by Buri M. Hamza*The Transitional Federal Government of Somalia (TFG), under the current leadership of the Interim President Abdullahi Yusuf and his Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Ghedi, appears to be steadily slipping further into irrelevance. Ethiopia’s meddling has not been limited to military invasion and indiscriminate killing of innocent Somalis; it also includes a well-planned policy methodically crafted to escalate chaos in Mogadishu and in other parts of Somalia. A renewed chaos and mayhem, initially in the capital city of Somalia, and subsequently in other areas of strategic importance to Meles Zenawi, will be tantamount to a return to pre-Islamic Courts’ periods where warlordism, insecurity, and total disarray were rampant.
The spiraling violence in Mogadishu is proceeding as planned, and it is in line with Meles Zenawi’s strategy of frustrating Somali people’s desire to restore peace and stability in their country. It is also consistent with Ethiopian government’s plan that is meticulously crafted to revive the previously warlord-controlled anarchy and bring about a gradual demise of the Transitional Federal Institutions incepted at Embagathi, in preparation for the execution of an agenda that is more sinister and ominously dangerous.
It is not at all unfair at this juncture to state that the current leadership of the TFG has indeed degraded itself. It has succumbed to the mercy of an unpopular regime in Ethiopia, which has not only turned its back on its own people, but also determined to wreak havoc to the beleaguered people of Somalia. Many identify the President and the Prime Minister of the TFG, as “pawns and puppets” of a foreign government that has: violated human rights in its own country, rigged elections in May 2005 to remain in power, undermined independent press, and violated the territorial integrity of a neighbouring state. For more on repressive Ethiopia under Meles Zenawi’s rule, read the article on The Economist of February 22, 2007 entitled “On a Dilemma in the Horn: Should the West Go on Helping a Repressive Ethiopia?”.
The presence of Zenawi’s troops in Mogadishu and in other parts of Somalia has, as expected, only exacerbated the precarious security situation in the country. It has dismantled the relative stability that was brought about by the ousted Islamic Courts and provoked massive population displacement. With the insecurity worsening in many parts of Somalia, the Marshall Law imposed with a blessing from Meles Zenawi has only tarnished TFG’s image and rendered it more irrelevant.
Meles Zenawi’s policy of clan manipulation in order to implement his divide-and-rule strategy is not new to anyone anymore. It has been the policy of the current as well as that of the previous regimes of Ethiopia. The recent invitation extended to a group of clan elders in Mogadishu to meet with Meles Zenawi and his aides in Addis Ababa was nothing but an attempt to strengthen clan cleavages, fuel hatred among Somalis, and further embarrass Zenawi’s proxies in the Transitional Federal Institutions and assert their worthlessness The mere fact that this invitation was extended without any prior consultation and coordination with the government of Abdullahi Yusuf and Ali Mohamed Ghedi, is indicative of the fact that TFG leaders can be rendered irrelevant when needed and even eventually altogether dumped when deemed so. This particular political overture by Meles Zenawi to a group of clan leaders, allegedly opposed to TFG, has indeed sent very discouraging signals to Abdullahi Yusuf and Ali Mohamed Ghedi, and provoked consternation and a panic among their fans.
In this short paper, I will attempt to assess Meles Zenawi’s motives for invading Somalia. I will place this assessment in the context of: a) Ethiopia’s old dream of annexing Somalia to its territory; b) Ethiopian governments’ determination to weaken Somalia and its governments through clan manipulation and divide-and-rule policy”; c) and Meles Zenawi’s insistence to unravel any national reconciliation endeavours that can lead to the establishment of a government of national unity that is devoid of his pawns, for fear of losing his grip and authority over the destiny of Somalia.
Zenawi’s Rationale for Invading Somalia
Meles Zenawi and his government describe the US-backed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia as a military operation that was “prompted by the menaces posed by the growing influence of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC)”. On December 24, 2006, Meles Zenawi, in a televised statement, admitted for the first time that his troops were waging a war against “Islamists in Somalia in order to protect his nation’s sovereignty”. Following this televised statement, Meles Zenawi’s military began pounding Somalia to quell militias of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) and kill innocent Somalis.
