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Ethiopia’s Invasion of Somalia: Neoconservative Approach of State Building, Democratization and a “Benevolent Hegemony”

BY Daud Ed
Thursday, March 29, 2007


“[T]he legacy of the Bush first-term foreign policy and its neoconservative supporters has been  so polarizing that it is going to be hard to have a reasonable debate about how to appropriately balance American ideals and interests in the coming years.”

-Francis Fukuyama-[1]


“…a government which needs foreign support to enforce obedience from its own citizen is one which ought not to exist; and the assistance given to it by foreigners is hardly ever anything but the sympathy of one despotism with another…”[2]

-John Stuart Mill-


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There is no disagreement among the expert that Ethiopia’s decision to invade Southern Somalia was supported by US government, given its United Nations draft resolution adopted by the UN Security Council on December 6, 2006, which lifted arms embargo and authorized the deployment of African peacekeeping force in Somalia to help the unpopular Transitional Federal Government (TFG), at a time when southern Somalia was under unified authority since 1991 - after the fall of Barre’s regime - with improved security, and opening of sea-port and the airport, and remarkably all this was achieved less than two month without any resistance. In addition, the adopted resolution 1725 was intended to provoke Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) – which was an umbrella organization for Mogadishu’s dozen clan courts – that ascended in to power after they have defeated US backed warlords who declared war on the UIC and alleged of giving protection to US wanted foreign terrorist. The brief visit of Gen. John P. Abizaid the head of the United States Central Command to Addis Ababa in early December to meet Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, to discuss the raising tension between his government and the UIC showed the degree of US involvement. According New York Times report The Prime Minister told Gen Abazaid that he could defeat the Islamist forces “in one to two weeks.”


In this paper I would like to explore why Zenawi’s regime is so obsessed in Somalia’s conflict, and why he made a unilateral action to invade a sovereign country to infuriate its population and escalate tension in the region. Is it a “benevolent hegemony”? Or it is premeditated aggression to weaken the grass root efforts that improved security and stabilized the country in order to exert its influence on weak and divided Somalia. What are the implications of its invasion in Somalia and the outcome of the government they have imposed on Somali people? We will also discuss the level of US involvement in this conflict and the groups who are pushing this new policy.


The Source of Antagonism


The governments in the Horn of African region did not learn the importance of having a friendly neighborhood, and its impact on development and well being of their citizens. Since their independence from the European colonialism the region turned a proxy of the cold war rivalries between the United States and the Soviet Union to contain each others expansion, as well as the strategic location of the Horn of Africa where the Red Sea meets the Indian Ocean. The beginning of the cold war the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie established a close relationship with the US, as a reliable and anti-communist and demonstrated that by sending 1000 Ethiopian troops to Korea, and for that reason he got Eritrea as a gift. In 1950 Eisenhower’s secretary of state John Foster Dulles explained his intensions for Eritrean federation with Ethiopia. “From the point of view of justice, the opinion of the Eritrean people must receive consideration. Nevertheless, the strategic interest of the United States in the Red Sea basin and considerations of security and world peace make it necessary that the country has to be linked to our ally, Ethiopia.”[3]


The regions strategic interest, draw the attention of Cold War supper powers, and the 1977 war between Somalia and Ethiopia was used as proxy war, as result both countries were provided training and military assistance. However, this war has devastated the capability of both countries to achieve subsistence economic levels, in the second have of the twentieth century. By the time the war ended in March 9, 1978, the Somali National Army had lost a significant number of its military personnel, three-quarters of its armored unit and half of the Somali Air force, let alone noncombatant and civilian infrastructure[4]. Furthermore, the clash of two Cold war super powers in this conflict marked the end of détente and beginning of the second Cold War. The end of Cold War in 1990 culminated, with increasing demand of citizens of Somalia and Ethiopia for better quality of living and political participation, without any forthcoming Cold-War-era subsidy, Somalia and Ethiopia follow a similar bath with little variation. Somali State collapsed in 1991, with the fall of Barre’s Regime, the whole population became armed with the leftover of the Cold War Super powers military subsidies. On the other hand even though Ethiopia’s state did not collapsed with the fall of Mangistes government, but it could be classified as a dysfunctional state. Ethiopia receives roughly $1.9 billion in assistance each year, which is more than one-third of Ethiopia’s government budget, yet significant number of its citizens dies every year for famine and deceases as result of droughts.


