December 28, 2006

Ethiopia's Invasion Bodes Ill for Regional Peace

Samuel Makinda

Ethiopia's invasion of Somalia is a threat not only to the Union of Islamic Courts, (UIC) but to any prospect of peace and order in this war-torn country.

It also violates the Security Council resolution 1725 of December 6, 2006, which prohibits neighbouring states from deploying troops to Somalia.

The impact of this invasion is likely to be exacerbated by the UN Security Council's decision to partially lift an arms embargo on Somalia, which had been in force since January 1992.

The embargo was not particularly effective, but by lifting it in respect of a force to be trained by IGAD and the African Union, the UN may have opened a floodgate.

Somalia has been without an effective government since the overthrow of former military dictator Siad Barre in January 1991.

Had the transitional government, which was established in 2004, been united, disciplined and focused, the UIC would not have dislodged it earlier this year.

Instead, the government, currently based in Baidoa, has been squabbling for many months and is totally unable to function.

The UIC, which includes Somalis who are not fundamentalists, has been effective. It has established peace and order where none existed.

Ethiopia's invasion is unlikely to bring peace and order to Somalia, or to assist the transitional government to establish an effective administration. Any external force that abandons an inclusive approach and sides with one group against another, is bound to exacerbate insecurity.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi announced on Sunday that the invasion was aimed at protecting Ethiopia's sovereignty and territorial integrity, arguing that some Islamists had raised irredentist claims.

His government apparently realised that the international community would not be persuaded that the UIC had the means to pose a threat to Ethiopia's sovereignty.

Accordingly, the Ethiopian government now claims that it is in Somalia to fight international terrorism. This may go down well with the US administration, which has been trying to frustrate the Islamists in Somalia.

If there is fear that the Union of Islamic Courts might invite al-Qaeda terrorists, Ethiopia's invasion and defeat of the Islamists will not prevent al-Qaeda operatives from using Somalia. Somalia has a long coastline that cannot be effectively patrolled by Ethiopia or the transitional government.

In any case, the UIC is not monolithic group, and some of its members are strongly opposed to al-Qaeda type of activities.

If Ethiopia's invasion is not aimed at bringing peace and order to Somalia, what is its purpose?

Ethiopia's primary motive is to achieve regional supremacy. In the past four decades, Ethiopia has fought more wars with its neighbours than any other country in the Horn of Africa. Its two wars with Somalia in the 1960s and 1970s were defensive. Somalia, which viewed Ethiopia as an imperial nation that had participated in the colonial division of Somalis into different entities, was the aggressor.

However, Ethiopia's war with Eritrea, which erupted in may 1998, was, in large part, due to the personalities of the two leaders: Ethiopia's Zenawi and Eritrea's Isaias Afwerki. It was an insane war, which was fought over an indeterminate border, but the involvement of US President Bill Clinton in mediation efforts served to inflate the egos of the two leaders.

Ethiopia's invasion of Somalia is likely to achieve several goals for Zenawi. First, it provides an opportunity for the African Union, the United Nations, neighbouring states and other countries to massage his ego.

Second, the invasion gives Zenawi another chance to challenge Eritrea, which has been supporting the Union of Islamic Courts.

Third, it portrays him as a strong African leader who is willing to pursue terrorists, including in neighbouring states. And, most important, the invasion gives Zenawi an opportunity to demonstrate Ethiopia's military prowess in its bid for regional supremacy.

Unfortunately, the brutality of war will precipitate severe humanitarian crises, which will have an impact on Kenya and other neighbouring states.

As the recent floods have already made the humanitarian situation in Somalia grave, this war will bring increased suffering to more people.

In the end, Ethiopia's incursion into Somalia could resemble the US-led invasion of Iraq. Ethiopia's military forces have the potential to do considerable damage in Somalia, but they will neither eliminate the Islamists nor control the country. They could also suffer huge losses and withdraw without having achieved much.

Prof Makinda, a former Nation editor, teaches security studies and international relations at Murdoch University in Perth, Australia. Copyright © 2006 The Nation

By Peace Journalism

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