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Last Updated: Feb 11, 2014 - 5:11:05 AM
Ethiopia’s Invasion of Somalia

by I.M. Lewis

Reports that the forces of ‘transitional president’ Abdillahi Yusuf and his Ethiopian allies have committed war crimes against civilians in the course of trying to subdue the citizens of Mogadishu is no surprise. Much more surprising, and morally satisfying, is the news that the European ministers and officials, who have so vociferously and uncritically supported Abdillahi in his bid to represent himself as Somali President, may also be implicated in these charges. Whatever the judicial position, the European Union is certainly morally guilty of doing its upmost to prop up the essentially otiose transitional federal government, whose only significant political action since its formation has been to get the Ethiopians to try to force their authority on Somalia. What is particularly astonishing, and in my view inexcusable, is the imperialistic behaviour of the European politicians and bureacrats in completely ignoring Somali public opinion and its overwhelming rejection of Col. Abdillahi and his followers.


There are many causal strands in the present conflagration of violence in Mogadishu, but the most obvious and the most regrettable is the external recognition that Abdillahi has been given by people who clearly have closed their minds to his lack of support within Somalia. One could say that it is only ignorance, but I am afraid that it is worse than that, it is wilful ignorance on the part of those whose democratic values seem not to be applied to the Horn of Africa. There is certainly no lack of ignorance within Somalia on how Abdillahi was appointed transitional president with massive Ethiopian support and how, with Ethiopian prompting, he chose as prime minister their candidate, a connection of Prime Minister Meles himself. These links to Addis Ababa underlie the Ethiopian invasion. Another obvious link is,of course, the loosely organised Islamic Courts whose unwisely bellicose threats to Ethiopia, were provoked by Abdillahi’s reliance on the Ethiopians. Thus, in Somali ears the uninformed chorus of EU approval appeared to embrace the supporting role of the Ethiopians and to attack the Islamists. It only remained for the Americans (for whom the Ethiopians acted locally) to enter the fray, inevitably against the Islamic Courts a tiny minority of whose leaders were actually extremists.


The Americans, of course, are equally ignorant of the really amazing achievements of the Islamists’ brief months in power in southern Somalia.The Courts, with their mostly humble and poorly educated local leaders, did more to restore order and social progress   there than the US has done in Iraq in four years. Nevertheless, the suspected connexions of a minority   of the Courts’ leaders played into the hands of Abdillahi who, not for the first time,   portrayed his enemies as Muslim terrorists. He still does this, of course, and fails to distinguish those who actually fit the description and those who are simply local citizens who consider that he has no legitimacy. As a former separatist guerilla leader, like his Ethiopian friend Meles, he might be expected to easily recognise birds of the same feather. However, he protests suspiciously loudly and in his claims, to be fighting Islamist terrorists includes in the same rubric non-Islamist tribal militias representing the ordinary citizens of Mogadishu. After the terrible atrocities which have been comitted in his name these local people will never forgive him. Abdillahi thus has no chance of ever ruling Mogadishu—except under the kind of dictatorial oppression that his ignominious predecessor General Mohamed Siyad Barre practised with American and Italian support.


Is this what the European Union wants? God knows what the Americans might want: the obscene results of their imperialist adventures in other parts of the Islamic world give little cause for optimism


I.M. Lewis

London School of Economics

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