Since independent every Somali government had made an irredentist claim for western Ethiopia, which is know as Ogaden Region. The inhabitants of this region are predominantly ethnic Somalis, and Somalis consider as a part of greeter Somalia. However, it has been the dream of every Somali movement regardless of their political affiliation to unite all Somali territories. It was this drive that motivated the Somali Youth League (SYL) - Somalia’s first nationalist movement – to achieve this objective.   


Zenawi’s Ambition  


Prime Minister Melle Zinawi - " his Neocon advisors have been using a “security threat” as a pretext to influence Somalia’s internal politics"
In 1941 after Emperor Haile Sellassie returned from an exile forced by Italian invasion of Ethiopia, he wanted to restore his majesty and expend Ethiopian State, at the time the question of Ogaden was at the top of his agenda and said “I have come to restore the independence of my country including Eritrea and Southern Somalia whose people will henceforth dwell under the shade of the Ethiopian flag.”[5] Furthermore, Haile Sellassie’s ambition did not stop there, but there was well known memorandum to the United Nations which he explains for the world body that prior to the European imperialism Ethiopia included the coastlines of Red Sea and Indian Ocean, which means Somali would have been one of the Ethiopia’s Ethnic groups.


There is a famous portrait that captures Haille Sellassie’s territorial and coastal ambitions. The portrait is taken in 1945 showing Jomo Kenyatta in Manchester, UK, while attending in the Fifth Pan-African Congress the wall behind him there is a propaganda poster that reads “Ethiopia wants……….to the sea.” The missing word on the poster is covered by Kenyatta’s head, according to Jeremy Harding the crucial word is missing, but message is clear and word is “Outlet.”[6] At the time of the conference Haile Selassie was campaigning for the British to acquire Eritrea.


The same ambition is driven by Melle Zinawi, Ethiopian’s current Prime Minister. Ethiopia has became land locked country again, after Eritrea gained its independence in 1993, this desperate need for seaports is what has been driving Ethiopian policy in Somalia for last ten years. In these years Zenawi and his close advisors have benefited Al-Itihad Al-Islam’s behavior and sometimes provoke them to be more extreme to engage terror activities in Ethiopian territory and make an irredentist claim. Zenawi and his Neocon advisors have been using a “security threat” as a pretext to influence Somalia’s internal politics; to arm vicious war lords who apposed every process of national reconsolidation; its military crossed international boundary and kill and captured Somalis, and another time its air force bombarded Somali cities; and apposed the most comprehensive national reconciliation process held in Djibouti in 2000, and undermined Transitional Federal Government (TNG) – which as been the outcome of this long process which included, clan leaders, war lords, civil society groups, intellectuals, women’s groups, Islamists, and expatriates.


In a recent interview with Addis Fortune, Zenawi repeated the familiar Neocon cliché “clear and present danger” every time he responds to a Somali question[7]. This phrase has entered the debates of international relations after 2000, when two of the most proponent Neocons, William Kristol and Robert Kagan wrote a book entitled “Clear and Present Danger” and argued the use of America’s unchallenged military force to topple regimes that oppose American interest and in the process create democracies. They argued that US must be on the offensive, and engage preemptive military action, and invasion to prevent terrorists to target America’s vital interests, such as oil and other resources which is imperative to its national security. However, the military invasion to fix these countries internal problems and promote US interest, they claimed is “benevolent hegemony” and morally justified.[8]


Other issue that partly explains Zenawi’s obsession and involvement in Somalia’s internal politics has some thing to do with the tension between Ethiopia and Eritrea. In 1998 Ethiopia and Eritrea have engaged full-scale war on border town of Badme which Eritrea claimed is an Eritrean town. Before the international community intervened the war had already left 70,000 to 100,000 people dead and one million displaced. The relations of both countries soured over access to Eritrean ports, how both currencies will relate and lack of precise border demarcation. In 2000 both governments singed an agreement in Algiers and accepted United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) to monitor the disputed area and agreed upon the creation of Ethiopia-Eritrea Border Commission (EEBC) to demarcate the border. The EEBC ruled that Badme the disputed border town is an Eritrean town, however, Ethiopia rejected this ruling and Eritrea frustrated the United Nations un wiliness to pressure Ethiopia to accept the EEBC’s ruling, Eritrea forced UNMEE to leave, to this day the border situation is unresolved the tension could escalate in to full scale war again.


