Ethiopia Playing The US Game In Somalia
It is exactly a year since Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu,
fell to Ethiopian troops (Dec. 28), and the occupation has been one of the most
brutal on record. The resistance started at once, and Ethiopian
counterinsurgency tactics are not gentle.
As early as last April Germany’s ambassador to Somalia, Walter Lindner, wrote a
public letter condemning the indiscriminate use of air strikes and heavy
artillery in densely populated parts of Mogadishu, the systematic rape of women,
and even the bombing of hospitals. By now, the Ethiopian Army’s attempts to
terrorize the residents of Mogadishu into submission have driven 600,000 of them
— 60 percent of the population — to flee the city.
You will notice that some of the phrases used above do not appear in the agency
reports about Somalia. The wire services do not talk about an Ethiopian
occupation of Somalia, and they refer to the local Somali collaborators as the
“transitional federal government” (TFG). This is mainly in deference to the
United States, which organized and backed the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia.
The curse of Somalia is the clan system. It is the main point of reference for
most Somalis, and it really became a crippling burden when long-ruling dictator
Mohammed Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991. In the pre-independence days and the
early years afterward, the clans were able to unite against their Italian and
British colonial rulers, but in 1991 they had to create a new government without
an external enemy. They couldn’t do it.
As the clans fought it out in the streets, the whole infrastructure of an
organized state collapsed. By 1992 American and United Nations forces arrived to
help the millions of famine-stricken refugees, but they were only drawn into the
inter-clan fighting as well, and by 1994 they had all withdrawn, leaving Somalia
to anarchy and civil war for the next decade. But in fact most of the country
was fairly stable under the control of one clan or another, with only the
Mogadishu area still a battleground between rival clan warlords.
This did not greatly inconvenience the United States, which developed a keen
interest in the politics of the region after the atrocities of 9/11. At first
the US just made deals with the various warlords to ensure that no jihadi
fanatics created a base there. But it got more upset when an organization called
the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) chased drove all the warlords out of Mogadishu
in 2006 and gave the capital its first taste of peace and good government since
The UIC was actually created by prominent merchants from the locally dominant
Hawiye clan who wanted a safe environment in which to do business. The “Islamic”
aspect of it was mainly there to provide a rallying point that other clans could
identify with, though that obviously also attracted a certain number of earnest
and bearded young men. Some of them, unfortunately, favored a rhetorical style
that triggers a knee-jerk reaction in jittery post-9/11 Americans. The people of
Mogadishu, enjoying their first taste of normality in 15 years, overwhelmingly
supported the UIC, but the United States decided it must be overthrown. To do
the job, Washington turned to its close ally Ethiopia, Somalia’s perennial
enemy. The Ethiopians, who have no interest in a stable and strong Somalia, were
happy to oblige — and for diplomatic cover, the US could use the “transitional
federal government” of Somalia.
The TFG had been created in Kenya in 2004 under UN auspices. Each of the major
clans (Hawiye, Darod, Dir and Rahanweyn) appointed 61 members to a “Parliament”
while all the minor clans shared 31 members between them. The TFG set up in the
town of Baidoa in early 2006, and promptly went to war with the Union of Islamic
Courts that controlled the capital. Since it had only about 5,000 soldiers of
its own, the TFG depended from the start on far larger numbers of Ethiopian
troops to do the actual fighting. Large numbers of government members resigned
as it became clear that the TFG had fallen into the hands of the Central
Intelligence Agency and the Ethiopians, but a force of about 20,000 Ethiopian
troops fought its way into Mogadishu a year ago. With the occupation of
Mogadishu, the interval of peace ended, and the past year’s fighting has driven
more than half the city’s population into flight. The TFG has been permanently
discredited by its link to the hated Ethiopians, but it will probably take more
years of war to end the occupation, and a lot more Somalis will die. All because
they called it the Union of Islamic Courts.
If only they had called it the Union of Buddhist Courts. Or Protestant Courts.
Anything but the “I” word.
Gwynne Dyer, Arab News