“If you have an upper hand over an opponent, you must crash them totally, you must have no mercy, you must give them nothing to negotiate, no hope, and no room to manoeuvre.”
Sun Tze, Chinese war strategist
One can hardly flatter me for avant-gardism when I reiterate what is basically repeatedly stated by so many others: that Ethiopia is the main evil that is devouring the soul of Somali nation, currently. I would, therefore, not go into the nitty-gritty’s of this assertion lest the appetite might sicken and so die as in Shakespeare’s the twelfth night. However, I will use the name Tigray People’s Liberation front (TPLF) in lieu of Ethiopia for ethical reasons. The majority of Ethiopian people are equally victimized by the current regime; and it would be a great injustice if they were to be collectively blamed for the wrong-doings of Meles and his retinue of Tigrayans in power.
In this piece, I will try to give an overview of few facts that are at times flicked through with flippancy. Or more accurately, perhaps not given due attention as discussions converge on the historical rivalry between Ethiopia and Somalia.
First, let me ask these questions? When has TPLF’s meddling of Somalia’s politics started? How have its objectives towards Somalia shifted from 1991 onwards? What factors precipitated the latest full scale invasion and occupation? Has it all been part of the ‘mercenary’ assignment of Meles’s regime as part of the so-called ‘war on terror’? Or had there been domestic Ethiopian political agendas that catapulted such an adventure? I will provide the answers very briefly; albeit partially.
It was right after the conclusion of the Carta conference in Djibouti in 1993 that the first signs of a blatant TPLF scheming in Somalia surfaced. In a move that was clearly intended to intimidate the budding government-which by and large reflected the wishes of the Somali people-; the resort town of Sodere near Nazereth hosted a follow-up mini-conference of the most dreaded Somali warlords. TPLF’s reason for undermining the government of Abdiqasim Salat Hassen was ostensibly rooted to its apprehension of his ‘alleged’ clandestine relations to the defunct Al-Itihad Islamist group.
But in the eyes of many pundits and the Somali public, the real cause for this act of sabotage was TPLF’s fear of losing control over the ‘tiny’ neighbour; which it had managed like a private ‘fiefdom’ hitherto. TPLF military commanders in Ogaden had been sharing Somalia’s looted resources with warlords and had in turn been providing arms and ammunition to these ‘blood suckers’ to destabilise Somalia. The military has influenced the policy position of their masters in Addis Ababa; by providing faulty intelligence reports of the ‘threat’ from the east. The warlords might have also exploited Ethiopia’s usually jerky minority ‘rulers’, for the perpetuation of their reign of thuggery. By and large, it was a mutual co-operation; TPLF pulling the rug out from under ‘any government of not its making’ in Somalia; while the warlords wanted to ensure the flow of stolen riches to themselves and their cronies is not abated.
Since then, for 17 years, it was a familiar story of playing one warlord against the other. Why has that been easy and unnoticed? Because prominent Somali social and political elites were suffering from a ‘fatigue’ of wars and thought the turmoil will recede with time. Most thought the ‘inconveniences’ caused by warlords was a passing cloud.
Thus, whatever its motive, TPLF’s meddling in the internal affairs of Somalia has started well before the advent of the popular Islamic courts-who were the product of social anger against anarchy in Somalia. That is one point I set out to remind the readership.
It wasn’t because of the resurgence of Somali Islamist groups or fear of resultant cross-border security risks, which compelled Meles to launch the ultimate blitz. Contrary to many Somali’s lament, who decry Yusuf Indhacade’s vitriolic slogans and feeble bluffs, or the ‘immaturity’ of the courts leadership; TPLF’s military were in Baidoa well before the take over of Mogadishu by the Union of Islamic Courts. In fact, six months before the courts’ victory over the warlords, an adviser to the then Somali PM, Ali Ghedi, who I met on board an Ethiopian Airlines flight to Gode, told me that the Ethiopian military will ‘take’ the TFG to Mogadishu. He admitted that he was there to facilitate that operation.