The border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea has become the source of regional instability. Both countries are engaged a proxy war in Somalia. Ethiopia had sponsored and financed the war lords that created the Transitional Federal Governments in 2004. After two years of intense negotiation in Kenya, the warlords created a parliament and elected a president. The parliament has 275 members, even though all of these members do not fit the warlord descriptions, but reconciliation process considered the warlords as clan leaders and influenced the selection process. To support this fact, this parliament and the government as a whole has never produced a single legislation that win a public support, and up to date every government policy re-enforces the public perception that the TFG was created to advance Zenawi’s interest, such as to keep Somalia weak and divided and influence any effort to rebuild Somali State to achieve its agenda of Somali State created through building blocks which means decentralized, weak, divided and easy to manipulate to advance Ethiopia’s security and “out let to the sea.”


It is ironic to hear that after Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, AU and Bush administration to talk about a window of opportunity has opened for Somalia and their characterization of the TFI as the only means to achieve a government of national unity. What have they done so far to achieve government of national unity? They removed the   most pragmatic official of TFI Sharrif Hassan as a speaker of parliament and installed pro-Ethiopian warlord Sheikh Adan Madobe as a speaker of parliament; threatened the freedom of expression which is one of the cornerstone of democracy and good governance, by closing down the most outspoken news organizations, such Horn of Afrik Media, Shabelle Media Network, Radio Banadir, and Idacada Quraanka - they latter changed their mind and allowed to reopen - Other time they warned the management of these news organizations not to report government and Ethiopian security operations which includes arresting individuals that appose Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, Islamic leaders, and Oromo refugees in Mogadishu; more importantly the parliament passed a state of emergency legislation, to empower the president to silence any opposition that challenge his unpopular policies, and criticize the behavior of government and Ethiopian forces’ indiscriminate and disproportional response of any “insurgency” attacks of government and Ethiopian position which forced many poor residents to leave their houses without any forth coming compensation. It is important to remind the president Yusuf, a comment he made last year when the UIC and warlord were fighting in Mogadishu he suggested to both parties to go outside the city and fight, therefore the Somali people and the international community expect to practice what he preached.


It is the opinion of this author that given its track record, the TFG was not created to server Somalia’s national interest and create government of nation unity, but a Zenawi’s proxy to achieve his master plan which has a three components such as to stop the growing influence of Islamists – both “moderates” and “extremists”- in Somali politics that may spill to Ethiopia’s fragile state which is multi-ethnic and multi-religion that has a history of Christian highlanders rule with iron fist and responded any grievances of Muslim lowlanders with more oppression, injustice and killing. Second to win the war in Somalia, as a second front of its war with Eritrea, that has been supporting any group that apposes the Ethiopian regime. Third, geographically Ethiopia is huge country with a population of sixty five million people without access to the sea, after Eritrea gained its independent from Ethiopia in 1993, and after long disputes between the two countries Eritrea denied Ethiopia to use its ports. This has created Ethiopia to search access to major sea ports such as break away republic of Somaliland, Puntland and Southern Somalia.


US Policy in Somalia through the Lens of Neoconservatives


The Neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer tells as in a major speech he gave at American Enterprise Institute – a Neoconservative Think Tank – “the whole point of the multilateral enterprise: to reduce American freedom of action my making it subservient to, dependent on, constricted by the will – and interest – of other nations. To tie down Gulliver with a thousand strings. To domesticate the most undomesticated, most outsized, national interest on the planet – ours.” This leading Neoconservative intellectual and commentator goes on to define post 911 Neoconservative foreign policy, “[h]istorically, multilateralism is a way for week countries to multiply their power by attaching themselves to stronger ones. But multilateralism imposed on Great Powers, and particularly on a unipolar power, is intended to restrain that power. [This] is precisely why France is an ardent multilateralist. But why should America be?”[9]


In a nut shell this is the premise of Neoconservative foreign policy and the guiding principal of Bush Administrations close advisors such as former Deputy Secretary of Defense and current World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, Former American Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton (the architecture of resolution 1725 which created the current situation in Somalia), current White House advisor Elliott Abrams, and many former and current policy advisors in the Pentagon, State Department and the White The blunder of neoconservative foreign policy and its hawkish approach to solve the global crisis, consumed more ink, and more media air time than any other issue in American foreign policy, specially the result of Iraq war and its impact on U.S. credibility and its capacity to respond other pressing security issues. It also led many of its prominent intellectuals and commentators, who characterized the war in Iraq as “war of liberation” and precondition for “modernization and democratization” in the Middle East, to blame the president Bush and the Pentagon officials for its failure. However, Iraq war had exposed the flaw of Neoconservative thinking, which premised the inevitability of Clash of Civilizations, and the use of preemption and unilateralism if necessary to prevent this to transpire.


