Global Policy Forum

Getting Ethiopia out of Somalia


By Afyare Abdi Elmi*

The Boston Globe
May 3, 2007

The UN's humanitarian affairs office in Somalia reports that the recent clashes between Ethiopian troops and Somali resistance groups have killed more than 1,000 civilians and displaced more than 350,000 Mogadishu residents. The European Union, which is investigating whether war crimes were committed, argues that civilian areas were intentionally targeted. The United States, however, is on a different page. When the Union of Islamic Courts defeated the U.S.-backed warlords, the Bush administration - using the war on terrorism as justification - supported the Ethiopian occupation, arguing that the Islamists were an emerging threat to U.S. interests. But approaching the complex conflict in this simplistic way and linking it to the war on terror was a mistake. The United States has inadvertently stepped into a local, tribal and regional quagmire.

The resistance groups - clans, business groups and Islamists - are challenging the occupying Ethiopian troops and the warlord government in many ways. Recent events in Mogadishu and Kismayo indicate that ignoring their grievances will only perpetuate the conflict. The fighting has multiple causes - competition for resources, repression, the country's colonial legacy, widespread atrocities and politicized clan identity. Ethiopia, through its proxy warlords, was the principal spoiler of peace efforts. Somalis fear that landlocked Ethiopia wants to balkanize their country into clan-based regions in order to get access to the sea. Ethiopia, which had been heavily criticized by the U.S. State Department for its human rights record, also used the Somalia occupation as a way of getting closer to Washington.

The United States has been heavily involved in Somalia since the 9/11 attacks. The Bush administration closed Al-Barakaat - the largest telecommunications company and bank, though the investigations of the 9/11 Commission could not establish any link to terrorism. Washington also added about 20 Somali individuals and organizations to its terrorist list. The United States and Ethiopia collaborated to destroy the UIC, a homegrown popular Islamist movement that ruled southern Somalia in the later part of 2006. Washington should revisit its strategy. Somalis are determined to resist the Ethiopian occupation and attempts to rescue the warlord-government and impose it on the people have backfired. Despite international calls for inclusive government, the leadership in Baidoa has decided to exclude even more individuals and groups - evidence that these warlords have neither the will nor the political competence. Ethiopian troops are not filling a security vacuum; they are a source of destabilization. Ethiopian occupation must end. The United States is the only country that can order Ethiopia to leave Somalia. Rewarding warlords will not bring peace to Somalia. These individuals have committed heinous crimes and they are not interested in peace or democracy. The United States should help in establishing a commission of international inquiry that investigates the Somalia war crimes.

As State Department officials have stated many times, the Bush administration understands the need for a genuine peace process in Somalia. But it has to act. Instead of endorsing the so-called congress in Mogadishu - a convention for the Ethiopian proxies - Washington should support Saudi Arabia's proposed peace conference. The Saudi government has helped mediate similar conflicts in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. Moreover, most Somalis consider it a neutral country. It has a close relationship with Washington and can influence the Islamist groups that are indispensable for ending the fighting. Washington can play a constructive role in building peace in Somalia if it identifies with the aspirations of the Somali people, removing the Ethiopians, controlling the warlords, and initiating a genuine Somali-owned peace process.

About the Author: Afyare Abdi Elmi is a doctoral candidate in international relations at the University of Alberta. This article first appeared in The Boston Globe.

More Information on the Security Council
More Information on Somalia
More Information on Ethiopia


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.