Undeniably, Meles Zenawi’s war on Somalia has much to do with domestic political expediency than perceived national security threat from rise of Islamists in Somalia. In 2005, Meles, intoxicated by the ill-advised praises of former British PM-Tony Blair, decided to experiment with ‘electoral democracy’. In his insomniac sleepwalk, he fathomed that it would yield a handsome pay off, if by ceding few seats in the nominal parliament; the accolade and the aid from donors could be maintained or increased. That calculation was to be doomed to a fatal fiasco; as results of the elections turned out to be an overwhelming rejection of TPLF’s ethnic based policies and ‘Albanian communists’ style one party dictatorship. All satellite organisations of the EPRDF, lost ground as the big guns were trounced by angry populace.
Meles, in a last ditch gasp to save his lot, appeared on the national TV the same night from Adwa, where he went to vote, and announced the election results; without even bothering to wait for the verdict of his hobbyhorse: the National Election Board of Ethiopia-which certainly would have published results endorsed by him anyway. That haste and the incredulity in his eyes betrayed a man who was taken by surprise; not by the people’s verdict but the ‘inefficiency’ of his cadres whom he counted on to deliver the ‘victory’ on a silver plate. He declared that his party had ‘won by landslide’; and that rallies and demonstrations were banned for one month.
Just for the record, the National Electoral Board is headed by one Ato Kamal Badri, from the highly privileged Harari minority ethnic group, who is a man of many functions: the chairman of the electoral board, the chief justice, and the chairman of the constitutional review committee in the house of Federation. Interestingly, any aggrieved party in Ethiopia’s elections are supposed to rest their case with these three institutions in hierarchal order. To put it in simple language, if you have a problem with Kamal’s decision when he is in a tie and coat, you try your luck when he is in gown!
Western donors felt slapped at the face, after Meles ordered the shooting of 300 school children who protested the election theft by his party. Like a perennial river that burst its banks, the blood of innocent minors flooded the streets of Addis Ababa. Luckily for Meles, brute force saved the day for him. Terrified of the ramifications of this exposed ugly face of his, he was a man in desperate search for an escape route. Somalia once again came to his rescue; this time in the shape of a ‘marauding Taliban-style Jihadists’!
The coalescing forces of sanity, in the form of a religious group that rose above the clan fray in Somalia, came as a providential happening of immense importance to Meles. He seized that god-sent opportunity instantly, and sold it as an ominous augury of what is to befall the horn of Africa; should the west continue to demand ‘petulantly’, the delivery of the ‘luxuries’ of ‘unaffordable’ democracy.
Sullying the heroic sacrifices of many Ethiopians who stood for democracy, the west myopically sanctified his atrocities and hurriedly jumped to bed with the dictator. He found a willing sponsor in President Bush and was a man back in business. So, the war profiteering got a new momentum. After all, what will he lose if few thousand more of the ‘jobless’ Ethiopian youth- ‘dangerous vagrants’ he calls them- die; as far as most are not from the ‘people tested with fire’-the Tigre’s- who, proved to be ‘gold’.
That same objective of playing the ‘indispensable ally’ of the west is the driving cause for his continued occupation of Somalia; under numerous pretexts. But, it is also true that his commanders have found intermediate roles for themselves in the form of amassing the ‘loot’. Somalia is now a de facto open-access country; where Garret Hardin’s the tragedy of the commons theory aptly applies to. A resource owned by nobody or by everybody is bound to be overexploited or utilised sub-optimally in the teachings of natural resource economics. The result is fast depletion and disappearance of that scare resource. In Somalia, the resource at loss is much more than copper, oil or other minerals. It is its people and nationhood that is under present danger of extinction.
Feeling that is not enough, TPLF has also launched a massive campaign of ethnic cleaning and genocide against Ogaden civilians. (See Human Right Watch Report 2007, and independent reports from foreign media; the latest being the reputed Christian Science Monitor). No regime in Ethiopia had afflicted such pain and wanton destruction on the Somali nation ever. Not even the infamous of Derg regime! Somali’s are only aghast by what wrongs they might have done to this ungrateful group. Perhaps they supported evil; and this is their deserved payback. But they have slowly grasped the magnitude of TPLF’s pathological hatred towards the Somali nation. That is the good thing.
