Global Policy Forum

East Africa: Ethiopia, Eritrea Fuelling Somalia War


By Herzon Nyawachi

February 10, 2010

A year ago there were hopeful signs that after the withdrawal of Ethiopian forces from Somalia and the resignation of President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, Somalia factions would rally around their new leader, President Sheikh Sharif, and start the process of reconciliation.

The Somali problem has been around for two decades now and it is apparent that no quick fix will put the those fanning their proxy wars in the country at bay to allow for an environment that will end the political and clan antagonism.

Notably, 2006 was a clear turning point for the Somalia conflict.

It was then that the Union of Islamic Courts, which was supported by citizens tired of warlords pillaging their businesses, was formed following a merger of several local courts that became prominent in 2000 when they stepped forward to fill the vacuum left by the 1991 ouster of dictator Siad Barre.

Besides offering school and health services to the local population, the courts had been dealing with petty crimes but gradually graduated to handling bigger disputes and felonies.

After the powerful alliance, warlords who had dominated the conflict since 1991 were bitterly defeated in a 'Somali revolution' that never lasted.

Public opinion was against warlords, who were rightly said to have been bolstered by the CIA to counter militias across the country.

At the time, former Clinton administration official John Prendergast clarified to Reuters that there was clear evidence that the CIA pumped $150,000 monthly to the warlords while Ethiopia is said to have supplied truckloads of ammunition.

With the ICU in Mogadishu, relative calm was restored and southern Somalia towns such as Mogadishu, Kismayu, Baidoa, Bandradley and Beledwyene came under the firm control of the ICU.

In that brief lull, business performed and security improved. Schools and hospitals opened in Mogadishu.

But in a crusade of conspiracy by western media and intelligence, this turnaround was depicted as softening ground for al-Qaeda.

This line was wrongly swallowed by governments and intelligence in the West.

Analysts have often noted that the US frenzy on terrorism in the Horn is sometimes unfounded.

When Osama bin Laden lived in Khartoum, he naively thought that lack of central government in Somalia was a fertile ground for him to set base.

His men were later humiliated in Somalia due to several unfavourable factors among them the hold by the moderate strand of Islam, Sufism, among Somalis and a clan structure that refused sponsorship of his campaign.

Fears of a Taliban-style establishment when ICU was installed were exaggerated.

The ICU communicated to the world they were not interested in holding power; but only creating conditions for self-determination of Somalis.

With Ethiopia's occupation of Somalia, public opinion continued to turn against the US, TFG and later AMISOM who were all seen as anti-Islam crusaders.

While the Ethiopian forces routed ICU from Somalia, disagreements that ensued led to a break up of the ICU and with that more radical elements within the ranks of ICU were born. Al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam emerged while moderates escaped to Djibouti to form the Alliance for Re-liberation of Somalia.

The reign of Ethiopian forces in Mogadishu has been the single most important factor that has catapulted al-Shabaab to fame and power.

Ethiopia, a Christian country has had a long history of hostility with Somalia-largely Muslim- and they have fought several wars over territory.

The decision to invade was not well thought out and the crimes committed by Ethiopian soldiers on local population are yet to be accounted for.

Even so, Ethiopia continues to defile Somalia's territory at will and this brings in Eritrea.

In December 23, 2009 the UN Security Council imposed sanctions against Eritrea for her destabilising role in the Horn of Africa.

Eritrea was also directed to withdraw her forces from a contested border area with Djibouti--a country where 1200 US marines and a contingent of French soldiers are stationed in line with UNSC resolution 1862 of January 2009.

Continued Eritrea-Ethiopia enmity emanates from the rulings by International Boundary Commission that has not been adhered to by the parties.

Hence in their primitive dash for influence, Ethiopia and Eritrea with their respective allies have been struggling to outdo each other in Somalia.

A set of simple measures could nudge opinion in Somalia for conducive environment for talks.

The AU and UN must insist on international community to enforce the rulings by International Boundary Commission to end Ethiopia-Eritrea proxy wars in Somalia.

This would reduce the opposing frictions and clear the ground of invisible forces fanning the conflict.

Efforts should be directed at sponsoring local projects with the help of religious and clan leaders perhaps fronted by the Arab League.

At the risk of sounding unfashionable, the US must consider clearing Sheikh Dahir Aweys and other amenable elements in al-Shabaab from the terrorists list.

This will take wind out of the sails and mobilise moderates to rally behind the government.

Notably, Al-Shabaab, is not a trans-national threat for the US and they are widely frowned upon by locals at home who dislike their strict interpretation of Islam.

On the coast, Western ships must be stopped from dumping their industrial waste and overfishing the Somalia waters.

To topple over anti-Westernism, reparations must be made to Somalia and driven towards rejuvenating agriculture.


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