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  Global Views
Letters from Tokyo
Ethiopia Needs International Support to Contain Dangerous Forces in Somalia
By Lee Jay Walker
Tokyo Correspondent
Ethiopia needs international support.

The Ethiopian government was faced with a stark choice, either enter Somalia and try to stabilize this nation or do nothing and allow radical Islam to destabilize the region. Obviously, the government of Ethiopia is a very responsible government, therefore, the armed forces of Ethiopia entered Somalia in December 2006. This much needed intervention dislodged the Islamists from power but it was clear that Ethiopia had hoped for greater international support. After all, Al Qaeda had entered this nation in the past and the war against terror was not meant to be limited to only a few nations. However, to the dismay of Ethiopia, the majority of world powers have mainly turned a blind eye and left Ethiopia to solve this major problem by themselves. Yet why was Ethiopia abandoned by the major powers?

One major factor could be the memory of America`s failure in Somalia and the lingering memories of American bodies being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. After all, the American led invasion in the 1990s failed to stabilize Somalia and after encountering fierce fighting they soon pulled their armed forces out of this nation. Yet the images of a lawless Somalia in this period remains and America`s failure in Somalia was costly because it boosted both the warlords and Islamists.

Therefore, when the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) unleashed a bid for power in 2006 the Ethiopian government was faced with a serious dilemma. After all, the options they faced were daunting by any standards. Either the government of Ethiopia had to shore up their borders and internal security because of the genuine threat of contamination; or they could just allow a failed state to be taken over by radical Islamists and face future dire consequences; or Ethiopia could try and stem the tide of this chaos and be a true neighbour. Ethiopia believed that the latter was in the interest of both the Somalian people and the international community at large.

The global threat was genuine because leading international Islamists could sense a new battleground, whereby they could spread their radical version of Islam within Somalia and then use this nation to launch attacks against the international community. Also, with Yemen facing serious internal problems, then funding, manpower, and other negative factors, could easily link the Middle East with this part of Africa. Therefore, Ethiopia believed rightly that they were trying to stem the tide of an ideology which was dangerous to the people of Somalia, could threaten Ethiopia internally, and could spread terrorism and a dangerous ideology to other parts of the world.

Eliza Griswold, New America Foundation, who writes for this important think-tank, clearly links global terrorism with Somalia. After all, Eliza Griswold, in her article which was written in The New Republic (August 6, 2007), states that "The head of the UIC's shura council, Sheik Hassan Aweys, was the military leader of Al Ittihad Al Islami, which launched several attacks against Ethiopia in the 1990s and had links to Al Qaeda. Also, in the second half of 2006, hundreds of foreign fighters reportedly arrived in Somalia to fight alongside the shebab. The UIC harboured several members of Al Qaeda, including Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the elusive mastermind reportedly behind the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in neighbouring Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 225 people."

So if Fazul Abdullah Mohammed was involved in the conflict in Somalia, then it is clear that a failed nation state would have been used in order to create further mayhem. Also, other members of Al Qaeda were implicated with the chaos that engulfed Somalia in 2006 and clearly the UIC was obtaining financial and military support via international Islamic jihadist organizations. It must be remembered that Fazul Abdullah Mohammed is wanted in connection with U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania respectively.

Therefore, the threat of international terrorism was too much for Ethiopia and the same applied to a failed state because the UIC was going to impose a harsh version of Sharia Islamic law on the people of Somalia. This applies to killing all converts from Islam to Christianity, stoning women to death for adultery, and other draconian measures. More important, when looking at the bigger picture, a Somalia under the UIC could have been used to launch attacks against Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Tanzania, and then further afield. This policy may not have been a direct UIC policy, but just like Afghanistan under the Taliban, the UIC would not be able to contain the international jihadist movement and Ethiopia fully understood this.

Given this, Ethiopia bravely entered Somalia in order to prevent a radical Islamic state from causing mayhem within Africa and the international community at large. Also, you have major ethnic and religious faultlines within East Africa and this applies to all regional nations. But clearly Ethiopia faced serious threats from the UIC and Kenya would have been the next target for these Islamists. So the regional diverse mixture of Animism, Christianity, Islam, and Traditional Beliefs, alongside ethnicity, means that East Africa could easily become even more destabilized by radical Sunni Islam.

Yet it is clear that Ethiopia feels abandoned by the international community because economic support and a major multi-national peacekeeping force is still not in place. Also, the perception that Ethiopia is fighting a proxy war for America is not valid. Instead, Ethiopia is trying to stabilize the Horn of Africa and this nation is showing important international qualities.

The leader of Ethiopia, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, stated that "Ethiopian forces did not enter Somalia to control the country, but to make sure that extremist forces will not be in power in that country," he said. "The Islamic Courts Union in Somalia declared jihad against Ethiopia twice, along with all sorts of anti-peace forces ... It was our responsibility to resolve the huge wave of jihadists." This comment was reported in The Guardian (UK) newspaper on May 22, 2008 and this statement is valid because it is clear that Ethiopia merely wants to stabilize Somalia and then for the international community to take charge.

However, it appears that the international community is not playing their part and only Uganda and some other nations are willing to consider sending troops. At the moment you have 1,800 Ugandan troops in Somalia and they represent the bulk of the African Union forces in Somalia. Therefore, the leader of Ethiopia is clearly dismayed by this and he 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."

So what does the international community want? Does the international community want an unstable Somalia where radical Islam takes power and global jihadists cause mayhem to other parts of the world? Or does the international community want a nation which is free from radical jihadists and a nation which becomes a nation state, instead of being a failed nation state? If the international community supports progress and a solution to a very complex issue, then they must support Ethiopia. Once this happens, then Ethiopia will glady leave Somalia and hand over the reigns of power to the Somali people and the international community which can help to stabilize this nation.

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



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Lee Jay Walker serves as Tokyo Corrsepondent 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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