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Zenawi and the Occupation of Somalia: History Will Prove Him Wrong

by Mahdi Farah
Tuesday, July 10, 2007


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Learning from the past is a wise thing to do when dealing with the present events. Reasons for this are many and it’s a self-evident. But for clarity’s sake let’s say: reading and learning from history will help you to avoid repeating the same mistakes as those before you and as a consequence you will save lots of efforts and many lives. However, to be trained from the past experience, one needs to be courageous and see himself/herself as a student of history not as its teacher. Unfortunately, many African leaders want to prove history wrong rather than to learn from it. The result is what we see today in the African continent, destruction and bloodshed everywhere.  


It’s undeniable that leaders of our beleaguered continent have failed to learn from the past experiences. Instead, they tried to prove everyone wrong including history. They think, due to ignorance or lack of respect, that they’re the ones who can reshape history into their own liking. This mindset has brought havoc and disasters to the peoples of the African continent.


Prime Minister of Ethiopia Mele Zenawi

The latest example of such thinking is crystallized in Zenawi of Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia, with the approval of the US. The Americans promised him aid largesse and to turn a blind eye to his dictatorial methods in the country. As a pay back, Zenawi would fight a proxy war in Somalia, which the US regarded as a safe haven for international terrorists. Though no evidence was provided for the presence of such terrorists in Somalia, Zenawi willingly swallowed the bite. Moreover, although he was warned of dire consequences of such a bold action, invading a sovereign neighbouring country on behalf of the US, would have on Ethiopia, Zenawi went ahead with his bigotry decision.


With the American support behind him, he thought time was right to deal with Somalia, the archenemy of Ethiopia for more than five centuries, once and for all. According to Zinawe’s warlike advisers, conditions in Somalia were ripe for Ethiopian conquest. Factors such as internal division and lack of central government as a result of sixteen years of civil war weakened the country and made it an easy prey for foreign invasion.


Others have warned him that any direct military intervention in Somalia would have repercussion not only in Ethiopia but in the region as a whole. They added that the Somali quagmire was so difficult and so complex that military action would only inflame the situation and add more fuel to the fire. Furthermore, regional experts told him, that any military involvement in Somalia would lead to the revival of the armed opposition in Ethiopia as they see a window of opportunity for their struggle to take off. Given that a large number of Ethiopian troops would be deployed in Somalia and therefore there would be lesser troops inside Ethiopia to deal with.


Another aspect into the equation was, as the experts told him, the unsolved Eritrean- Ethiopian border war, which could be resumed anytime. Eretria given the chance would not hesitate to retake its Badme region from the Ethiopian occupiers. So, Ethiopia by sending troops to Somalia, estimated between 50 and 60 thousand soldiers, would risk being attacked by Eretria as it sees a chance to settle old scores with the Ethiopian dictator.


However, promises and re-assurances from the US administration have emboldened the dictator and made him foot-loose in the jungle of Somali quandary. Zenawi invaded Mogadishu and installed a client-regime in power with the overt and covert help of the US, the EU, the African Union and the blessings of the UN and the international community.


The result of the Ethiopian occupation in Somalia, as of today, is, nearly a half million people have been displaced in Mogadishu, about two thousand killed and unknown number, estimated in thousands, are in secret jails. There is a security vacuum created by the removal of the Islamic Courts and the occupation of Ethiopia. The client regime has no support in Mogadishu and it’s hiding behind the Ethiopian mercenary troops. Bomb explosions and ambushes take place everyday. The general security is worse than anytime before. For Somalis, it’s clear that they have lost their sovereignty and dignity under the Ethiopian occupation and its client regime. Then the question is what Ethiopia has benefited from its occupation of Somalia.


 Zenawi has, personally, benefited from the invasion not his country.  He’s been promoted from being a common dictator with a bad human rights record to an ally on the ‘war on terror’ by the Bush administration. This promotion comes with more military and economic aid and an open direct line to the White House.


On the other hand, the loss sustained by the Ethiopian army is shrouded with secrecy and no one knows the exact number of Ethiopian causalities. It’s Zenawi’s policy to minimize or deny any casualties, since he has no respect for human lives, including his troops. The official number of Ethiopian troops killed for the past six months is ‘two.’  However, there’s no exaggeration to say that the Ethiopians have sustained substantial losses both in human and military hardware during the past six months of occupation in Mogadishu. If similar losses of lives were inflicted to a democratically elected government, it would have precipitated a public anger and would have, ultimately, led to a change of government. Ethiopian people, however, have no say in the actions of their government. Zenawi, as a dictator, is not accountable to his citizens. He’s only accountable to the donors and aid-givers whose economic support sustains his regime. 


Zenawi endeavours to prove that the Ethiopian army is capable of achieving what others, including the US, failed to accomplish. He made it clear that whatever losses and fatalities his troops might suffer he would not ‘cut and run’ as the UN and Americans did in 1993-1994. That he would not pull out from Somalia until the job is done. That’s to say until he gets rid off all opposition to the Ethiopian-installed client-regime known as Translational Federal Government (TFG).


Finally, since Zenawi does not intend to voluntarily cut and run from Somalia, i. e., end the illegal occupation, the alternative is that he will, involuntarily, end up in an utter defeat or in a humiliating retreat at best. This grim fate was what dictators before him had chosen. Those who instead of learning from history wanted to disprove it. This defiance led them to their unenviable demise; left their desires unrealised and brought a disaster to their people. Saddam, once an ally of the US, was the latest victim of this genre of history-making. Ultimately, the question is: will Zenawi’s end be similar to that of Saddam?

Mahdi Farah
E-mail: [email protected]

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