- Because of the year long Ethiopian invasion, illegal under international law, and the consequent escalation in violence, Somalia’s humanitarian crisis is now as bad as Darfur’s Reports on the numbers of people killed, injured and displaced since December 2006 include 6,500 killed in Mogadishu alone, 8,500 wounded, and between 850,000 displaced and 600,000 displaced. 1.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. Malnutrition among under-5s has reached nearly 20%. Women have been raped by Ethiopian soldiers, including an 18 year old girl by 12 soldiers and a mother of 7 children.
- There is no evidence of an Al Qaeda presence in Somalia, nor of an Eritrean military base (Eritrea has been intermittently at war with Ethiopia since 1998). Both of these were given as justifications for the Ethiopian invasion.
- There is strong circumstantial evidence that the US backed the Ethiopian invasion. The press reported US military personnel accompanying Ethiopian troops into Somalia in December 2006, and US military personnel entering Somalia in December 2006 to report on the US air strikes of January 2007. The US provided the Ethiopian military with satellite surveillance and aerial reconnaissance, and did not disassociate itself from the invasion. In Jan 07, a Pentagon spokesman said the US and Ethiopian militaries have a “close working relationship”. US arms sales to Ethiopia since Sept 2001 have roughly doubled and Ethiopia has received nearly $20 million in U.S. military aid since late 2002. In 2007, Ethiopia received $2,640,000 military aid from the US, according to a US government website.
- Somalia is the African front in the US’s ‘war on terror’, the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia is the US’s proxy war. Before resigning as US Secretary of Defence in late 2006, Donald Rumsfeld identified the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia and Yemen) as the area of Africa most at risk of becoming a “safe haven for terrorists”.
- But not only a proxy war. In January 2007 the US launched bomb attacks from an aircraft carrier off the Somali coast on south Somalia. A hospital reported thousands of civilians wounded. Many were killed, their livestock with them. The US “has a right to bombard terrorist suspects who attacked its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania”, the Ethiopian-backed leader Abdullahi Yusuf said.
- According to some commentators like the Jamestown Foundation, a conservative US think tank, the Hawiye clan form the basis of resistance to the Ethiopian invasion and indeed of the Union of Islamic Court (ICU) itself – i.e. this is a clan struggle against the occupation, not a national one. This is apparently supported by reports of the assassination of a leading Hawiye, Ahmed Diriya, by the Ethiopian military on 27 Dec 07. However, an alliance of anti-Ethiopian interests appears to be strengthening the ICU and other insurgents.
- Most Somalis see themselves first of all as Somali citizens, secondarily as members of a clan. Somalis are often portrayed in the western media and by western governments as only capable of acting in their clan interests, as incapable of acting in their national or regional interests.
- An 800-strong demonstration organised by the UK Somali community outside the House of Commons, London, on 28 December 2007, aimed to bring Somalis together to show the world that they are not divided by clan and region but are united in their opposition to the US-backed Ethiopian invasion.
Pre colonial and colonial Before the 1880s colonial scramble for Africa, Somalia, Muslim since the 9C, consisted of feudal fiefdoms and city coastal states with a well documented history. Colonial occupation and borders, as elsewhere in Africa, created bloodshed which has not since been assuaged. In particular, the Somali-speaking Ogaden region on Somalia’s western border was ’signed away’ by the British to Ethiopia (Abyssinia) in 1957 after 70 years of wheeling and dealing with feudal (clan) leaders.
Independence from both Italian and British colonists was won in 1960. In 1991, Somaliland, the ex-British colony bordering ex-French colony Djibouti, declared independence from the Somali Republic.
Somali is the majority language throughout the country, as Amharic is in Ethiopia. Somali-speaking people live in Kenya, as well as in Djibouti and Ethiopia.
Siad Barre and the Cold War Siad Barre, a military officer trained in the USSR, came to power in a coup in 1969 after the assassination of the elected president. He ensured that Somali was ascribed an orthography (Roman rather than Arabic) and became the medium of education, as opposed to Italian and English. He also established a one party state along Soviet block lines and conducted wide-scale repression of opposition groups. He relied on Soviet aid and advisors.
However, when he invaded the Ogaden region of Ethiopia in 1977, the USSR for strategic reasons switched their support to the Ethiopian dictator Mengistu who in 1974 had overthrown Haile Selassie, a US client. Barre then expelled Soviet advisors, imprisoned former party members – in the process exacerbating clan fractiousness – and accepted US patronage. The USSR and US had effectively swapped sides. Civil war and extreme and brutal repression ensued. Famine turned starvation into a WMD.
