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Outsourcing the Somali war to a Tigrean warlord
Haile Kassahun
Ethiopian Americans for Justice
Nov 25, 2006

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War in the Horn of Africa appears imminent.  If large-scale violence breaks out, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and the Bush administration will bear major responsibility for the ensuing chaos and human suffering.

Zenawi, who already has at least 8,000 troops in Somalia, just declared his readiness to widen the war.

There is a marriage of convenience between Ethiopia's Prime Minister and the Bush Administration.  Zenawi is desperate to divert attention from his internal troubles and human rights abuses. An over-extended Bush administration finds it cost-effective and expedient to outsource the Somali war to an eager, yet repugnant local tyrant.

Zenawi is a polished Tigrian warlord in an Armani suit.  He is an Albanian-style Marxist turned Christian crusader, a ruthless megalomaniac perfectly willing to burn down the neighborhood to stay in power.

Ethiopia's ruling Tigrai Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) has devised a grand internal and external strategy to stay in power. Creating Christian-Moslem conflict is the weapon to be used on the domestic front. This is designed to create a wedge between regime opponents who have united without regard to religion or ethnicity. 

The recent religious violence that took the lives of some 19 people in the South West of the country appears to be the work of regime agents.

There is an active domestic propaganda campaign about the danger of jihadists and Islamic extremists. The campaign aims to confuse the issues, to hoodwink the country's Christian population and to garner its support. Such a situation will create a Christian-Moslem rift, virtually assuring the continuing rule of the ruling minority group.  Sadly, such poison is being introduced to a population that has had unprecedented religious tolerance.

The bond between Christians and Moslems goes back to the beginnings of Islam. The prophet Mohammed sent his followers to Ethiopia when they fled persecution in Arabia. Ethiopia's Christian king received Mohammed's followers as honored guests and treated them with civility. 

Although there were periods of contention, the early history of tolerance created a precedent for mutual respect and coexistence. It will therefore be an unforgivable crime to introduce religious conflict to an otherwise harmonious society.

Zenawi's external survival strategy depends on currying favor with the United States.  Towards that end, he continues to fabricate intelligence reports about the danger Somali Islamists pose to Ethiopia and the United States.

Ethiopia's Prime Minister says the Somali Islamic Courts Union (ICU) is a terrorist organization that has to be stopped in its tracks. He provides no proof beyond accusations and name calling.

"I think the U.S. government panicked. They saw Islamic group; they said, 'Taliban is coming," said Herman Cohen, former Under Secretary of State for African Affairs, in a recent interview with Margaret Warner of PBS.

Cohen continued, "also, there are friends in the region, like the Ethiopians, who probably are feeding false intelligence about terrorists being hidden and that sort of thing…. So they want to keep the Islamists out of power, and they will bring the U.S. into it, if they can." 

Ironically, this same grandstanding Zenawi and his organization were classified as terrorists by the United States not long ago. (See, for example, US Homeland Security's database of terrorist organizationsSee also.)

Somalia's Islamic Courts Union poses a "clear and present danger," Ethiopia's strong man said during a recent, carefully-orchestrated speech to his rubber-stamp parliament. Again, he provided no proof.

Many Ethiopians would beg to disagree. What poses a "clear and present danger" is a homegrown rogue minority regime that refuses to respect election results, shoots opponents at will, throws tens of thousands in jail without respect for due process of law. The "clear and present danger" comes from the ruling Tigray People's Liberation Front that runs away from solving domestic post-election problems, pimps the country for political gain, and starts an unprovoked war with a neighboring country.

No matter how much one disagrees with the religious bent of the Islamic Courts Union, they have brought a modicum of stability to Mogadishu and other areas they control.

This is in contrast to the incompetence of the so-called Transitional Government of Somalia which has failed to show any popular support. President Abdullahi Yusuf has little credibility with his own people, spending most of his time in Ethiopia. It is reported that he has been in the service of Ethiopian security forces going at least as far back as a decade. Even his kidney operation a few years ago was paid for by Ethiopia.

A Bush administration preoccupied with Iraq appears to have decided to let Ethiopians do the fighting. US policy in Ethiopia and Somalia has been relegated to low-level, inexperienced officials. 

It's the same folks who lent American support to unsavory Somali warlords, leading to an embarrassing foreign policy debacle in June. The public face of this rookie team is Jendayi Frazer, US Assistant Secretary for African Affairs.  Frazer is reportedly close to the Zenawi regime and relies heavily on the EPRDF's self-serving intelligence feed.

Incidentally, some of the pro-US warlords may be among those responsible for the killing of US rangers during the "Blackhawk" incident.

According to a Washington Post dispatch of May 17, 2006, some of the warlords "reportedly fought against the United States in 1993 during street battles that culminated in an attack that downed two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters and left 18 Army Rangers dead."

