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Horn of Africa and US Diplomatic Mess - The Alternative Route

By Yared Tibebu

A year after the June 1st massacre of democracy and freedom loving Ethiopians by the minority rule in Ethiopia, again the world is forced to pay attention to political developments in the Horn of Africa. The recent takeover of Mogadishu from the US supported war lords by the Moslem Courts Union, lately known as ICC, has forced the "Hawks" at the Pentagon to be pushed to the side and the "Doves" at the State Department to take the lead. As a result the Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Jendayi Frazer, had temporarily dislocated her office from Washington to Nairobi, Kenya; and the region is getting a world attention.


Region "experts" have started throwing blames, and the Ethiopian Prime Minister got his share for "consciously misleading" the US Administration by supplying false information about Somalia and the region. The Eritrean President during his June 20 "Memorial Day" speech has condemned Washington for using the Meles regime as a tool to destabilize the region and raised the nationalist banner of the right to administer one’s life without US interference. In return Eritrea is getting blamed for supplying arms to the winners in the Somalia debacle, while the Islamic Courts Union is blaming Ethiopia of interference by siding with the "Transitional Government" based in Baidoa. Sudan and Eritrea are reaching agreement over the handling of the North-East rebels that have destabilized the Kassala region. A nationalist government in Eritrea, Chinese upper hand and influence in the Sudan, "radical" Moslem takeover in Somalia, a heavily isolated ally in Addis Ababa; the US is forced to weigh its interest with more tact and less bravado, to swim against the strong current and survive in the southern tip of the "Terror Triangle" as some analysts call the region. How is that to be done? This short article tries to address that issue just by calling for common sense solutions.

At the heart of the issue is this question. Does the interest of the US to dominate Global commerce go contrary to the very existence of weak nationalist states in the Horn? Why can’t a Shari’a dominated Moslem Somalia, a Chinese influenced Sudan, and freedom loving nationalist Eritrea, and liberty aspiring Ethiopia live in peace and tranquility with the Global US interest? Is it possible for a total hegemony of the world as the Wolfowitz neo-cons surmised in their "vision for the Next century"? Can the US play with the idea of "limited sovereignty", and use the Horn as a show-case where it will be willing to test the possibility of Global dominance and local sovereignty living side by side with each other? Does the US have a choice other than submitting to the will of the "people" in this "hostile" region? These are huge questions, but the unique situation the US finds itself in the Horn forces it to raise strategic political and military issues, to weather the storm and land on a stable Horn. My advice to strategic thinkers of the region is, think of the unthinkable, look at this exceptional region with exceptional talent and skill, and untried methods. Take it as a challenge, and approach it with novel ideas and here-to-for unheard of tactics. It may work. It will work.

If one has a nation that is grinding under the rule of war lords for fifteen long years, and one sees hope in a Shari’a rule in line with one’s religious preference, chances are one will try to cling to the hope and condemn its grinding hopelessness. From ten thousand miles away from the comfort of Washington, I believe the choices for the Somali people were as simple as that. The United States instead of blaming every theocratic rule or aspiration as incongruent with human rights and democracy should isolate each instance and study it under its own peculiar environment and come up with appropriate solutions.

Somalia is almost 100% Moslem and the US does not have immediate human rights issues that will force it to go contrary to the Shari’a rule the ICU or ICC is implementing. Of course one can raise the issue of women’s rights under such oppressive rules, but what is exception in Somalia is, it is the women who come out in greater numbers in support of the ICU, and in opposition to Meles’ and America’s support to the war lords. Hence there is no immediate minority rights issue that binds the hands of the US Administration to stand in opposition to the ICU. The only concern the US may have can be narrowed down to harboring anti-US militants that the US considers as "terrorists" or Al-Qaeda operatives; and this can be resolved through negotiation with the popular forces that took over Mogadishu. Washington should not forget that, the self-administered and chaotic-ruled Somalia has over half a million mobile phones - for a population of 8 million - compared to the under 200 thousand Ethiopia has after 15 years of all-round US support (or despite being the highest recipient of US aid in Africa) - for a population of 74 million. The Somalis have discovered novel ways of weathering the storm of hopelessness in the midst of despair, and the recent fast changing political coup is one among these discoveries.

The Meles regime in Ethiopia is getting a favored position because of the sea of change that engulfed Somalia. It was reported that the World bank President made a visit on July 12, 2006 to Bahir Dar and told locals "We want to work with you to help with education and health, ...with peace and democracy and help from the World Bank this country can grow". But so far the growth is not even by Somali standard, let alone by the standard of Africa.

The very visit of Wolfowitz before joining the G8 summit in Russia shows the commitment of the Bank and the United States to the TPLF regime. And the regime is trying its best to gain favor by banking on the fear of the West, by portraying developments in Somalia as incongruent to western interests. But here one has to remind US policy makers the apt characterization of Peter Drucker in his suggestion that "Some time between 1965 and 1973 we passed over a divide and entered ‘the next century’. We passed out of creeds, commitments, and alignments that had shaped politics for a century or two. We are in political terra incognita with few familiar landmarks to guide us."

