First of all, Ethiopia and Somalia have had a long history of animosity and wars. For the Somalis the Ethiopian invasion is an aggression of an archenemy. It could be compared to a military intervention by Germany in Belgium or France. Somalis are one people, have one language and one religion. The only factor that is dividing them is the clans. Confronted with a foreign occupation force, however, they can unite and deal heavy blows. It was the Americans themselves who experienced this in 1993. At that moment they had sent 30 000 marines to the country in a military operation called “Restore Hope”. But soon they had to withdraw because of their losses and the fact that the dead corpses of American soldiers were dragged through the streets in front of the cameras.
The Somali people are tired of the chaos and destruction of 16 years of a warlord regime. However it is just the same warlords who have been protected and brought to power again in Mogadishu by the Ethiopian army. The warlords were hated before by all Somalis for their corruption. Now they will be despised as traitors and stooges for the number one enemy of the Somali people, Ethiopia. On the opposite, the majority of Somalis saw the Islamic Courts as a stabilizing factor. When the population helped the Islamic Courts to defeat the warlords to liberate practically the whole country in six months, it was because they were tired of the anarchy, the pillage of the warlords.
Since 1991, 3 million Somalis have left the country and the Somali Diaspora is often modern secular people who try to help their country in spite of the warlords’ corruption. And they are very ingenious at doing that. For example, in spite of all the chaos, Somalia is one of the only African countries where every village has good telephone communication facilities. There is an informal banking system (1 billion $ a year). There are five private airways and so on. A large number of Diaspora Somalis were willing to return to Somalia, and rebuild the country, once peace and security were ensured. When Somali businessmen went to the American embassy in Nairobi to invite them to come to Somalia and see for themselves that there were no Al Qaeda members in the Islamic Courts, the Americans refused. They will never forget nor forgive the USA and their puppet Ethiopia for bringing Somalia back to the reign of terror and chaos of the warlords. And in their eyes it is crystal clear that the talk about Al Qaeda’s presence in Somalia is nothing else then the excuse, the lie that must justify the war. Just like the lies about the weapons of mass destruction of Saddam used to justify the aggression against Iraq.
The International Community?
Somalis are aware of the fact that in the sixteen years of anarchic rule by the warlords, there was never any initiative of the “International Community” to intervene in Somalia. However, just when the Islamic courts brought order and stability, they saw in November last year the UN Security council under the instigation of the USA vote resolution 1752 that opened the door for the Ethiopian intervention that brought back the terror and anarchy they had just chased away. So the only way the common Somali can see this invasion is that of an aggression against the Somali people and nation.
Ethiopia in a trap
Ethiopian soldiers in Somalia are largely from Tigray. They do not speak the Somali language; once deep inside Somalia, they will be exposed to attacks by the locals. Yet, the Americans are negotiating with Uganda and Nigeria to deliver 8000 troops to replace the Ethiopian army. But who will pay for this operation and will these poor governments take the risk of being sucked into the swamp of a guerilla war? Certainly the different neighboring countries such as Kenya and Uganda take high risks because there are many Somali refugees living in Kenya who will not forget nor forgive a Kenyan engagement on the side of Ethiopia. The Ugandan economy largely depends on the Kenyan harbor of Mombassa, but near this harbor there is a city (Lamui) where Somalis are in the majority. So it may well be that Zenawi’s troops will be forced to stay too long in Somalia and that they will be sucked into a swamp that will be fatal for the TPLF/regime.
What is the role of the Americans in this war?
The Zenawi regime is a rogue force used in the hands of American imperialism in the region. Since Antony Lake, Clinton’s national security advisor indicated Ethiopia as one of the four countries (with Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt) that are decisive for the defense of American interests in Africa, the government of Zenawi has had all the support it needed. The Ethiopian army is at present being reformed as a local mercenary force in the service of the Americans that can be used against any country in the region. On one of the American army’s websites, Stars and Stripes (http://www.estripes.com/), one could read on 30 December the testimony of one of the sixty American instructors who are training Ethiopian soldiers. Sgt. 1st Class Bill Flippo is an instructor based at Camp Hurso near in the city of Dire Dawa, Ethiopia. He says; “I feel that what I’m doing now is really helping to fight the war on terror,” Flippo said. “The knowledge we are giving to these soldiers is what they will use if they go and fight in Somalia, Eritrea or wherever.” Many observers note that the invasion of Somalia by Ethiopia was not only encouraged, and protected by the USA, but even paid by USA-money. And after the first successes, American military participated directly with the Ethiopian army in the hunt for leaders of the Islamic courts.
What are the American interests in the region?
There is the presence of oil and gas reserves. Since 1986, four big oil transnational corporations received permission for the first time from the Somalian president Siad Barre to search for oil. And they found important reserves. But most of all: Somalia has a very strategic location. It has a coast of 3300km. This is the largest coastline in Africa. One part of this coastline is just in front of the most important region in the world for the moment, the Middle East. Another part of the coastline faces the Indian Ocean.
* Mohamed Hassan is Ethiopian and a former diplomat. He is currently researching and writing about the Horn and the Middle East and is based in Brussels.