Foreign Powers and the Crisis in Somalia
By Hakim Adi
One of the most pressing problems discussed at the African Union summit, held in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa recently, has been the situation in Somalia, instability in the Horn of Africa and the ever present interference of the big powers that is the main factor creating the continent’s problems and preventing their resolution.
In recent weeks, the media has been full of reports about continuing political instability in Somalia, the intervention of the government of the neighbouring country of Ethiopia and the bombing raids and other military activity carried out by US imperialism in Somalia.
One feature of the reports has been the presentation of Ethiopia, one of the world’s poorest countries, as the proxy of US imperialism in the Horn of Africa. According to this view, US imperialism has developed a new model of intervention to be used in Africa and elsewhere, and as a result the government of Ethiopia has been vilified.
But the situation in the Horn of Africa does not entirely lend itself to such a simplistic explanation. For one thing it has to be remembered that Somalia has essentially been stateless for the last 16 years, largely a result of the contention of the US and the Soviet Union in the region during the 1970s and 1980s.
In recent years great efforts have been made be the Somali people and by neighbouring countries to re-establish a government in that country. Ethiopia has been one of the major supporters of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia (TFG) established in 2004, which has been trying to exert its authority over the entire country, unite the people of Somalia and disarm the many existing militias, many of which have been externally encouraged and financed.
It has been a difficult task and one not aided by outside interference, both from neighbouring countries and from the US.
Nevertheless, the TFG is recognised by the UN, the African Union (AU), and IGAD (the Intergovernmental Authority on Development - comprising the East African states of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda) as the only legitimate government of the country.
Not only has Ethiopia been the main supporter of the TFG, it has also become concerned at the ‘terrorist’ activities of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), which had established itself as a rival centre of power in Somalia, declared a ‘jihad’ against Ethiopia, made border incursions into Ethiopian territory, supported separatist organisations in the Ogaden and elsewhere in Ethiopia, and most importantly was believed both by the UN and Ethiopia to be backed by Eritrea, contrary to UN sanctions.
Ethiopia considers Eritrea to have been a major force for instability in the region, having attacked all its neighbours and been to war with Ethiopia. The two governments have not yet resolved their border and other differences. In recent days the President of Somalia, Abdullahi Yusuf, has accused the Eritrean government of sending its troops to destabilise the country and trying to organise a coup to overthrow the TFG .
Ethiopia has not only been the major backer of the TFG since 2004 but has also sent ‘military advisers’ to train and support its forces, indeed Ethiopia also played a key role in the process which led to the formation of the TFG. Last year the TFG entered in to talks with the UIC in an attempt to resolve the political crisis in Somalia.
The Ethiopian government also held talks with the UIC in order to avert war, while the US, for its part, had backed local Somali militias, encouraging them to defeat the UIC by military means. The Ethiopian government declared that it has no opposition to the UIC as such but only to that part of its leadership which was engaged in hostile ‘terrorist’ activities in league with Eritrea and others.
Unfortunately, the UIC continued with its military attacks on the TFG and its threats of jihad against Ethiopia and actually infiltrated into Ethiopian territory. Because of this activity and after exhausting other avenues Ethiopia, together with the TFG and other Somalis took military action as a means of self-defence.
As is now clear, the military action taken by Ethiopia and the TFG was swift, mainly took place outside major cities and was targeted at sections of the UIC leadership rather than the rank and file. As promised at the time, the Ethiopian army has already started to leave the country, stressing that its security is a task for the Somalis themselves as well as an AU led ‘stabilisation force,’ IGASOM, to assist the TFG.
The composition of this force was discussed at the AU summit but already Uganda, Malawi, Burundi and Nigeria have promised troops and other countries, including Libya, have promised other forms of support. Although it is planned that this force will be deployed in weeks, no firm date has been set and meanwhile Ethiopia continues with plans to evacuate its troops, despite pleas from some AU members that its forces should not do so. Ethiopia’s role in Somalia was widely supported at the AU summit.
As to the role of the US imperialism, it is clear that it gives itself the right to launch military attacks wherever it pleases in the world on the basis that ‘might makes right’. Certainly it would be impossible for the TFG to order the US not to invade its territory.
Ethiopia’s position, as stated by Prime Minister Zenawi, is that it did not act in concert with the US. Zenawi distanced himself from the US after the first air strike, stating that such actions pose dangers to civilians. However, he acknowledged that the US army had provided Ethiopia with some military intelligence.
It now seems to be well-established that the US initially opposed Ethiopia’s military involvement in Somalia, but was forced to adjust its position when Ethiopia maintained its right to act in self-defence.
The US is certainly fishing in troubled waters and taking advantage of the unstable situation in Somalia and other parts of the Horn of Africa. Its forces are stationed in Djibouti and it attempts to exercise hegemony over the whole region both by military, economic and other means and using the so called ‘war on terror,’ as well as instability in the region as a pretext.
It is clearly trying to re-establish itself in Somalia, following the debacle of 1994 when it was forced to leave the country. In recent days it has claimed that so-called ‘Islamist militants’ displaced from Somalia are regrouping in Eritrea and Yemen and has started to threaten the Eritrean government.
Since the defeat of the UIC, both the US and the EU have put pressure on the TFG to enter into negotiations with the UIC. The EU even threatened to withhold aid promised for the AU stabilisation force if its demands were not met. Although the TFG has protested strongly against such interference in its affairs, at the present time it appears that is has had to acquiesce.
The Ethiopian government on the other hand has made no secret of its opposition to such interference and to the fact that resources required to support the stabilisation of Somalia are being withheld by the representatives of the big powers.
It has encouraged the TFG to pursue its own strategy, relying on the Somali people. The President of the AU Commission, Alpha Konare, commenting on the proposed stabilisation force, stressed the need for African countries to rely on their own resources to solve Africa’s problems.
Dr Hakim Adi is a historian and reader in Africa and the Africa Diaspora at London's Middlesex Univeristy.
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