It was in December 2006 that the Ethiopian army – with the US’s military and financial support – invaded Somalia and paved the way for the expulsion of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) and its replacement by the clan-based interim government (IG). Now it is once again pouring its troops into Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, to prop up the IG (which has foundered as a result of a dispute between its president, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, and prime minister Ali Mohamed Ghedi) and to prevent the UIC from seizing power. However, as thousands of UIC supporters and “other insurgents” poured into the streets to protest and resist, it became clear that the new invaders would only succeed in causing bloodshed, destruction and lawlessness that might prove more serious than those of 2006.
In that year, Ethiopian troops failed to drive out of Mogadishu UIC supporters and fighters who have been occupying several districts of the city since then, while the IG forces have not even dared to try to eject them. This explains why the Ethiopian government decided to reinforce its own troops, already present in the city, by transferring many more from the city of Baidoa, 250 kilometres (about 150 miles) west of Mogadishu, where it maintains a large military base. The contingents that moved from there were well-armed and took with them a large number of tanks, which they began to use – and continue to use – indiscriminately, killing many civilians and driving thousands away from their homes.
But the Ethiopian army is clearly failing to dislodge the ‘insurgents’ despite the indiscriminate use of military muscle – succeeding only in committing war crimes, while Addis Ababa, the US government and its Arab allies have been shown to be unable to end the dispute between the leaders of the IG. Not only is the fighting in Mogadishu still raging, but the IG has now crumbled, following the resignation of prime minister Ghedi on October 28. As president Yusuf and Ghedi come from rival clans, which are locked in confrontation, the IG has no hope of being revived. And because Ghedi was accused by the US and Ethiopia of failing to do his utmost to destroy the UIC, its supporters, fighters and other insurgents, he and his clan are expected to side with their old enemy against their former allies.
But despite the widespread violence and even greater bloodshed, Ethiopia, the US and its Arab allies are certain to continue their opposition to the UIC (and other insurgents) and to back the Ethiopian invasion to an even greater extent. To the delight of the USgovernment and the Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia declared on October 29 that many countries in the world were not taking international terrorism seriously and should mend their ways. Speaking on the eve of his state visit to Britain, he even accused the British government of not taking seriously information Saudi intelligence organisations had provided about a planned attack in London on July 21. This clearly backs the US and Ethiopian claim that international terrorists led by al-Qa’ida are responsible for the violence in Somalia, which they want to spread throughout the Horn of Africa.
In fact, the Saudi monarch has already been busy backing the US-Ethiopian intervention in Somalia. He even invited the leaders of the IG and 300 clan-heads to Jeddah, where they signed a ‘national reconciliation’ pact in mid-September, and claimed that this would end the violence. Egypt, Jordan, and the Arab League immediately declared their support for this sham pact, and the UN and the EU followed suit. King Abdullah – who must be incensed by the failure of his initiative, the collapse of the IG and the clan-confrontation this is expected to lead to – is likely to take further steps to “save Somalia”. Both Washington and Addis Ababa are also expected to press him to increase his financial backing for their military designs in the Horn of Africa.
Ethiopia is the second most populous country – after Niger – in sub-Saharan Africa, and can therefore put together large numbers of troops, but as one of the world’s poorest countries it does not have the money to maintain them or engage them in battle. But it employs its considerable aid from the US, Britain and other western countries to finance its military projects, although it also gets direct military aid from the US for special projects relating to the “war on terrorism” – such as its invasion of Somalia and its suppression of freedom-fighters in the Ogaden, its huge Somali province.
The US is by far the largest contributor of ‘aid’, but Britain also gives a large sum each year. The US government, for instance, has requested $481 million from Congress for Ethiopia in the 2008 budget. This sum includes $1.5 million in ‘military assistance’ and $5 million for “economic support”, some of which may be used for economic aid. Britain gives Ethiopia £130 million sterling per annum. These large sums do not seem to be improving the country’s economic development, and many Ethiopians, who are very poor and unemployed, believe that most of these monies are stolen by the ruling elite. A good deal of this money may safely be assumed to be transferred to finance the regime’s military projects and to bribe the senior-most officers of the military establishment.
The US government certainly does not object to the high cost of Ethiopia’s war in the Ogaden. It is even openly opposed to the international condemnation of the war crimes being committed in its Somali region. According to Jedai Fraser, assistant secretary of state, the Ogaden dispute “is not something we can address,” calling it a matter Ethiopia should deal with “internally, through a political process”.
Fraser should know better, as the war crimes being committed in the Ogaden are far too blatant not to be known even to the man in the street. As Saman Zarifi, an advocate with Human Rights Watch, told the US Congress, “Ogaden is not Darfur yet; it is probably only a few months from sliding over the edge into a full-blown humanitarian crisis of massive proportions.”
One of the most noticeable aspects of the Ethiopian and US war crimes in Somalia and the Ogaden is that Muslim states and organisations are not opposing them or angry about them, while some, like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, support them as an exercise against “terrorists and Islamic extremism”. In these circumstances, it is not strange that the Western allies of Ethiopia, particularly the Christians among them, back a Christian ally in the Horn of Africa that is determined to keep Muslim states and activists in the region under its thumb. Western leaders have always backed Addis Ababa, and as for the US, all its rulers have done so. In 1998, for instance, Bill Clinton hailed Zenawi as the “leader” of an “African renaissance”. Nothing is likely to change there even when a new government comes into office in due course.