By making the war against terrorism the cornerstone of its policy towards the Horn of Africa, the Bush administration is ignoring the fundamental issues that have beset this region with conflict and human tragedy. By superimposing the war on terrorism on local existential conflicts, the Bush administration is elevating them into global crisis. By allying lopsidedly with Ethiopian government, the Bush administration has alienated Eritreans, Somalis and dissident forces in Ethiopia and, hence, broadened the anti-American sentiment in the region. Regional instability is cause and the spread of terrorism symptom of the crisis. If the U.S. acts as an independent arbiter cognizant of the fundamental issues of local and regional conflicts, it has a chance to positively influence the developments in the region.

The Horn of Africa is a region of strategic interest. It is a bridge between Africa and South East Asia. It lies along a busy shipping route that is an important oil corridor for the whole world. About a half dozen states and over one hundred million people live in close proximity. Development in this region would have a ripple effect on East, Central and North Africa as well as the Arabian Peninsula.

During the Cold War, the Horn of Africa was a scene of proxy war between the superpowers. The superpowers’ strategic interests overrode the needs and aspirations of the people in the region. Issues of governance and economic development were relegated to the back burner, while ruthless authoritarian leaders such as Haile Selassie and Mengistu Haile Mariam of Ethiopia and Siad Barre of Somalia reigned supreme with the aid of the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Thus, the states comprising this region slid into poverty, famine and incessant conflicts.

In the post Cold War era, the situation in the region deteriorated so much that alleviating the human tragedy—the plight of millions of people trapped in abject poverty, famine, displacement, disease, internecine civil and interstate wars—became a focus of global concern. International involvement, though inspired by good intentions, lacked resolve. The United Nation´s failed intervention in the early 1990s to rescue starving Somali people from warlords in Somalia, the abandoned Peace Mission to Eritrea and Ethiopia 2002 to 2008, and the failure to motivate the government in Ethiopia to abide by the 2005 election and facilitate the transition to democratically elected government are highlights of the inadequacy of international diplomacy.

After 9/11, the United States’ interest in the Horn of Africa became heightened. Since Somalia was a failed state with armed warlords and thugs in free reign, the US grew concerned that Somalia would be a training and a staging ground for al-Qaida. The Bush administration alleged that some of the armed factions within the Union of Islamic Courts were allied with and aided by al-Qaida. It also alleged that individuals involved with the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya were harbored in Somalia. However, the question is, when the US looks at complex issues that affect the stability of the whole region through a narrow and simplistic prism, will it be abating or aiding the spread of terrorism?

What are the main factors that have led to regional instability? First, there is the endless factional war in Somalia. Second, there is the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Third, there is the lack of democratic governance in all the involved states. These problems are so intertwined, that one cannot be solved without addressing the others.

Factional war in Somalia

Somalia has existed for 17 years without any functional government. Somalia is a failed state. In 1991, the military dictator Siad Barre was overthrown by armed factions, which were organized according to clans. The factions fought each other viciously while the country descended into anarchy. In 1991, a breakaway entity, the Somaliland Republic, proclaimed its independence. Since then several clans have set up their own mini-states in Puntland and Jubaland. In the south the warlords continued to fight each other savagely for control of territories. Meanwhile, the anarchy and drought led to tragic famine that cost the lives of 300,000 Somalis. Millions more were forced into squalid refugee camps both inside and outside the country. This turmoil led the UN and US to send military forces to aid in the relief effort by bringing law and order. This brought the international forces in direct conflict with the warlords. However, after the infamous Mogadishu incident in October 1993 where 18 Americans were killed fighting Somali warlord Aideed, the US ended its direct involvement in Somalia.

The United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNSOM) continued its effort to create a national reconciliation government. After a decade of fruitless effort, in August 2004, a Transitional Federal Government (TFG) with Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed as its president was formed. The new government, however, spent its first year operating out of Kenya because Somalia remained too violent and unstable. The TFG is made of rival elements openly fighting for personal power. It lacks a social base and popular mandate. It has no political organization or administrative structure. The forces that hold it together are international community resolve to create a recognizable state organ in Somalia and the Ethiopian government’s desire to see a power amenable to its interests. Eventually, on February 2006 it settled in the provincial town of Baidoa, where it could count on Ethiopia´s protection against local insurgents.

