Somalia: The Ethiopian Factor
October 21, 2010 3 Comments
Some of the Somali regions that share a border with Ethiopia have been in a state of turmoil over the past few days. In the shifting patterns of this prolonged war in Somalia, the escalation of violence in the regions of Galguduud, Hiiran, Gedo and Bakool has illuminated some of the underlying geo-political dynamics that are at play in the volatile region of the Horn of Africa. More than 400 Transitional Federal Government (TFG) soldiers, accompanied by up to 300 Ethiopian forces, raided the town of Baladweyn, Hiiran, in order to bring an end to the Islamists’ rule in the region; in Galgudud, hundreds of Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama (ASWJ) rebels attacked Cadaado, the region’s business hub which is governed by a tribal administration, with military equipment and reinforcements readily supplied by the Ethiopian government; in the border towns of Yeed and Ceel Berde, Bakool region, the Islamists are fending off the Ethiopian troops’ aggressive incursions; in the South-Western region of Gedo, TFG troops buttressed by the Ethiopian might and men wrestled the region’s capital, Beledxaawo, from the iron grip of the Islamists. But while the Transitional Federal Government has its own reasons for driving out the Islamists from the region, what are the motives that underpin the Ethiopian involvement?
The Ethiopian regime presents itself as though it had been tirelessly working to restore peace and stability to the troubled Horn. Since the fall of the Siyad Barre regime in the early 90s, Ethiopian involvement in Somali politics had become even more overt; helping Abdullahi Yusuf defeat the Al Ittihad Al Islami, led by Hasan Dahir Aweys in 1994 and then helping him reclaim the Puntland administration from Jama Ali Jama during the mid-90’ or actively being engaged in all the national reconciliation programs and the establishment of the Transitional Federal Institutions to date.
But when Ethiopia, Somalia’s archenemy, states that its policy geared towards Somalia is one which is enveloped in altruism and mutual goodwill for both countries, this raises a plethora of questions and many Somalia remain convinced that there are ulterior motives to Ethiopia’s ‘neighbourly’ gestures. The statement that Ethiopia is working with a benevolent intent – safeguarding the interests of the Somali populations – is, in the Somali mind, oxymoronic and the theory that Ethiopia, whose efforts is cleverly masqueraded as being philanthropic, is preventing – rather than helping – Somalia to stand on her own feet is highly tenable.
One of the most pressing issues in the post-independence era of Somali politics was the notion of Pan-Somalism – or the unification of all Somali-inhabited areas under one country: Somalia. The Somalis refused to acknowledge all treaties defining the Somali borders, carved out by the colonialists, and therefore began to pursue the annexation of Western Somalia (The Ogaden), North Eastern Province (NFD) in Kenya and Djibouti to form Greater Somalia. With the notion of the establishment of Greater Somalia taking a firm root in the nation’s heart, so too did the cross-border skirmishes, with the Somalis in the disputed regions, particularly the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF) in the Ogaden region and the Shiftas, or guerrilla fighters, in the Kenyan-Somali region, mounting constant raids along the borders of the neighbouring countries, with the tacit approval and support of the Somali National Army (SNA). They were, like the majority of Somalis, eager to liberate ‘their’ lands. And as the desire to regain those lands grew, the hostilities escalated, paving the way for large-scale guerrilla operations and, eventually, a conventional war between Somalia and Ethiopia. But the resistance to the Ethiopian regime was not limited to the Somalis alone at the time. Ethiopia’s Northern neighbours, the Eritreans, and the people of Tigray, Oromia, Sidamo as well as an increasing number of Amhars who all suffered under the brutal regime were eager to accelerate the demise of the Ethiopian government and welcomed Somalia’s efforts to liberate the Ogaden.
In the long history of conflicts, involving both overt engagements as well as clandestine operations, any encounter with the Ethiopian troops was viewed in Somalia as a noble struggle in the path of Somali nationalism and self-determination. The Ethiopian government, in turn, conducted regular air assaults in order to curtail Somalia’s grand ambitions of unification. Between 1960 and 1964 there were sporadic, and guerrilla-style confrontations along the border regions. These arduous campaigns were secretly supported by the armies on both sides of the border and it wasn’t long before a conventional war, though on a small scale, broke out between the two nations. Having perceived the apparent threat from their neighbour, Ethiopia and Kenya signed a mutual defence pact in 1964, which stated that if one of the countries was attacked, the armed forces of both states would collaborate to fight the Somalis. The cross-border raids still continue to this day, and the Geographical dispute still remains intense, breathing life into one of the longest, and perhaps most volatile cross-border disputes in the region.
Continue Reading – ‘Somalia: The Ethiopian Factor II’