monolithic monuments in the world of that time.
The Aksumite Empire, based on agriculture and trade, ruled an area stretching from the Nile to the Red Sea and across to Yemen. It adopted Christianity in the 4th century. Ethiopian Christianity was influenced by Judaism.
Communities of Jews in Ethiopia survived into the 20th century. When the country fell under communist rule in the 1970s most of them emigrated to Israel. Ancient Ethiopia was not hostile to Islam. When the Prophet Mohammed began his mission in the 7th century, his earliest followers were persecuted by the oligarchs of Mecca. Tradition relates that Mohammed advised them to go to Ethiopia "for the king there will not tolerate injustice and it is a friendly country." The tombs of these first Muslims at the Tigrayan town of Negash remain a pilgrimage site today.
Aksumite influence spread southward into the mountains and gorges that form the Roof of Africa. The country became known to Europeans as the mysterious Land of Prester John. Its history was often turbulent, always colorful. Britain mounted a huge expedition against Emperor Theodore in the late 1860s. Defeated, he committed suicide and Britain withdrew its soldiers, lacking a desire to take on the task of colonizing the mountain kingdom and Ethiopia remained the only independent part of Africa south of the Sahara. But the scramble for Africa was on. Italy had its eyes on Ethiopia and sent a huge expedition through the newly opened Suez Canal to conquer it. Emperor Menelik dealt a fatal blow to Italy's ambitions at Adwa in 1896 and the world took notice.
Menelik set a modernization process in motion and built a new capital at Addis Ababa. When he died in 1913 the country fell into confusion. Ras Tafari, eventually crowned Emperor Haile-Selassie in 1930, emerged to set it on a path to progress but was cut short by Mussolini. Seeking to revenge Adwa, his Fascists brutally conquered Ethiopia using poison gas. Patriot guerrillas mounted steady resistance to Italian occupation. Haile-Selassie came back through Sudan with British Commonwealth forces in 1941. Ethiopia was the first country liberated in World War II.
At the end of the war America became Ethiopia's major benefactor, Under Haile-Selassie's vigorous leadership the country prospered and progressed with aid from the US, a dozen European countries and Japan. A military junta called the Derg deposed Haile-Selassie in 1974 and turned the country toward the Soviet Union. Derg rule was a catastrophe.
Somalia has a briefer and simpler history. Somalis, perhaps a half million of them, lived as scattered tribes in the lowlands along the Indian Ocean for centuries. They became lightly Islamized but their way of life as nomads herding camels and goats precluded the formation of governments and states.
The walled city of Harar on the edge of Somali country, which became a great center of Islamic civilization, owes its rise to a Semitic people, the Adare, who speak a language akin to the national language of Ethiopia, Amharic, rather than to the Somalis.
The great Muslim warrior, Ahmed Gragn, who terrorized the Ethiopian highlands in the 16th century and was finally defeated by the Portuguese, is now often claimed as a Somali, but his ethnicity is obscure. Until recently religion was far more important than nationality in this part of the world.
Three European powers-- France, Britain, and Italy--competed for footholds on the Somali coast in the late 19th century and each acquired territory. Emperor Menelik, threatened by colonial advances, took over the vast Ogaden desert which was also populated by Somali nomads. Britain added the southernmost Somali-populated area to Kenya. By the early 20th century, boundaries which still exist today had been drawn by Europeans.
Somalia as a state did not exist until 1960 when the British and Italian colonies were joined to form a Somali Republic.
Its new leaders adopted a flag with five stars to express their aim of uniting all territories inhabited by Somalis--including Djibouti and huge chunks of Ethiopia and Kenya. British academics idealized Somali nomadic culture as "pastoral democracy". The concept proved inadequate as a basis for a viable governmental system.
Independent Somalia was a disruptive element in what until then was a relatively stable region. Meddling by the Soviet Union made it more so. Moscow, which had sought a hand in Eritrea in the immediate aftermath of WWII, had failed to manipulate common adherence to Orthodox religion to gain influence in Ethiopia.
