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***Meanwhile on the horn of Africa

by A swedish kind of death Sun Jul 23rd, 2006 at 09:31:55 AM EST

Today the Guardian reported that Ethiopean troops have entered Somalia.

In fact they have probably been there for a while but are now being reinforced with more troops and more heavy equipment. The New Zealand Herald estimates the Ethiopian forces in Somalia at about 5000 soldiers.

I will try to give a brief view of the political situation in this region, a region where only the big bursts of violence reach the western news. Feel free to add what I miss in the comments.

From the Frontpage


Somalia - civil war and independent regions

The civil war in Somalia is still on, and has been since 1991. In the north, Somaliland is since 1991 a de facto suverain state, though it is not recognised by the rest of the world. In the northeast, on the tip of the horn, Puntland is since 1998 an autonomous state, though not (at least right now) striving for independence. Keep in mind that borders are not allowed to change in Africa, and while Somaliland has a case for independence, based on being a seperate colony (British Somaliland) from the rest of Somalia (Italian Somaliland), Puntland has no case at all.


The Blue is Puntland, the northwest is Somaliland and the lightblue is disputed.

Both Somaliland and Puntland are primarily based on tribe-structures and has fought numerous times on where the border really is between these two enteties. Both Somaliland and Puntland are reported to be supported by Ethiopia.

In the south, militias following islamic courts seems to have succesfully battled a coalition of warlords and taken control of much of the territory, including the capital of Mogadishu. In south is contested between the islamic courts, the warlords coalition with the fancy name Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (ARPCT is reported to be supported by the USA) and the transitional government supported by Ethiopia. To confuse things, the president of Puntland is also the president of the transitional government.

And now, Ethiopia has decided to throw some weight behind the transitional government. I would not be surprised if a new battle of Mogadishu is in the works. Unless Eritrea takes the chance to try to get even with Ethiopia whle Ethiopia is busy in Somalia.

Ethiopia and Eritrea - dictatorship and wars

Ethiopias and Eritreas governments both stem from the 30 year long guerilla war that toppled the previous Ethiopian government in 1991. To make a really long story short, the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) got independence for Eritrea and the Tigrean People's Liberation Front (TPLF) got, not independence for Tigray but instead got to rule Ethiopia. Remember, borders must not be changed. Eritrea had a case based on being a seperate Italian colony before WW2.

Both nations are still ruled by the old guerilla fighters whose main field of excellence is war. So every now and then, especially when the people complain about lack of democracy or food, war is started. A difference between Ethiopia and Eritrea is that the Eritrean ruling clique comes from an ethnic group (Tigrinya) that is around half of the population, the Ethiopian ruling clique corresponding ethnic group (Tigray) is just about 10% of the Ethiopian population, making the Ethiopian rulers less secure.

The last war between Ethiopia and Eritrea ended in 2000, and since then the border has been measured and the measurments has been appealed and fought about in international forums. UN troops has been stationed to observe the border, and in december they were kicked out of Eritrea (BBC).

I would not be surprised if there is another war between Ethiopia and Eritrea soon. Both countries has got so much internal problems and getting rid of UN troops smells of war preperations.

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Thats a first. Note to self: write more on Jeromes holidays...

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by A swedish kind of death on Fri Jul 21st, 2006 at 10:51:41 AM EST
It's a good article...thanks!

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Fri Jul 21st, 2006 at 11:21:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That would have been front-paged under almost any conditions...
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Sat Jul 22nd, 2006 at 10:53:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Do you think Ethiopia said to itself "hey, let's start a war here while the rest of the world is not looking because of Lebanon"?

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jul 21st, 2006 at 10:58:23 AM EST
In part sure, the timing is good.

But in general, they probably planned an advance for a while since the islamic courts and the Ethiopian government are not to fond of each other. Lebanon provided a much wanted cover to go ahead, but they probably would have anyway, but maybe a bit smaller and/or a bit later. Primarily events are dictated by other events on the ground. Nobody much cares about Africa anyway.

Eritrea arrested the opposition, outside and inside the party, closed the private press and arrested journalists in the week following 9/11. Same thing there, they would have done it anyway (evident by the arrest of the university students in july-august 2001 and jailing them in a prison camp where two died), but if they can they use cover.

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by A swedish kind of death on Fri Jul 21st, 2006 at 11:06:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The War Nerd has written about Eritrea an Ethiopia.


Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Fri Jul 21st, 2006 at 11:04:12 AM EST
Excellent overview, thanks! (I took the liberty to fix a few grammatical etc. slips above the fold.)

What is there to add? Perhaps a few bonus points on the main players:

Isaias Afwerki, President of Eritrea, is one of the biggest scumbag rulers in Africa: a bit like Saddam Hussein, but not quite as civilized and tender. He does, however, run a more efficient and non-corrupt government than anyone else in the region.

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, while not as brutal, is no Olof Palme either. He was Afwerki's ally in the struggle against the Mengistu regime, but they never got along on a personal basis, which is probably a factor as well. His idea of government is to oppress and exploit the dirt-poor rural population in keeping with Ethiopia's old traditions of centralized rule.

There may well be a new war between these scumbags over some worthless piece of arid land, like the one from 1998 to 2000 which featured WW2-scale set battles and claimed upwards of 70,000 lives while the world looked elsewhere.

Somalia's sharia courts and their associated militia have, as you say, capitalized on the frustration with the cruelty and greed of clan-based warlords -- just like the Taliban gained power in Afghanistan to protect the population from abuse by even more thuggish clan-based warlords (and is now doing so again). They represent a Salafist movement, i.e. a revivalism that seeks to bypass traditional fiqh (jurisprudence) and engage directly with primary sources (the Qur'an and Sunna) to extract the Shari'a. This is potentially a recipe for disorder in the long run as rival factions emerge, not being united by any of the four canonical law schools. But outer pressure, of which there will be  plenty for the overseeable future, may serve to keep them united.

The CIA tried to arm and bankroll the secular warlords, including the son of Adin (the man who took the Black Hawk down) in a desperate bid to stem the Islamist tide. Of course, all that accomplished was to blacken the names of said warlords even further, which is quite an achievement.

Prognosis for the region: bad.


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by Sirocco (sirocco2005ATgmail.com) on Fri Jul 21st, 2006 at 11:12:09 AM EST
And though I don't know exactly all the reasons, isn't Ethiopia under UN sanctions now?

Such a strange and unsettled time...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia

by whataboutbob on Fri Jul 21st, 2006 at 11:25:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The neocon crowd occasionally tries to stir up some interest in African conflicts based on the Islamist angle. The truth is their black hearts aren't really in it. There's just not enough oil to get them really excited. However, China does seem to have a growing interest in the situation.

I can't see any prospect for a resolution of the post colonial tribal conflicts. However, to the extent that they can be fitted into the chess board of the Middle East, they have some potential to become second string pawns.

by Richard Lyon (rllyon@gmail.com) on Fri Jul 21st, 2006 at 11:25:17 AM EST


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