These warlords continue to spend a great deal of time in Addis Ababa, chewing the narcotic Khat, driving expensive cars, guzzling top-shelf whiskey and frequenting whorehouses -- all courtesy of the American tax-payer.

Zenawi is eager to keep the focus away from his domestic troubles at all costs.  In the past, he had no qualms sacrificing at least 50,000 Ethiopian troops during the Ethio-Ertrean war of 1998 -2000. The war was allegedly fought over a barren border area called Badme. Incomprehensibly, he was quick to give up Badme--land over which so much blood was shed.  When ceding territory became domestically unpopular, he began backtracking and flip flopping, making border demarcation a permanent thorny issue that continues to this day.

Zenawi also had no problem giving orders for the shooting of civilians protesting the stealing of the 2005 elections. Over 193 civilians were murdered in broad daylight and upwards of 30,000 jailed in a post-election reign of terror, according to a commission established by the regime. Among those arrested are almost all elected leaders of the opposition party, including the mayor of Addis Ababa, human rights advocates, journalists and civic society leaders.

There is no rule of law or an independent judiciary to dispense justice.  Prisoners are guilty until proven innocent.  Even when the court releases prisoners the security forces rearrest them. Long imprisonment without any evidence--sometime lasting as long as 10 or 15 years-–is common. 

Beyond imprisonment, the autocrat's 15-year rule has been marred by a systemic pattern of human rights abuses and extra-judicial killings. 

A few additional examples of the regime's violent rule include the following:

  • At least 30 helpless prisoners in Kaliti were shot dead last year;
  • 424 ethnic Anuaks war massacred by the Ethiopian army in 2003 to make way for oil exploration by a Malaysian company;
  • 66 protesters were gunned down in Awassa and Addis Ababa in 2002;
  • 40 students were murdered in 2001;
  • and another group of 19 students were killed in Addis Ababa in 1993.
Widespread killings and mass arrests have been common in regions inhabitted by the majority Oromos. Some 15,000 to 20,000 people have been killed in the Oromia region alone, according to a former judge who recently defected to the West. This disturbing information was revealed in a recent interview the judge, Teshale Abera, gave to the Mail and Guardian newspaper. According to the judge, Ethiopia's current regime is as bad as the Mengistu regime it replaced.

Ethiopia is also gripped by an economic crisis, contrary to the government's Orwellian propaganda. Regime cadres are increasingly squeezing peasants. Urban unemployment is still upwards of 50 percent. The cost of living has skyrocketed, making life unbearable for the ordinary person.

Upwards of four million Ethiopians need ongoing international food handouts. Over three million are infected with HIV/AIDS. (The only sector doing well is party-owned businesses and the few parasites that benefit from ethnic patronage.) Add to that mass arrests and the continuing intimidation of all opponents.  A state of fear pervades the country. All is not well behind the façade of a few high rises that have cropped up on Bole Road.

The Bush administration has made a Faustian bargain with the Zenawi regime.  It has downplayed widespread killings and egregious human rights violations in exchange for Zenawi's services in the war against terror.

The same administration that has refused to speak up against the massacre of Ethiopians wants Ethiopia to sacrifice its sons and daughters fighting Somalis in pursuit of a big power's muddled, questionable strategic goal.

U.S. troops stationed in Djibout and Camp Hurso in Ethiopia appear to be directly involved in the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia.  The US has also been actively spreading disinformation that demonizes the Islamic Council while creating sympathy for the Ethiopian invasion.  For example, the dubious document recently leaked to the media and purportedly prepared by UN experts has all the markings of a US disinformation campaign to justify a war against the Islamic Courts.

Ethiopia and Somalia are among the poorest countries in the world.  Both people have experienced tremendous suffering in the last thirty years.

Where's the morality in pitting one poor African country against another? Where is justice?  Where is the morality in coddling a tyrant once labeled terrorist by the United States?  Why is it acceptable for the United States to ally with a murderous regime that has massacred at least 193 civilians and arrested over 30,000 in secret concentration camps? Why is such immorality being perpetrated in the name of the war against terror?

Congressman Donald Payne said the following during a recent briefing on the situation in Ethiopia: "…During the Cold War, United States supported dictators like Mobutu and never really condemned South Africa's apartheid government because they were anti-communists, and we were fighting the communists in the U.S. And so we're not going to repeat those mistakes," Payne said.

Thousands will die, tens of thousands will be maimed and millions will be made refugees. Just as in Iraq, when the mess gets to be too much to handle, the US will walk away under one pretext or another, leaving the local people holding the bag.  There will be so much suffering that no amount of international handout will make a dent.

The ICU has invited the US to come to Mogadishu to engage in dialogue and observe first hand the situation on the ground. This is a good gesture that the United States and Ethiopia should take advantage of. The parties need to resolve all issues through dialogue. The misery and mayhem a new war brings, nor matter what the pretext, is not worth the cost to the people on the receiving end.

It's still not too late to stop this madness.

The author can be reached at [email protected]

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