Unlike so many new African rulers, Haile-Selassie saw no fascination or promise in Marxism or any kind of "African socialism".
Moscow began shipping arms to Somalia in the mid-1960s in quantities far greater than American military aid for Ethiopia. Somali guerrillas started operations in the Ogaden. In 1969 the Russians backed the Somali chief of staff, General Siad Barre, in a coup which deposed what until then had been a formally democratic government in Mogadishu and introduced Marxism.
Siad Barre's ambitions seemed realizable when Mengistu, the Ethiopian Marxist dictator, reduced the country to such a state of commotion and confusion that it appeared ripe for collapse. The Soviets did nothing to hinder Siad Barre's invasion of Ethiopia in 1977.
Mengistu had just severed most relations with the United States. The double game the Soviets had begun to play soon left them with no alternative to sending in Cubans and great quantities of arms to prevent the Somalis from defeating Mengistu. By 1978 Moscow appeared to have gained hegemony over the entire Horn of Africa.
All the major forces that contended in the area for the next decade and a half were nominally Marxist--Mengistu's Ethiopia, Siad Barre's Somalia, Marxist rebels in Eritrea and in the northern Ethiopian province of Tigray.
But Marxism did not encourage any of these competing Marxists to cooperate. While Mengistu tried to turn Ethiopia into a classic Stalinist police state, Moscow sent him 12 billion dollars worth of arms to fight against the northern Marxist guerrillas. The guerrillas captured much of this weaponry and used it against Mengistu's armies. Siad Barre, in spite of support from the Carter and Reagan Administrations, failed to turn Somalia into a bastion of pro-Western strength. Somalia collapsed into bloody chaos in early 1991.
As the Soviet Union moved closer to collapse itself, Gorbachev cut off the flow of weapons to Mengistu. Meanwhile the Tigrayan guerrillas led by Meles Zenawi came to understand what was happening in the world. Unlike the Eritreans, they had never enjoyed Soviet support. They shifted to a pro-Western stance and drew other anti-Derg groups into an Ethiopian Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).
It pushed Mengistu's armies southward during 1989 and 1990. He fled to Zimbabwe in May 1991 and EPRDF forces marched into Addis Ababa a few days later. The Eritrean Marxists liberated themselves and achieved de facto independence which became official in 1993.
Ethiopia since 1991:
The EPRDF restructured Ethiopia along ethnic lines, devised a liberal constitution, and energized the economy. During the 1990s Ethiopia again became a respected member of the international community.
Good harvests and competent management reduced the chronic threat of famine. The country made steady progress toward an open society, a market economy, and democratic governance.
Until the mid-1990s Eritrea, too, appeared to be on its way to prosperity and international respectability, but Isaias Afewerki found it difficult to abandon authoritarian habits he had acquired as a young Marxist trained in Communist China. He picked quarrels with Yemen, Sudan and Djibouti. Internal dissatisfaction grew. In the spring of 1998 he suddenly sent his army across the Ethiopian border, claiming territory that had never been part of Eritrea when it was an Italian colony.
His real purpose in invading Ethiopia was to divert attention from mounting domestic problems and tighten his control. Though Ethiopia had left its norther border unprotected and reduced its military forces, Meles Zenawi shifted course and mobilized.
By spring 2000 Ethiopian forces had driven deep into Eritrea. International pressure kept Meles Zenawi from sending them on to Asmara to topple Isaias--a mistake comparable to the first President Bush's failure to finish off Saddam Hussein at the end of the Gulf War in 1991, and with similar consequences.
Peace with Eritrea has proved unattainable. A UN observer force patrols the border region but has had no effect on moderating Eritrea's behavior. Eritrea, with less than 4 million people maintains an army almost as large as Ethiopia's, which is drawn from a population of 75 million.
