July 27, 2006
Expanding Regional Influence in the Horn
Mail & Guardian, the South African newspaper, had an interesting article today on Eritrea’s and Ethiopia’s involvement in Somalia. Eyewitnesses reported that a cargo plane landed in Mogadishu carrying arms. All the players are refusing to comment on what was aboard the plane that was chartered from Kazakhstan.There already are allegations that Ethiopia and Eritrea are using Somalia to fight a proxy war and expand their influence in the Horn of Africa.
The Mail & Guardian article reports that Eritrea on Thursday called for the speedy withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Somalia, where they have been deployed to protect the country’s fledgling government. Eritrea warned that Ethiopia’s continued stay risked provoking a regional conflict.
I’ve posted other items on Somalia, including last month a response from the Union of Islamic Courts in Somalia addressing fears of extremism in the country. The UIC have stated that they do not want to impose a Taliban-style state, but rather want Somali citizen to decide on the type of representation they want.
Hopefully, without contradicting anything I’ve written in the past, I will attempt to give a play-by-play account of the different players in Somalia:
The Warlords:After 15 years of an absent government in Somalia when Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991, the warlords divided the capital Mogadishu and the southern part of the country into fiefdoms. They then united to form the Anti-Terrorism Alliance to tackle the Islamists, who they accused of sheltering foreign al-Qaeda militants.
The Union of Islamic Courts:The Islamists have denied the allegations of the warlords and the US. They claim they are not a political movement, but are in Mogadishu as a grassroots movement to establish law and order in a city without any judicial system. Because they have attempted to restore order in the capital and its surrounding areas, after so many years of looting, plundering, Killing and kidnapping by the warlords, they’ve received popular support from the Somali people.
The US:Bush’s administration was accused by the new Somali government and the Islamists of backing the warlords recently defeated by the Islamists. The US has denied these reports. But according to eyewitnesses, the US did secretly back an alliance of warlords earlier this year when they tried to defeat the Islamic militia and capture three suspected al-Qaida members who were allegedly hiding out within the group. The warlords were defeated, and the United States now supports the government. Bush has said he will make sure Somalia does not become a safe haven for al-Qaeda. He probably doesn’t want it to become an Islamic state either.
The Somali Government: Established two years ago with the support of the UN to help Somalia emerge from many years of lawlessness and have a central authority, the administration under Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Ghedi, also includes some former warlords. So far it has failed to establish any authority beyond the town Baidoa.
Bin Laden & Al-Qaeda:There have been reports of foreign fighters fighting alongside the Islamists. Supposedly, Bin Laden himself (via video tape) has urged Somalis to support the militants and warned other nations not to send troops there.
Ethiopia:A key-ally of the US in East Africa, Ethiopia has sent troops into Somalia to help stabilize the new government which controls just one town–Baidoa–some 250 km north of Mogadishu. Prime Minister Ghedi previously accused Ethiopia of supporting the Warlord Alliance, before they were defeated.
Eritrea: According to the UN, Eritrea has reportedly backed the Islamic courts to counteract Ethiopia’s growing influence in Somalia. Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a war from 1998-2000 over a strip of land that is their common border. Both countries deny being involved in Somalia, despite eyewitness accounts.
A UN committee monitoring the arms embargo on Somalia has names Ethiopia, Eritrea and Yemen as supporting the different factions. A fourth country which wasn’t names is believed to be the US under the guise of expanding its war on terrorism.