Sunday, July 30, 2006

Neighboring Somalia in the Spotlight

By Fikru Helebo

Fast moving events of the last three months in neighboring Somalia have overshadowed the more than a year long political crisis in Ethiopia causing the international community to divert its attention to developments in Somalia. The quick ascendancy to power in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a group affiliated with a terrorist group called al-Ittihad al-Islami (AIAI), has alarmed many in the international community, including countries in the Horn of Africa region.

The ICU, buoyed by a string of military successes it has scored against a group of Somali warlords, who raised suspicion by calling themselves the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (ARPCT), and the support they have garnered from Somalis for bringing about a semblance of law and order to the Somali capital in a long time, is talking seriously about establishing an Islamic state in Somalia. The rise of the ICU, which is led by a fundamentalist Muslim named Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, a former leader of the AIAI and a person listed by the U.S. State Department as a suspected al Qaeda collaborator, should be a cause for concern for the people of the Horn of Africa and beyond.

The ICU has the backing of Issayas Afeworki, the strongman of Eritrea, and some nations in the Arab and the Muslim world. Its main protagonist, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia, which is based in the regional town of Baidoa, is backed by the terrorist regime that is in charge of Ethiopia. The Meles regime in Addis Ababa has publicly stated that it has the responsibility to defend the TFG. Who gave the Addis Ababa regime the responsibility to defend the government of another country is not yet clear, but the regime has already demonstrated that it means business by sending in troops into Somalia.

The United States may have unwittingly helped in propelling the ICU to power in Mogadishu by secretly financing the so-called ‘anti-terrorist’ Somali coalition of warlords, the ARPCT. The ICU skillfully used the revelation that the ARPCT was funded by Washington to coalesce Somali public support for its goals. The ARPCT may have been put together by the Addis Ababa regime, in part, because it was eager to prove to Washington that it is an indispensable ally in the global fight against terrorism in the post-9/11 world. It is also very likely that the Addis Ababa regime made a calculated decision to create a scene in Somalia to deflect attention from its domestic troubles. Recognizing these trends a group of former senior U.S. diplomats have advised Washington to back moderates within the ICU and discourage the Meles regime from using force in Somalia.

The ICU deserves some credit for bringing about a semblance of stability to parts of Somalia. However, it appears that this short-term stability for parts of Somalia may be coming at the expense of the long-term stability for the Horn of Africa region, if a fundamentalist religious group, like the ICU, is allowed to take root and form a government in Mogadishu. Therefore, it was a wise decision to put a stop to ICU's advance on Baidoa, the seat of the TFG, on the part of Washington and Addis Ababa.

Washington is still smarting from the ARPCT fiasco and attempting to regain its leverage in the region by criticizing the regimes in Ethiopia and Eritrea. This is a good thing, but it leaves much to be desired on the part of US Africa policy makers. Washington needs to learn that depending too much on tyrannical regimes, such as the regime in Addis Ababa, to advance its interests in the region is not the best way to advance US interests in the region and the interest of peace and stability in the Horn of Africa region in the long term.

The situation on the ground in southern Somalia is fluid and favors the ICU at this moment. Washington and the Addis Ababa regime need to recognize that the ICU is seen by most Somalis as a stabilizing force. Any future move against the ICU must be done in consultation with a diverse group of Somalis and the governments of the region, particularly Kenya, and the international community. The predicament that Somalis find themselves in is difficult for most outsiders to understand, but they are all human beings like all of us and need to be dealt with in a dignified way. That said, however, unless cooler heads prevail in Mogadishu and Baidoa, there a real possibility that a full-fledged war might break out between the ICU and the TFG backed by their foreign sponsors, and this does not bode well for peace in Somalia and the Horn of Africa region.

[Click here for PDF version]

Friday, July 28, 2006

Peace in the Middle East

"Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us." -Golda Meir, Former Prime Minister of Israel

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Glory and guilt, living in the shadow of yesterday

Ephrem Madebo

Towards the end of May 2006, an old cause received a new twist when political operatives from CUDP, EPPF, and three liberation fronts launched a campaign to create a political entity that has the potential to change the course of history in Ethiopia. The effort, dubbed Alliance for Freedom and Democracy, aims to embrace all opposition forces and seeks solutions for the seemingly intractable century old problems of Ethiopia. Social injustice, economic inequality, and political instability have relegated many Ethiopians from subsistence living to a street side begging. In 1974, the regime of emperor Haile Selassie was brought down by young military offices who promised economic development. In 1991, the military regime it self was toppled by a small group of Leninist revolutionaries who promised to close Ethiopia’s dark history. Instead of bringing hope and progress, the two successive governments exposed Ethiopia to a new set of problems. Today, Ethiopians are repeatedly being told to either support EPRDF, or face a Rwanda like genocide. The Alliance for Freedom and Democracy came to the Ethiopian political scene at this critical time when our people as a nations are forced to choose an option from the devil’s alternative.