Let us link this to the bigger contemporary geo-political and ideological picture. Meles’ Somalia adventure will end when the west’s Islamophobia subsides, or when they came up with a paradigmatic shift on how to face up to the ‘over-hyped’ threat from Islam. I hope the shift in thinking in their handling of Pakistan is not a fluke. Musharaf is hard pressed to allow breathing space for democracy to flourish. I hope the west will prescribe the same medicine to Meles. I hope they will recognize that courting dictators will only increase the anger and ‘radicalisation’ of the subjects. For it is the grand law of physics, that “to every action, there is always an opposite action of equal measure.” Of late, some sound voices among the western tink-tank’s are remarking that supporting democratisation-not stifling it; is more effective, less costly, and more sustainable in curbing ‘Islamic fanaticism’. I tend to agree with this point; but not on their wider analysis and recommendations on the west Vs Islam saga.
The west’s obsession with Islam didn’t start with 911. At its roots, it is about imposing one’s perceived ‘superior’ values on reluctant and equally proud societies. Having succeeded to force ‘Anglo-Saxon’ values and culture-coined as the acceptable norm of a globalized human- down the throats of various populations; the Islamic world is the ‘untameable’ delinquent child for the pioneers of western civilization. A civilisation based on the tenets of liberal democracy, competition, individualism, and greed. For all its glitters, it lacks compassion, social responsibility, family cohesion, and spiritual guidance. Islam embodies all of these values; a reason why Muslims will not be subdued to forgo their happiness. Bush et al’s belief that with perseverance, Islamic ideology could be defeated; presumably because communism was vanquished in half-a-century, is flawed and its conclusions are based on wrong premise. Islam, unlike communism, is a religion and not an ideology.
Somali’s misery will end when that of the rest of the Muslim world ends. Somalia’s problem is also internal; but it is my considered judgement that the external interference is the most damaging and the decisive one. If we could demand our independence back now;-with all our defects-we can come out of the ashes stronger. That is why the legitimate struggle of the true sons of the soil in Somalia needs our admiration and support.
On the threat from the colossus from the west, my people have a fable for which they have a penchant. It is about the tortoise that was informed of predators’ decision to prey on its exposed flesh. Feeling powerless, it comforted itself with the hope that the Almighty Allah will intervene. The tortoise said in resignation: “they may decide so, but was Allah there?” the subtext being the almighty might have other plans for me. The fable has it that God covered it with the impregnable shell it has today as a shield.
The west and its attack dog TPLF might have carved out a meticulous plan of annihilation for the Somali nation, but Allah’s words are yet to come! And I am sure it will come soon. Allah might speak through our own action, not in miracles, and we need to believe in ourselves and unleash our fury on the occupation forces- the black colonizers. If his actions in Mogadisho are to go by, Meles has taken the advice of Sun Tze literally. It is up to the Somali’s to stop him.
It is richly sardonic that the up until now not-so-patriotic Tigre’s, are the loudest ‘defenders’ of ‘Ethiopia’s national interest’ with something akin to the zeal of a proselyte, and preach us on the history of Ethiopia not being ever colonized. Perhaps they wouldn’t feel the same pride in realizing that they were on the wrong side of ‘that history’, - as collaborators of foreign ‘invaders’ for most part. Much the same way the senile octogenarian Abdullahi Yusuf is now in Somalia. Invading another independent state, experiencing a lapse of nationhood, is the worst step to redeem their past misdeeds.
Last, I never got views on whether Ethiopians in general take pride; in the fact that they were also the only black colonizers who took part in the scramble for Africa as early as 1884. But I know most of them condemn the atavistic replay of that history in the 21st century in Somalia. May God help them to get rid off this tribal tyranny! After all, it is they who live with it at the end of the day!