A mutually agreed border commission failed to come to examine the border, looked at old maps and "awarded" territories that had always been Ethiopian to Eritrea. Ethiopia refuses to surrender its citizens and their land to an oppressive police state, so the border remains undemarcated. Isaias has jailed most journalists, closed Asmara University and incarcerated many of his own officials.
Eritrea 's economy is a shambles, its budget in hopeless deficit. Isaias extorts money from diaspora Eritreans by threatening their parents. Starting with international good will and a potential to have become the Switzerland of the Horn of Africa, Eritrea has degenerated into an oppressive rogue state comparable to North Korea.
Ethiopia 's Progress:
Defeating the Eritrean invasion was costly to Ethiopia. So is the necessity of staying well armed. But Meles Zenawi has built a highly effective fighting force, as its performance in Somalia has just shown. At the same time Ethiopia has made good use of aid from the World Bank, the EU and numerous donor countries, including the United States, Germany and Japan. New highways, dams, irrigation systems, factories, hotels, housing, schools, health stations and universities have sprung up throughout the country.
Economic growth is approaching 9% annually. There has been progress in democratization. Elections in May 2005 were certified free and fair by President Carter. In their wake, however, an opposition party infiltrated by former Derg elements provoked violence with the apparent aim of sparking a "Rose Revolution".
The government's police and security forces responded with force. Some opposition politicians were arrested and jailed and some newspapers were suspended. The situation remains to be resolved. Former Dergists, most of whom have taken refuge in the United States, continue to denigrate Meles, but their agitation has had no effect on American support of Ethiopia as an ally in the war against terrorism. Meles has been clear about his commitment to continue to expand democracy and adhere to international standards.
Somalia since 1991:
During the past 15 years, while Ethiopia was moving ahead to become an open and prosperous society, Somalia festered in anarchy. So-called warlords, some regional leaders who tried to maintain order and elementary services for the population, others self-seeking strongmen, competed with each other. The US/UN misadventure in famine relief in the years 1992-95 was a disaster. Much of the humanitarian aid provided by NGOs has been diverted to support rival clan and tribal factions.
The former British northern region, Somaliland, fenced itself off from the chaos in the south and has become for all intents and purposes an independent country. It has even achieved a degree of democracy. Somaliland is more deserving of international recognition than Eritrea. Ethiopia has consistently supported international efforts to improve the situation in the rest of Somalia.
These finally led two years ago in Kenya to the creation of the Temporary Federal Government which was set up in Baidoa. Meanwhile, however, Somalia became a target of Islamic extremists and terrorists who wished to use it as a base. Somali-based pirates menaced Indian Ocean shipping.
The southern part of the country degenerated into lawlessness that was overcome only when the Islamic Courts Group imposed Taleban-like control in mid 2006. Leadership fell to extremists who revived old calls for unifying all Somali-populated lands, claiming territory in Ethiopia and Kenya. In November 2006 they declared war on Ethiopia. Ethiopia tried first tried to bolster the Baidoa government, and then concluded that the Islamo-fascist regime had to be deposed.
Under Ethiopian assault the forces of the "powerful Islamic Courts" crumbled with surprising speed and fled. Ethiopia has temporarily at least eliminated a terrorist threat to itself and the world at large.
Eritrean adventurism has been frustrated. But neither Meles Zenawi or any other Ethiopian can feel assured that Somalia will not again fall into anarchy. Somalia needs regional and international help.
It must not again be permitted to become a terrorist haven. The UN-recognized government now moving into Mogadishu must be assisted in creating conditions where the long-suffering people of Somalia can enjoy the kind of security and development to which most peoples in the world feel entitled.
Ed.'s Note: The author, a former US National Security Council Staff Officer, has been a student of, and periodic participant in, affairs of the Horn of Africa for almost half a century. He has published several books on the region and visits it frequently, having most recently spent two weeks in Ethiopia in December 2006 as the crisis in Somalia was coming to a head.
Soure: The Reporter