In the last twenty years, Ethiopia has seen the come and go of many political parties and alliances. The promising start of alliances and political parties was foiled and buried by the wicked act of people who constantly disregard the idea of others, and have no vision of their own. Evidently, the new initiative, the Alliance for Freedom and Democracy, faces immense hurdles because no new political alliance has established itself as a sustained force in Ethiopian politics since the emergence of organized political parties [ EPRP,MEISON] in the 1970s. However, AFD and many optimistic Ethiopians contend that the Alliance for Freedom and Democracy can succeed where others have failed largely because the Alliance for Freedom and Democracy embraces all organizations that have stake in the political process of Ethiopia, and the doors of AFD are wide open for political organizations who have the desire to work together.

If noting else, the formation of AFD has brought many alienated constituencies to the political assemblage of Ethiopians, and no matter how people judge AFD; the Alliance for Freedom Democracy has already opened a political door that will never be closed again. AFD is the first political entity to build a bridge between ethnic liberation fronts and political parties. Many critiques keep on asking - Why mix political parties [CUDP] and ethnic liberation fronts [OLF]? Personally, I don’t like to see ethnicity mixed with politics. Obviously, It is not our choice or decision to be what we are ethnically, but all our political engagements and party memberships are our conscious choices. Therefore, gravitating people towards ethnic based political system shouldn’t be our objective. However, as concerned Ethiopians, I believe, it is our individual and collective responsibility to embrace people and political organizations from all walk of life to solve the problem of our country. In the long run, the depth of our victory is not measured by replacing the Meles Zenawi regime, it is measured by the width of our tolerance to work with others who disagree with us. Our objective should be keeping the unity of Ethiopia and building a democratic society. Otherwise, when the right time comes, TPLF can always be replaced, but what good is replacing TPLF if we keep on going back to square one again and again?

So far, the arrival of AFD is received with mixed feelings. There are some whose constructive criticism is focused on the weak sides of AFD, and yet there are some who dismiss AFD as the instrument of OLF. In Ethiopia, political duality is a relatively new phenomena, and the culture of opposition politics is strange to many people. As a result, most of us have fallen victims to outright bigots who always disregard the idea of others and have no idea of their own. These nonsensical bigots pretend to be opponents of TPLF and exploit our innocence to look like our comrades. They seem to be innocuous, but they are deadly enemies; they seem to be visionary leaders, but they are indolent lunatics who pour water on the vision of others. We should be carful not to take the old Maoist principle that says "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" at its face value. We should all understand that TPLF is not the only entity that threatens the unity of Ethiopia, Ethiopia’s unity and rapid transition to democracy is threatened by many callous people inside and outside Ethiopia.

AFD is not a matured party of deliverance, it is the "ABC" of political unity in Ethiopia; it is not a monster to be watched from far, it is a growing organization to be embraced and nurtured. Some people are baffled by the presence of liberation fronts in the AFD, I am not. Political dialog with liberation fronts does not worry me much, what worries me is the future geo-political appearance of Ethiopia if we ignore and alienate OLF, SLF, and ONLF today. In Ethiopia, political and economic conflict between the haves and the have-nots, between the powerful and the helpless, and between the oppressed and the oppressors has been the way of life for many years. On one side there are liberation fronts whose primary option of conflict resolution is force, on the other side, there are pro-unity parties and organizations to whom dialogs and negotiations are the primary options of conflict resolution. if the pro-unity parties ignore the current good gesture of the liberation fronts and try to solve Ethiopia’s problem by themselves, the farm lands of Ethiopia will be war zones for generations to come. If the liberation fronts ignore the call for unity and use force to realize their dream, they keep on killing the hope of the very people they fight for. Disregarding dialogues and resorting to the use of gun might ensure a temporary political power, but it will never solve political differences or create peace and stability. So, how do we tackle the root causes of Ethiopia’s problem?

The answer to the above question depends upon our vision for Ethiopia. If we envision peace, stability, and prosperity for Ethiopia, then we must solve Ethiopia’s problem together with those who have the means and the tendency to warp peace and tranquility in Ethiopia. CUDP’s unprecedented and unparalleled political will to start a working relationship with the different liberation fronts is the beginning of a new era that deserves applaud and collaboration. Contrary to the claim of some myopic individuals, CUDP’s participation in AFD is not a political gamble, it is a conscious and wise political move that transcends the "only me" attitude and builds a bridge for people to come together. The doom tellers of yesterday keep on telling us not to expect a better tomorrow. In 2003, they strongly opposed the formation of UEDF. Two years latter, in 2005, they condemned CUD as a collection of WEP (Workers Party of Ethiopia). Today, these same doom tellers are crying foul and plotting in Washington, DC, London, and the capitals of the Scandinavian countries to kill AFD. These wicked messengers of death are hard to identify because they always come in the name of Ethiopia and they renounce TPLF just like we do. But, they always diminish ideas, dwarf concepts, and kill the hope we have for tomorrow. When ideas are killed new ideas may come, but when hope is killed it denies us the reason to live for tomorrow. We should all fight the doom tellers and keep the hope alive.

Today, we have a new idea, a new hope, and a new alliance. Let’s support this new alliance and transform it in to a grand coalition that embraces the democratic forces of Ethiopia. As a generation, let’s be remembered as courageous and relentless defenders of democracy. Let’s librate ourselves from mental slavery, and our nation from the brutal hands of Meles. Let’s be willing to die as heroes than living in a constant state of moral indebtedness. After all, we all die; let’s die as we give life to others.