At the beginning the US was not involved with UNSOM’s state building efforts. It was focused on countering the insurgence of Islamist militias with possible ties to al-Qaida. Islamist movements in Somalia go back to the early 1990s. They did not augment into a force until 2000 when Islamic clerics and business people formed what is known as the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) to fight against the warlords. In late 2005, the US became concerned about the rise of the Islamist movement with possible links to al-Qaida. It encouraged a group of warlords in Mogadishu to join in resistance against the Islamic militias. Around February 2006, the warlords formed the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism but, despite monetary support from the United States, they were defeated by the Islamists by June 2006. This engagement was more characteristic of gang turf warfare and drive-by shootings than organized forces fighting for control. UIC, having successfully ousted rival warlords from Mogadishu, declared Islamic rule. Mogadishu was at peace for the first time in sixteen years. When the UIC marched towards Bideo to oust the TFG, Ethiopia threatened to intervene. The UIC declared jihad against Ethiopia. The US State Department had tried for some time to persuade Ethiopia not to provoke a conflict in Somalia but began to change its policy in late 2006.

The shift came when Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer began voicing concerns about al-Qaida, linking the Islamic courts to terrorists. “The problem is that the Council of Islamic Courts is led by extreme radicals right now, not the group of moderates that we all hoped would emerge,” Frazer said on Dec. 14, 2006 ibid

In December 2006, the Ethiopian army, with support from the US, routed the UIC and occupied Mogadishu. The US provided logistic, air support and diplomatic cover for Ethiopia´s invasion of Somalia. This was a major change in the US´s policy and its alignment with the divergent actors in the region.

In Ethiopia, the United States developed an ally in the region that could act as a boots-on-the-ground force and be used to gather intelligence without sending U.S. Troops Ethiopia benefited from the counterterrorism training and loans to buy military equipment. ibid

Ethiopian and US intervention in Somalia, however—far from bringing down radical elements in the Islamic movement—created opportunity for the radicals to broaden and impassion their followers and consolidate their military forces. The invasion was initially successful and swift. The UIC was routed. The TFG and Ethiopian forces not only occupied the capitol Mogadishu but chased the fleeing UIC as far south as the Kenyan border, while the US air force—taking off from its military base in Djibouti—strafed the core UIC leadership. Kenya closed its border, while the US patrolled the sea to keep the UIC leadership from escaping.

Ala Iraq, however, invading a country has proved a much easier affair than pacifying it. Ethiopian occupying forces have met with united and fierce resistance. UIC´s armed wing, al-Shabab, regrouped and started staging guerilla warfare both inside Mogadishu and across the southern Somalia. The impact of this warfare on the Somali population has been outrageous. The recent reports of Amnesty International on the situation are damning.

Amnesty International has documented ongoing human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict in Somalia, including unlawful killings, rape, arbitrary detention, and attacks on civilians and civilian property. Some 6,000 civilians are estimated to have been killed in Mogadishu and across southern and central Somalia in 2007. Over 600,000 are reported to have been displaced in 2007, and a further 50,000 so far this year, joining some 400,000 already displaced from previous periods, for a total of over one million internally displaced persons in southern and central Somalia today. In addition, an estimated 335,000 refugees fled Somalia in 2007, seeking safety in other countries. On February 14, 2008 UNICEF announced that some 90,000 children could die in the next few months if the international community doesn’t increase funding for nutrition, water and sanitation programs in Somalia. Our findings from November and December included testimony and other information reporting frequent incidents of rape and pillaging by the TFG, a recent surge in violent abuses by Ethiopian armed forces in Somalia, and the targeting of Somali journalists and human rights defenders by all parties to the conflict. House to house searches and raids in neighborhoods around Mogadishu were carried out by both TFG and Ethiopian forces, as were violent abuses against individuals and groups on the streets. http://HORN OF AFRICACentering Human Rights in U_S_ Policy on Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea.htm

After the fall of Kismayo, a major seaport in the southern Somalia, on August 22, 2008, the momentum has decisively turned in favor of al-Shabaab. Many towns have fallen into their hands without resistance from TFG forces. They have gained control of most of southern Somalia. The Ethiopian government has declared it will withdraw its forces unilaterally. This, however, remains to be seen.

