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Letters from Tokyo
Ethiopia and Its War against Radical Islam and Chaos in Somalia
By Lee Jay Walker
Tokyo Correspondent
A group of the Ethiopian troop

December 2006 the Ethiopian government dislodged the Islamists from power in order to bring some fresh hope to the people of Somalia and also to prevent the spread of radical Islam. Shortly after Ethiopia crushed the Islamists in Mogadishu they appealed for global help and support. After all, the United States of America stressed the importance to fight back against international terrorism. However, the international community appeared to turn a blind eye, with the notable acception being Uganda and some other nations who gave basic support. Therefore, why did major powers ignore Ethiopia and will this nation pull out of Somalia in order to fight a rear guard action via Ethiopia?

Before focusing on current events it is important to briefly mention the past between both nations. If we go back to the 1977-1978 Ogaden War, then it is clear that both nations do not trust each other and power politics is a major issue, and this is based on ethnic and religious lines. During the Ogaden War the Soviet Union (once an ally of Somalia) and Cuba helped Ethiopia to defeat Somalia because at one point Ethiopia could only control 10% of Eastern Ethiopia in the Ogaden region. For Somalia the Ogaden should belong to them because of ethnic and religious factors, however, to Ethiopia this region is vital because after the loss of Eritrea, in recent times, this nation can not afford to lose even more territory.

Therefore, in history the rulers of both modern nations have not trusted each other and this goes back centuries and under various different names, for example ancient Abyssinia (Ethiopia) was often at loggerheads with the Somali people and other ethnic groups. Also, the role of Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity was central to the rulers of Abyssinia and to them they feared losing power to Islam and other ethnic groups in the Horn of Africa. Therefore, Eastern Ethiopia was a weak spot because the majority of people were Muslim and the traditional rulers of Ethiopia, the Amhara and the Tigrean, feared losing power. So in history and modern times the history of Ethiopia and Somalia is often inter-linked and sadly this linkage is usually negative.

If we move closer to modern times, then it is clear that both nations have been ravaged by the Cold War, civil wars, starvation, ethnic or clan based politics, outside manipulation, and other major factors. Given this, the mechanics of democracy and mutual understanding appears to be lost and the past vicious circle remains today. Also, the role of the United Nations and the United States in Somalia was also an abject failure in the 1990s. Added to this is the growth of radical Islam in Somalia, international terrorists using this nation for their own political gains, just like in Afghanistan, and continuing outside meddling, means that instability is flourishing throughout the region.

Therefore, from an Ethiopian perspective the nation of Somalia is vital with regards to the war on international terrorism and preserving the unity of Ethiopia. Yet, to the leaders of modern day Ethiopia they see little international support and they are not sure why? However, the answer is not that simple because major problems already exist throughout the world and of course the mass media focuses on Iraq, the Israel-Palestinian issue, and Afghanistan, the most. However, if radical Islamists managed to rule in Somalia then this nation could destabilise the entire region. Also, Islamic terrorists could use this nation in order to cause mayhem in other nations. This reality is obvious in Ethiopia, however, the government of this nation feels betrayed because of being let down by the international community.

Since dislodging the Islamists from power in late 2006 the Ethiopian government suffered the usual war syndrome, just like America in Iraq, because the insurgents have hit back via breathing space. Given this reality, the Ethiopian government is alarmed by her neighbour Eritrea because Ethiopia claims that this nation is causing chaos in the Islamic heartlands of eastern Ethiopia. Also, the rulers of Ethiopia claim that Eritrea is also helping the Islamists in Somalia via economic support and they also accuse wealthy outside organizations of being involved in this crisis. Of course, Eritrea denies this and instead blames Ethiopia for causing the mayhem. Whatever the "real truth" is, it is clear that regional disunity is not helping and instead it is merely adding "fuel to the fire."

Therefore, the policy enacted by Ethiopia is now in danger because of the growing insurgency and lack of outside support. If Ethiopia fails, then more chaos may spread to Kenya, Sudan, Uganda, and other nations. Also, Ethiopia will face enormous internal problems and this situation is extremely grave now. Given this, the leader of Ethiopia, PM Meles Zenawi, stated "We didn't anticipate that the international community would be happy riding the Ethiopian horse and flogging it at the same time for so long." PM Meles Zenawi also rebuked the international community for not funding the African Union and its peacekeeping force. Therefore, Ethiopia may decide to pull out of Somalia if a solution can not be found in the near future?

So why did the international community fail Ethiopia and Somalia? Maybe for politicians and military leaders in America, it is the terrible memories of their failed policy in Somalia and the lasting images of American troops being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. Meanwhile, for the leaders of the European Union (EU) they may deem this war to be too distant and some nations may also be divided within Europe. After all, not all nations support the Ethiopian theory and some nations have sympathy with the opposition or they are neutral. In Africa it is more complex because many nations fear the chaos of Somalia, however, regional nations like Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda, have many internal problems to deal with and their resources are limited.

However, if Ethiopia does pull out or the civil war increases, which in turn could lead to growing malnutrition and starvation, or a base for international terrorism; then the international community will rue this missed opportunity. Therefore, the international community should either be supporting the Somali interim government via economics, peacekeepers, and other viable methods to enhance stability. Or the international community should be working with Ethiopia in order to crush the forces of disorder. Sadly, the Ethiopian leader, PM Meles Zenawi, may be correct because it does appear that the international community is not interested and like he states, they are "...happy riding the Ethiopian horse and flogging it at the same time for so long." Therefore, Ethiopia may decide to pull out and strengthen their border with Somalia and fight via a proxy force, if so, then a missed opportunity will have gone begging and the people of Somalia will continue to suffer.

Lee Jay Walker Dip BA MA
http://journals.aol.com/leejaywalker/uk/



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Lee Jay Walker serves as Tokyo Correspondent of The Seoul Times. He specializes in int'l relations and geopolitics. He is also involved in analyst work and research on business. After finishing BA degree in East European Studies at the University of London, He earned MA degree in Asia Pacific Studies in Nottingham Trent University. He also studied business at London Institute.

 

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