By Fikru Helebo
Here we go again. Ethiopia is engaged in a war for the second time in less than a decade. The last time Ethiopia went to war in 1998 it was on a false premise: Ethiopians were told that their territory has been invaded by Eritrea, a former province of Ethiopia, and they were called to defend the motherland from an aggressor. Surely, the Eritreans were the aggressors, but the real reason for the war was the fall out between the Tigrean ruling elites who rule on both sides of the border, not the ill-defined border between the two countries.
If the Ethio-Eritrean war of 1998-2000 was a senseless war, then this war between the radical Somali Islamist and the illegitimate Meles-led regime of Ethiopia is a reckless one for all involved. This time around Ethiopians are told by Meles Zenawi that the nation's "defense forces were forced to enter into war to protect the sovereignty of the nation and to blunt repeated attacks by Islamic courts terrorists and anti-Ethiopian elements they are supporting." This is hogwash!
The truth of the matter is that Ethiopia was not forced to enter this war; rather, it is the bad policy choices that the Meles regime has made with regard to Somalia and domestically combined with the reckless decision of the lunatic Eritrean regime to engage in a proxy war with Ethiopia that has made this war inevitable. The United States Government should also bear the responsibility for this war since it is the CIA's botched attempt to support a group of Somali warlords early this year that led to the rise of the radical Islamists and this Ethiopian adventure into Somalia could not have taken place without a tacit approval from the US.
It was also reckless of the radical Islamists to refuse to talk to the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia at the Khartoum talks where they had the most to gain through negotiations. But they blew it believing that the TFG based in the town of Baidoa would crumble under their military might. Is continued war making the way to bring peace and security to clan-crazy Somalia? I seriously doubt it. Somalis who support the Islamists should also not delude themselves into thinking that it is Ethiopia that is preventing them from having peace and security. The facts on the ground point otherwise -- the Somali regions of Somaliland and Puntland, which are allied with the Ethiopian regime, have been the ones that are relatively more stable over the last decade.
As I have attempted to argue in a previous posting, the ascendant Islamist forces clearly pose a tangible threat to the coexistence of the people of the Horn of Africa region and they should be held in check. However, from the evidence that is available to us, the threat they pose is not an imminent one as far as Ethiopian sovereignty is concerned at this particular time, and going to war with the Islamists under these conditions will only play into the hands of the Islamists and their Eritrean sponsors. Some have argued that waiting any longer to fight the Islamists will make it more difficult to contain them later. There is some logic to this argument, but I believe it is a short-sighted argument that fails to appreciate the supremacy of clan-based politics in Somalia.
In the months following the rise of the Islamist forces, the Meles regime could have invested some of the resources it committed to preparing for war to reaching out to the Somali community both in Somalia and abroad. But there is no evidence that it has done this other than propping up the weak TFG. The Meles regime could also have gone on a diplomatic offensive to isolate the Islamists and their Eritrean allies, but there is very little evidence to suggest that this is the case. Sadly, the reverse is true -- the Islamists were the ones who carried out a diplomatic offensive and succeeded for the most part in isolating the Meles regime. Meles now has fewer allies in the region than when the Islamists took over in June of 2006.
Having said all that, I wish the Ethiopian defense forces that have been sent into harms way good luck in accomplishing their mission, and I hope they will be withdrawn from Somalia as soon as possible. The Islamists must be pressured by the International community to return to the Khartoum talks without any preconditions, and the Ethiopians and the Eritreans should be pressured to withdraw their troops from Somalia as well. In the end, it is not the Ethiopian military that can bring peace and security to Somalia, it is the Somali people themselves!
PS: Some readers have asked me why I have the comments feature on this blog turned off. My reasoning for turning it off is that some people tend to abuse this feature by engaging in out right insults and character assassinations and I am also not a fan of writing anonymously which totally removes accountability from the author of the comment. I have turned on the comments feature on an experimental basis a couple of days ago to see if it serves a useful purpose.