Some see Ethiopia’s threat to leave as a bluff to elicit funds from western countries afraid of al-Shabab entrenching itself in southern Somalia.

With the withdrawal of the Ethiopia, the fall of Mogadishu and the demise of TFG looks eminent.

Will the UIC splinter into violent factions in the Somali tradition? Will it unite Somalia and bring peace and relief to its hapless people? Or will it pursue futile jihad? The UIC itself is an amorphous group. There is a rift between the leadership who have received shelter abroad in Eritrea and Djibouti and the militants who have staged the armed resistance against the TFG and Ethiopian forces inside Somalia. The former created an organization which they called the Alliance for Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS). ARS was split into Asmara and Djibouti wings. The latter is in negotiations with TFG for power sharing while the former is opposed.

Only real or perceived external intervention has proven a rallying force to unite Somalis after their long fractured existence. Left alone, Somalis splinter like amoeba as soon as a significant mass is attained. What better enemy than Ethiopia, their historical rival, to unite them? They have fought major wars in the past few decades. The main setback for the TFG has been its alliance with and dependence on Ethiopia. The US openly backing Ethiopia´s invasion has created all the trappings for jihad. That was the intention of UIC in declaring jihad against Ethiopia. Ethiopia and the US walked right into this trap.

What is the motive for Ethiopia´s reckless invasion of Somalia?

Meles Zenawi is an astute political strategist. As a former guerrilla leader, he would not barge into this land mine unless there is a very enticing payoff for his actions. The argument given by Ethiopia for its invasion is that the UIC constitutes a threat to Ethiopia. However, Ethiopia can strategically and sustainably defend itself from within its own borders without shouldering the responsibility of an occupation. As poor as Ethiopia is, playing an occupying role makes no sense at all.

The only plausible explanation, therefore, is that the Ethiopian government is trying to deflect the US and the Western countries’ concerns about its human rights abuses within its borders and entice the US to be its uncritical ally in its conflict with Eritrea. In this it has greatly succeeded.

When in 2007 the Human Rights Watch report came out highlighting egregious human rights abuses by the Ethiopian government, particularly in the Ogaden region—an area inhabited by ethnic Somali—the Bush Administration and the Congress had opposite responses. (see Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer tried to explain that security interests with Ethiopia overrode human rights concerns,

I know that we have a sustained, common, vital national security interest with Ethiopia as well as with the other countries in the region…We also of course have a very good relationship with Ethiopia so we don´t have to discuss our concerns in the public,

On the other hand, members of House of Representative came out expressing their concern about the human rights abuses and the need to put sanctions on Ethiopia. The Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act was approved by voice vote in the House of Representatives.

It would bar U.S. non-humanitarian, security and other assistance, with the exception of peacekeeping and counter-terrorism operations, and impose a visa ban on Ethiopian officials involved in lethal force or accused of gross human rights violations.….However, the White House, which considers Ethiopia an ally in the fight against terrorism, has opposed the legislation despite a provision giving the president authority to ignore the ban on assistance.

Both Ethiopia and Eritrea were so vigorously courting the US that they were two of only five African states to be listed in “The Coalition of the Willing” (the list of countries the Bush administration fashioned in March 2003 to demonstrate international support for its invasion of Iraq). In this competition to be the US’s darling, Ethiopia won. It is reaping handsome rewards and an elevated status as a strategic ally against terrorism. Ethiopia nets about half a billion dollar in economic and military aid from the US every year.

The US´s fall out with Eritrea.

One development that has aggravated the Somali factional war and turned it into epicenter of regional conflict is that Somalia has become a stage for proxy war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Since Ethiopia is trying to put the TFG in power in Somalia, Eritrea supports the UIC as a counterbalance—despite how little they have in common. This has led the Bush Administration to threaten to add Eritrea to the list of “States Sponsoring Terrorism.” While Eritrea characterizes the UIC as a Somali organization representing Somali interests, the US regards it as a terrorist organization. While the Bush Administration has not acted on its threat so far, it has taken harsh measures such as suspending economic aid and imposing a unilateral arms embargo on Eritrea. Eritrea´s government has shown its defiance by issuing crass, undiplomatic condemnations.