"Respect for our Shari’a" as articulated by the Sheikh who is at the helm of the ICC movement in Somalia, is one of these "political terra incognita" Drucker talked about in his assessment. A fresh and unfamiliar approach to a seemingly "old" problem might be useful in this case. Leave the Somalis alone, and let them chart their future without foreign interference. And it seems that is all the leader is asking for. In his recent remarks Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys said: “I want the world to respect our shariah and beliefs and cooperate with us and also recognize our administrations and humanity. They should work with us as free people who have a right to choose their own future and religion". Why can’t the US live with such aspiration?

Henry Minzberg a leading management guru once said "We glorify ourselves by describing our own times as turbulent... the real curse of this so-called turbulence may be planning itself, which by imposing formalized procedures on organizations has desensitised them, and made them vulnerable to unexpected changes." What Minzberg might have expressed in a business setting might be instructional to political and diplomatic offices and personnel that handle the affairs of nations. It is high time US policy making institutions awake from such "insensitivity" and smell the coffee around them. As a person whose root is from a nation which had historic enmity with Somalia, and as a person with Christian upbringing, I should have been elated with the uncompromising stance the State Department adopted toward Aweys and the ICC. But the concern for regional peace and stability demands one’s distancing from short sighted gains and interests.

The West ignored the aspiration for liberty that was demonstrated by Ethiopians on May 15, 2005; and tried to silence it by quoting from the Bible "there is time to saw...time for every thing". Now when a traditional conservative movement engulfs Somalia, the same diplomats who instructed Ethiopians to stay calm and accept minority rule for a while, have lost their calm and engaged in "democratic" rhetoric, and "human rights" slogans. But the people in Somalia are saying "leave us alone...let us attend to our needs...let us resolve our problems our own way". The comparison is so stark across the two borders, the Ethiopian people who asked for liberty are denied their rights on the ground of "US geo-political interest", and across the border a people who welcome a theocratic regime are also denied their aspiration on the ground of the same "geo-political interest".

Here it may be apt to introduce Alvin Toffler, who in his book "Future shock" said "I coined the term ’future shock’ to describe the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time...In the most rapidly changing environment to which man has ever been exposed, we remain pitifully ignorant of how the human animal copes." Toffler’s remark about individuals applies to communities and nations as well. Let the people of Somalia "cope" with their misery and lawlessness in a way they see fit. Let the Ethiopian people cope with their minority rule in a way they see fit. Let Africa resolve its issue based on its own resources, and its own vision. Let the interests of "oilygarchies" and "diamondocrats"; the interest of multi-national corporations pull their hands out of Africa. Let there be a total ban of arms sales to the continent, and let Africans deal with disarmed elites and "disarmed" central governments. That will create equilibrium of power between the elites and the people, giving way to the enshrinement of liberty, a liberty that will grow out of the natural soil of Africa itself.

If the world is genuine about "HELPING" Africa, the best it could do, is IGNORE it. Not only ignore but also SEAL it. The continent will do much better without interference, than with the limited engagements that threw the power equilibrium towards all sorts of central governments that had monopoly over violence to undermine the basic rights of their people. The state in Africa had been a burden for too long. Let its monopoly over violence subside and give way to the voice of the people. And the world can help in this endeavor by sealing Africa from the outside world. By not allowing a single Kalashnikov or even a single bullet arrive at the shores of Africa. Let there be international gun control police ships and air controls over the high seas, oceans, and skies of Africa. And let Africans resolve their differences initially if need be with machetes and eventually by learning to sitting around their oracles. They will just do fine. A democratic revolution cannot be imported into the continent, nor can it be left at bay as the aspiration of Ethiopians has demonstrated. It took hundreds of years for Europe to develop the basic foundations of liberty. It was only power equilibrium between the church and "state" that had delivered that unimagined promise. As the nineteenth century British Historian Lord Acton aptly put it in his address to the Members of the Bridgnorth Institute on May 28, 1877:

"The only influence capable of resisting the feudal hierarchy was the ecclesiastical hierarchy; and they came into collision when the progress of feudalism threatened the independence of the Church, by subjecting the prelates severally to that form of personal dependence on the Kings which was peculiar to the Teutonic state.

To that conflict of four hundred years we owe the rise of civil liberty. If the Church had continued to buttress the thrones of the Kings whom it anointed, or if the struggle had terminated speedily in an undivided victory, all Europe would have sunk down under a Byzantine or Muscovite despotism. For the aim of both contending parties was absolute authority. But although liberty was not the end for which they strove, it was the means by which the temporal and the spiritual power called the nations to their aid. The towns of Italy and Germany won their franchises, France got her states general and England her parliament out of the alternate phases of the contest; and as long as it lasted it prevented the rise of Divine Right."

I do not want to add a word to this imaginative assessment of Lord Acton, an assessment that could be instructional to the West’s policy developers, for it begs them to look into their own backyard and their own history and refrain from the "social engineering" task they tend to engage.

* Yared Tibebu is an Ethiopian based in the USA, he can be reached at [email protected]

The opinions contained in this article are solely those of the writer, and in no way, form or shape represent the editorial opinions of "Hiiraan Online"

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