But what are the actual underlying reasons for this invasion? Meles Zenawi’s contention that his army had attacked the UIC because of Ethiopia’s “national interest and the protection of his nation’s sovereignty” has been widely contested. Fekade Shewakena – an Ethiopian scholar in the diaspora – in his article, “Meles Zenawi’s Invasion of Somalia: A Serious Long-Term Foreign Policy Blunder”, reveals:
“The invasion of Somalia is the biggest foreign policy blunder by an Ethiopian administration. Strategically speaking, Ethiopia’s interests have been significantly undermined by Meles Zenawi’s invasion of Somalia. Authoritarian regimes by their very nature conflate national interest and their short-term political objectives and calculate their foreign policy based on the maintenance of their political power. Dictators see no national interest outside of their greed of power. The concept of national interest has a more dynamic meaning in an increasingly globalizing world and it is not strictly confined to physical security and boundary issues alone. The biggest threat to national security and national interest in my view is the extreme and obscene poverty in the country. Nearly half of the population lives below the poverty line and the army of the destitute and urban unemployment is increasing by the day. Any pursuit of national interest that does not take into account this very dangerous condition that is destroying us as a nation is simply wrong. If Ethiopia is to be destroyed it will be destroyed by its obscene poverty than by any foreign force”.
Drawing upon Mr. Shewakena’s argument, the discourse of “national interest” and “nation’s sovereignty” invoked by Meles Zenawi to justify his occupation of a sovereign country and his killing of innocent Somalis is not the real motive that has led to the US-backed invasion. Meles Zenawi’s occupation of Somalia is literally “an old Abyssinian dream come true”. Meles Zenawi is in Somalia to stay with the purpose of executing the plan that his predecessors had failed to implement. The plan is to initially keep Somalia weak and divided under Ethiopia’s control, and subsequently melt it into “Greater Ethiopia”.
Ambassador Mohamed Sharif, in his article “The Underlying Reasons for Ethiopia’s Invasion of Somalia”, posted on Aljazeeranet, argues:
“The Ethiopian invasion represents the latest of the series of events that epitomize Ethiopia’s territorial claim over Somalia. The Abyssinian leaders have always considered Somalia as part and parcel of their Ethiopian Empire that stretches from the Abyssinian plateaus down to the coastal areas in the Indian Ocean. This was the premise that the Ethiopians had put forth at the United Nations in 1947 when the independence of former Italian Somaliland was deliberated. Ethiopia had then vehemently rejected the idea of independent Somalia because it had insisted that it was part of its entity. Ethiopia had participated in 1884 in the colonial partition of Somalia in collusion with France, Britain and Italy, and was adamantly opposed to the unification of British and Italian Somalilands in 1960”.
Based on what the Ambassador has cited in terms of the historical perspective of Ethiopia’s involvement in the partition of Somalia in collusion with the colonial powers, and its determination to annex Somalia to its territory and bloc the efforts undertaken to secure independence and unity for Somalia, it will be insane from our part to accept the argument that Meles Zenawi’s troops are in Somalia only to counter the growing threat of the Islamic Courts and salvage the feeble Transitional Federal Government. It will also be a sheer naiveté and ingenuousness from our part, perhaps partly because of our clan prejudices, to shrug off Ethiopia’s sinister and evil motives vis-à-vis Somalia and its people.
Meles Zenawi has managed to fool the US Administration and dupe it into another embarrassment. The invasion that the US has financed and blessed is further tearing apart a nation that has seen nothing but chaos and misery all through the 16 years of civil unrest. The US is responsible for pushing the Ethiopian government to use lethal arsenals against innocent people for the sole purpose of pursuing three people accused of being involved in the attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and perhaps hound other Islamists presumed to be members of the radical wing of the UIC that are alleged to have links with Al-Qaeda.