In 1998, Ethiopia and Eritrea fought for two years a savage war, which cost the lives of over 100,000 people, displaced millions of civilians and destroyed infrastructures on both sides. Only the concerted action of the international community was able to force these two belligerent states to cease their campaign of destruction and come to the negotiating table. In 2000, the US was able to convince both sides to agree to a binding arbitration. The US, the European Union, the African Union and Algeria are signatory to what is known as the Algiers Agreement. The UN put a seven thousand strong peace keeping force, known as UN Mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE) in a demilitarized zone between the two countries. When the Boundary Commission accorded the dusty town of Bademe to Eritrea in April 2002, however, Ethiopia reneged on its agreement to accept the ruling. For the last six years a precarious standoff has existed between the two states. The Boundary Commission was unable to carry out the actual demarcation on the ground and disbanded itself before creating anything more than a virtual demarcation.

Eritrea was exasperated by the international community, particularly the US’s, lack of response to Ethiopia´s defiance. In 2002, the US was not interested in pressing Ethiopia to accept the ruling of the Boundary Commission. It was busy building a strategic alliance with Ethiopia to combat Islamists in Somalia. Eritrea started throwing up roadblocks against the UNMEE as a way to force the issue into the spotlight. In 2008, the UN Security Council disbanded UNMEE, even though its own assessment concluded that the two states had amassed over 200, 000 soldiers in trenches separated by only by few hundred yards and that full scale warfare between the two military forces was an eminent danger.

It is not hard to surmise that the second war between Ethiopia and Eritrea will be more devastating than the first. Both have one of the largest and best equipped and well trained armies in Africa south of the Sahara Desert. Protracted war will lead to anarchy. One or both states will end up being a failed state, which will create fertile ground for terrorists local as well as global. The resultant human tragedy and instability will make the current Somali situation seem like a minor problem.

With sanctions, the UN and the US could apply enough leverage to pressure the belligerent governments to settle their border issue peacefully and save the region any more human tragedy and anarchy. Instead of being an independent arbiter between Eritrea and Ethiopia, the U.S. became a party to the conflict by allying with Ethiopia. The US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, was one of the earliest to call for the disbandment of UNMEE. The UN abandonment of the peace mission to Ethiopia and Eritrea is irresponsible, an abandonment of its mandate to protect innocent civilians from the ravages of wars.

The US stance towards Eritrea not only alienates Eritreans who support the current government, but also those who are opposed to it. The US policy is viewed by Eritreans as undermining their hard won independence. Eritreans remember the US’s silence during the thirty years Eritreans fought for their independence, not to mention the period under Emperor Haile Selassie, when the US armed and trained the Ethiopian government forces which were implementing a scorched earth policy on Eritrean villages. The last outcome the US would wish to see is that its policy driving Eritrea into another breeding ground of terrorism.

Issue of Peace and Governance in the region and the US stance.

Lack of peace is the fundamental problem of the region. Lack of peace has robbed the people of the ability to cultivate their land and feed themselve. Year after year, millions of people in Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea are ravaged by famine and dependent on international aid. Many people in Somalia and in the Ogaden section of Ethiopia cannot even get international aid because violent conflict.

Next to peace, the issue of governance is most important. The region is in violent turmoil over which forms of governance are most compatible with the reality of its different peoples. The governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea are spending billions of dollars to maintain their constant state of war—billions that could be better spent on feeding their famine stricken people, caring for their malnourished children, buying medicine to keep their people from suffering and dying from treatable diseases and epidemics, and developing their resources to improve the lives of their citizens. These governments use this state of incessant conflict to justify their authoritarian rule, to suspend human rights and to avoid accountability. These policies, however, bring them in conflict with their own constituency; their inner core is crumbling; their opponents are growing stronger and, unfortunately, more militant. The US should be wary of forming strategic alliances with these governments. To do so is to be guilty by association.