Barre visited the US in 1982 and made a military deal with the South African apartheid regime in 1984. The IMF and World Bank insisted on neo-liberal structural adjustment and progressively turned the screws on the Somali state and economy, at the same time as the US made use of military bases built by the USSR.
In 1991, Barre was overthrown and expelled from Mogadishu by General Mohamed Farrah Aidid, a former intelligence chief in Barre’s regime whom he had imprisoned for 6 years on suspicion of coup plotting.
Advent of ‘warlordism’ After Barre switched his allegiance to the US in 1977, many prominent government and party members were imprisoned or sacked. From 1984, the degeneration of the Somali state accelerated. Aidid and other former government members, now without access to state machinery and turned overnight into the opposition, consolidated their clan power bases instead.
Furthermore, prior to 1977, a mass literacy campaign had doubled up as an indoctrination programme into Soviet-style socialism. People could not overnight switch to US allegiance. Left without political direction, they identified instead with their families and clans.
The civil war was precisely the competition between the clan leaders – now called ‘war lords’ by the western media – for control of the country. Multinational arms companies threw fuel, M16 machine guns mostly, on the fire. After 1991, many Somalis who could raise the money began emigrating to the west.
Black Hawk Down 1993 By the time Operation Restore Hope utilising 30,000 US troops was authorised by George Bush Snr in November 1992, food had begun to reach famine-stricken regions. What were the real reasons for US (later UN but US-led) intervention? Academics argue that first, post-cold war US foreign policy was pioneering its global policing stance, which ignored national sovereignty.
Second, the US was seeking to establish a pro-western coalition government in Somalia to safeguard its oil interests. A number of oil companies, including Amoco, Chevron and Conoco, had secured drilling concessions from Barre. A cable from the US embassy in Mogadishu to the State Department, 21 March 1990, reads: “The first prerequisite will be that Somalia achieve internal peace. [President of Conoco Somalia, Raymond] Marchand explains to [Somali government] officials that if there is no peace, then neither Conoco nor anyone else will be able to get the oil out.”
Many Somalis were hostile to the troops because they identified the US with the hated Barre.
Nairobi and Dar es Salam US embassies bombed In August 1998, within five minutes of each other, bombs exploded in the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. At least 80 people were killed and 1,700 injured, the majority Africans. Osamar Bin Laden was held responsible, Islamist ‘extremism’ now a US foreign policy concern. Kenya and Somalia share a border.
Transitional National Government and the 4.5 formula In August 2000, in Arta, Djibouti, a national reconciliation conference formed the Transitional National Government on the basis of the 4.5 formula: equal power sharing between the four largest clans, and the other five clans collectively having a 0.5 stake in government. The 2004 conference in Eldoret, Kenya, created the current Transitional Federal Government (TFG). Neither conference brought peace. Abdullahi Yusuf is the president of the TFG.
Union of Islamic Courts (ICU) The ICU won control of Mogadishu in June 2006 after a two month battle against the US-backed Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism, consisting of war lords and their allies in the TFG. After Mogadishu fell to the ICU, Ethiopian troops started crossing the border into Somalia.
While individuals and militias in the ICU belong to clans, as do all Somalis, their administration sought a non-clan-based modus operandi. They brought some peace and stability to Mogadishu and southern Somalia. Citizens of Mogadishu no longer had to pay clan militias ‘taxes’ at ‘checkpoints’ on street junctions because the warlords had been disarmed; legal processes for the restitution of disputed land and property began. The ICU also opened all Somalia’s major ports. Diasporan Somalis began planning to return home.
Ethiopian invasion Ethiopian troops, backed by US personnel, intelligence and financing, had already invaded Somalia in June 2006. The ICU did not have equal military strength. In December 2006, the Ethiopians took Mogadishu and installed the TFG government there. The TFG government is also backed by the US. Initially the ICU retreated to the south of Somalia near the Kenyan border. Their militias are now among those resisting the Ethiopian occupation and the TFG, largely in Mogadishu.
The UN UN Security Council resolution 1725, 6 Dec 2006, authorised an African Union force to protect the TFG. It prohibited troops from any neighbouring country from joining that force. Neighbouring countries’ military intervention would be compromised by the many conflicts of interest in the region. Ethiopia’s military presence in Somalia is thus illegal. Resolution 1725 also lifted the arms embargo imposed on Somalia in 1992.
Mandated by UN Security Council resolution 1772, 20 Aug 2007, 1,600 African Union troops from Uganda and 100 (1,700 planned) from Burundi are now in Somalia.