But what has this US-backed Ethiopian terrorism achieved? The US has created more enemies for itself, and is blamed for the perpetuation of chaos in Somalia. Professor Ken Menkhaus, in his last testimony before the US Senate Africa Subcommittee, said, “….the mood after the invasion in Mogadishu is weary, sullen, and angry. Anti-American sentiment is high. Rightly or wrongly, the US is held responsible for the collapse of public order in Mogadishu.”
Ethiopia, on the other hand, is euphoric because it has succeeded in restoring anarchy in Mogadishu and in other parts of Somalia, and is now striving hard to deepen fragmentation and render the country weaker and more vulnerable.
Zenawi’s Policy of Clan Manipulation
The policy of clan/warlord manipulation is not Zenawi’s invention. It was religiously practiced by the previous brutal regime of Mengistu Haile-Mariam. The policy of manipulation of clan cleavages and differences in Somalia has provided the Ethiopian regimes with the conditions that are propitious to the dismemberment of the Somali homogenous national identity. The Ethiopian governments have used the “clan card” skillfully to perpetuate the Somali mayhem and impede the reconstitution of the Somali state.
It bodes well for any regime in Ethiopia to resort to “clan card” in its destabilization policy of Somalia. Mengistu Haile-Mariam hosted and armed clan-based opposition factions that had later participated in the overthrow of Siyad Barre. For those who are not familiar with the history of armed opposition that was launched from within Ethiopia to destabilize the regime of Siyad Barre, the reason why the former military regime in Ethiopia had manipulated clan rebels was not because of its belief in the importance of the restoration of democracy and freedom in the neighbouring country. In simple laymen’s jargon: the reason was to overthrow Siyad Barre’s government, bloc any effort aimed at the reconstitution of free and democratic Somalia, and eventually melt Somalis into “Greater Ethiopia”.
Meles Zenawi’s regime has never been any different from Mengistu’s with regard to Somalia. It has emulated and pursued its arch enemy’s divide-and-rule strategy. It has never made things easier for Somalia despite the support it had received from its people in the struggle against the despotic regime of Mengistu.
Meles Zenawi has all along been disingenuous with regard to the plight of the Somali people all through the 16 years of the civil strife. His government is still loath to let Somalis stand on their feet again. It had micro-managed Embagathi Peace Process only to produce a feeble TFG that cannot deliver. The focus on warlords at Embagathi has precluded any possibility of establishing a reasonably acceptable post-conflict peacebuilding and (re) construction programme in Somalia.
Prior to Embagathi, Meles Zenawi and his government unleashed a systematic campaign against the Transitional National Government (TNG) formed following the successful conclusion of Arta Peace Process in the year 2000. This process, which was hosted by the neighbouring state of Djibouti, was unquestionably more participatory and representative because it assembled over 3000 delegates from all over Somalia representing a wide array of clan and traditional elders, women and scholars, and representatives of the Somali civil society organizations. This Process shunned the notorious warlords who were responsible for the country’s pandemonium.
To abort TNG, the Ethiopian government hosted a meeting in Ethiopia (specifically in Awassa, Ethiopia) for the Somali warlords and other factions who were opposed to Arta Peace Process in order to spearhead a plan for TNG destabilization. This meeting led to the formation of the “Somali Reconciliation and Restoration Council” (“SRRC”) whose founding fathers are now the “leaders” of the Transitional Federal Institutions.
I must, nonetheless, concur with Prof. Abdi Ismail Samatar’s contention that TNG’s failure was due to a “combination of Ethiopia’s sabotage and the Somali leaders’ incompetence and venality”. In fact, some of Ethiopia’s “friends” within the TNG with strong ties with Meles Zenawi’s government were instrumental in the dismantlement of the Transitional Institutions incepted at Arta.