The US must stand above the fray. It must declare that respect for human rights and human welfare a major factor of its foreign policy—that it will work with any government that respects these principles and will distance itself from any government that violates them. It should make its policy clear to the people in power as well as to the common man on the street. The US should not be caught apologizing for or excusing its association. Amnesty International has expressed this concern forcefully.

Amnesty International is deeply concerned by widespread egregious human rights violations being perpetrated against civilians throughout the Horn of Africa. Ending current violations and preventing future violations in Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea is perhaps one of the greatest challenges of our time, requiring immediate action and long-term planning, attention to domestic conditions within the context of a regional perspective. Each set of country concerns must be considered independently. As with Ethiopian government repression of its domestic opposition, journalists and human rights defenders, and the humanitarian crisis in the Somali region (known as the Ogaden). In Eritrea an authoritarian government maintains a stranglehold on freedom of expression, freedom of religion and press freedom, while detaining thousands of dissidents, many in the harshest conditions. In Somalia a transitional government without popular mandate has not only failed to protect over one million displaced civilians, but has failed to hold its own troops accountable for violations against them. Compounding these challenges is the intervention of Ethiopian forces in Somalia, and recent threats of renewed conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea along their disputed border. Further compounding these challenges is a flawed U.S. foreign policy which has placed short-sighted counter-terror concerns at the forefront of U.S. involvement in the region, while human rights and humanitarian concerns are routinely pushed aside. G:HORN OF AFRICACentering Human Rights in U_S_ Policy on Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea.htm

In conclusion

The Bush’s Administration’s policy towards the Horn of Africa has been narrowly proscribed. It has been preoccupied with fighting terrorism. The War on Terror has been high on saber rattling and low on intelligent strategy. War is an epidemic in the Horn of Africa. Declaring war on terrorism in this region has been like throwing fuel on a wild fire. The US´s stance on Somalia has made things worse rather than better. The Human Rights Watch 2008 extensive report on the Somalia crisis succinctly summarized it:

There is strong evidence that US policies in Somalia have aggravated the very concerns about terrorism they seek to address. Because of Washington´s unreserved backing of Ethiopia´s military intervention in Somalia, many Somalis see the United States as complicit in the military occupation of their country and in the atrocities they have suffered at the hands of ENDF forces…The aftermath of US airstrikes have left a more lasting impression in the minds of many Somalis than US funding for humanitarian assistance

US efforts to combat global terrorism are legitimate. But the US’s role in world politics is too big to be driven by a single issue. The US should affirm in an unequivocal terms that respect for human rights, peace and social justice are the pillars of its policy in the Horn of Africa. This course is the best long-term strategy for eliminating support for terrorism in the region.

The US should help Ethiopia untangle itself from Somalia. Ethiopia should immediately and unconditionally withdraw its forces from Somalia. So long as Ethiopia is bogged down in Somalia, the struggle between Somalis to define their state cannot be resolved. Instead, radical elements will continue to inflame sentiments of jihad.

Regarding the simmering conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia, the US should press for a peaceful, binding resolution based on prior agreements and commitments. Ethiopia should accept the ruling of the Border Commission and allow the demarcation of the border, while Eritrea should accept diplomatic norms and refrain from actions that further destabilize the region. Both states will initially resist the pressure but, since they are dependent on aid, they will not resist for long.

Answers to the intractable problems of the Region should not be imposed from outside, however well intended; rather, they should grow organically within the Region. The UN´s effort to impose the TFG on the Somali anarchy showed the shortcomings of external top down solutions. Whether Somalia should have a government that is clan based or a modern state structure, unitary or federal, Islamic or secular should be freely determined by Somali people.

The US should strive to create broad alliances with forces within the countries and between the countries, Eritrea and al-Shabab, Ethiopia and TFG, Arab nations and African nations, the EU and the UN, opposition forces in the countries and in Diasporas. All should participate in finding solutions to the problems afflicting the Region.

The Obama Administration needs to address and rectify the US policy in the Horn of Africa with ultimate speed and sense of urgency because the situation in the Region is changing dramatically fast. As a neutral arbiter standing above the turmoil that has engulfed the region, The US can be a moderating force, a beacon for peace and democracy—instead of being a partisan to the conflicts and a part of the problem.