The Neoconservative ascendancy as a dominant school of American foreign policy after 911 turned out one of the most controversial foreign policy school in American history, even some of its opponents, as well as former member and one of its leading thinker and strategist, Professor Francis Fukuyama – author of The End of History – alleged the Noecon movement as having a close ties with Likud Party of Israel and mainly concerned the Israeli security, with the expense of American national security, as a result Fukuyama left the movement, and began publishing a scholarly journal called “American Interest” in the middle of last year, in opposition with “Public Interest” a Neocon journal founded by the two of the founders of Neoconservative movement, Irvin Kristol, and Daniel Bell.[10]


The Bush administrations Neoconservative policy in Somalia is reflected in many news paper editorials including the Wall Street Journal. In one editorial in December last year reads “so probably the best the U.S. can do is give tacit support to Ethiopia’s incursion while using its leverage with Mr. Zenawi to demand that he agree to the U.N. demarcated borders with Eritrea. The U.S. provides Ethiopia with economic as well as substantial military assistance… U.S. could also condition material support for a future TFG government in Mogadishu on its recognition of the autonomy of Puntland and neighboring Somaliland, which adjoins U.S. allied Djibouti and has been relatively free of ISC (Islamic Courts Union) interference. As with the former Yugoslavia, addressing the problem that is Somalia might ultimately mean breaking up that large country into smaller bits.”[11] This is a classic Neoconservative observation of Somali crisis.


Somalis have gone through sixteen years of State collapse, anarchy, criminal warlords and their gagster militias raining its cities, without clean water, lack of functioning economy characterized with chronic stagflation, slow destruction of its infrastructure (both physical and human), natural disasters such as draughts and flooding that killed tens of thousands of people, and displaced millions. However, the main objective of the current US policy in Somalia is not to reverse this trend, but to prevent Islamic “extremists” to gain power, and to achieve that to cooperate and support any group or country that supports this objective. Many observers of Somali debacle have pointed its disastrous outcome. According John Prendergast and Colin Thomas-Jensen “Ethiopia’s flash intervention in Somalia in December temporarily secured the ineffectual Transitional Government position, but that intervention, which Washington backed and supplemented with its own air strikes, has sown the seeds for an Islamist and Clan-based insurgency in the future.” The two authors give a thorough analysis and showed the interconnectedness of Horn Africa conflict and proposed effective way to deal with this protracted conflict. “The fundamental flaw in Washington’s approach is its lack of a regional diplomatic strategy to tackle the underlying causes of the two clusters of conflicts. This crisis can longer be addressed in isolation, with discrete and uncoordinated ad hoc peace initiatives. Washington must work to stabilize the Greater Horn through effective partnerships with Africa’s multilateral institutions, the European Union, and the new UN secretary-General. Until it does, long-term U.S counterterrorism objectives will suffer – and the region will continue to burn.”[12]  




The biggest obstacle, for Somalis to, reach a sustainable peace, and to create

Government of National Unity is a foreign intervention. The Cold War era military and financial assistance had prolonged life expectancy of Bare’s regime, and created one of the deadliest civil wars in Africa. The reason intervention does not help Somalia is that, it has a tendency to help what economists call rent seeking groups, in the case of Somalia they the warlord, clan politicians as apposed to a productive the sector in society, such as business groups, and other productive sectors in society.  

Daud Ed
E-mail: [email protected]



[1] Francis Fukuyama, “After Neoconservative”  New York Times February 19, 2006


[2] John Stuart Mill, “Dissertations and Discussions” (New York, Holt & CO) 1873

[3] Jeremy Harding, “The Habit of War” in London Review of Books, July 20, 2006. Page 7              

[4] Tomas Ofcansky “National Security” in Helen Chapin (ed) “Somali: a Country Study”, Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1993

[5] Tom J. Farer “War Clouds on the Horn of Africa: A Crisis for Détente” New York: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1976  Page 68

[6] Jeremy Harding “The Habit of War” Page 6

[7] Melle Zenawi, An interview with Addis Fortune, Tuesday, January 30, 2007, Page 4

[8] Robert Kagan and Willian Kristol “Clear and Present Denger”

[9] Charles Krauthammer “Democratic Realism: An American Foreign Policy for a Unipolar World” American Enterprise Institute, Irving Kristol Lecture 2004.

[10] Francis Fukuyama, “America at The Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy” (New Heven: Yale University Press, 2006) Pg

[11] The Wall Street Journal Editorial, Tuesday, December 28, 2006, Pg A14

[12] John Prendergast and Collin Thomas-Jensen, “Blowing the Horn”, Foreign Affairs, March/April 2007 Pg 60-65

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