Ethiopia’s Obsession to Abort Reconciliation Efforts
To ensure that its agenda of Somalia’s destabilization is not hampered by the international community’s effort to set up a government of national unity, Meles Zenawi’s government will leave no stone unturned to ensure that this endeavour is aborted. Tekie Fessahatzion, an Eritrean scholar based in the US, in his piece entitled “After Somalia, Who is Next?” argues:
“Meles wants anything but a unified government in Somalia. Given a choice between anarchic and fragmented Somalia and one that is united, Meles chooses the former. The US wants to see a stable government; Meles prefers an anarchic one. What he really wants is an ungovernable entity with diminished sovereignty, something he wanted to do to Eritrea in 2000 but could not”.
If Meles Zenawi finds himself under pressure from the US to cave in and accept international community’s proposed national reconciliation conference, the scenario that I would immediately envisage is: a reconciliation conference micro-managed and coerced by Ethiopia and its “friends” within the TFG. Ethiopia and its “friends” must not be allowed to meddle with the impending reconciliation endeavours.
For the impending national reconciliation process to be able to deliver and spearhead a viable post-conflict peacebuilding and recovery programme, the mandate and responsibilities of this process must be bestowed upon an “independent party” that is immune to Ethiopia’s manipulation.
The national reconciliation conference must be preceded by a pre-negotiation process – facilitated by the international community – with the view to establishing an independent National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) with its specific responsibilities and detailed terms of reference. The tasks of the pre-negotiation process could also include but not limit to: cessation of hostilities and immediate withdrawal of the Ethiopian troops; rules of the engagement of the peacekeeping forces and their specific mandates; the venue of the conference; and the agenda and the criteria for participation.
It is indeed distressing that Abdullahi Yusuf and Ali Mohamed Ghedi are deliberately turning a blind eye to the seriousness of Ethiopia’s occupation and its deadly consequences on Somalia.
Somalia has literally returned to Pre-Islamic Courts’ period when warlordism and chaos reined. The New York Times has recently given a grim picture of the situation in Somalia following Ethiopia’s invasion. Among some of the depressing facts reported:
“Nearly every day, government forces and insurgents shell each other across dilapidated neighborhoods in the capital, Mogadishu, scattering limbs and any remaining traces of hope. Gun prices are soaring, more clans are joining the underground, and an outbreak of cholera sweeps the countryside.”
The power bestowed upon the Interim President of the TFG following the declaration of the Marshall Law is simply a travesty. It is indeed pitiful that a government that was established to promote dialogue and reconciliation in its war-torn society cave in to Meles Zenawi’s whims and embark on banning the modicum of free press and free expression that the country has enjoyed all through the turbulent periods of statelessness. This reality enhances TFG’s irrelevance, and makes it ineffectual and unpopular.
The US-backed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia might have weakened the forces of the UIC, but the series of guerilla-style assaults on Meles Zenawi’s troops that are being mounted in Mogadishu and in other parts of Somalia on a daily basis, prove otherwise. It appears that the Courts and their supporters are still there and are capable of inflicting heavy losses on their enemies: both Meles Zenawi’s troops as well those of the government of Abdullahi Yusuf and Ali Mohamed Ghedi.
The aftermath of Ethiopia’s occupation does not bode well for the TFG. It has re-empowered the warlords, restored chaos that is consistent with Meles Zenawi’s sinister plans, and deepened rifts between the TFG and the Somali people.
The agenda of Meles Zenawi and his government has indeed tarnished the reputation of the people of Ethiopia and rendered this old African nation, which hosts the African Union in its capital city, a hostage of the US Administration’s blunders in the Horn of African and in the Middle East. The Somali people harbour no grudges against their brothers and sisters in Ethiopia. They will always remember the generosity and the unwavering support that the people of Ethiopia have extended to them as they were fleeing the ravages of their civil war and the ensuing disarray that was so widespread and devastating.
* Buri M. Hamza is currently a freelance researcher in peacebuilding and environmental governance. For comments, please email [email protected]