By Cameron Duodu, a Ghanaian novelist and journalist (THE GUARDIAN, 05/01/07):
If the 20th century taught us anything, it was that powerful armies can be brought to their knees by small groups of fighters who are not afraid to die. Small Vietnam humiliated mighty America, and the “stone-age” mujahideen of Afghanistan sent the Soviet army packing. With all this so apparent, why has the Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi, sent his army into Somalia?The transitional government had been fighting a civil war against the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC). Meles may think the former has the people’s backing, but that poses the question: if it’s so popular, why does it need the Ethiopian army to fight for it?
Ethiopia fought a war against the Somali government in the late 1970s and early 80s, but there has been peace on the border for over a decade. So Ethiopia cannot point to internal safety concerns in allowing itself to be drawn into invading its neighbour.
The crisis has now escalated sharply with the deployment of US naval forces to prevent UIC fighters from fleeing, the US claiming that some have ties to terrorist organisations, including al-Qaida.
The Ethiopian invasion will certainly be resisted by Somali patriots. It will initially be classified as “successful” because it will establish a semblance of law and order. But the routed UIC, although weakened by internal squabbles, will seek safe havens nearby, regroup and woo back its supporters.
The UIC knows that when faced with a conventional army backed by an airforce, the best option is to disappear into the undergrowth or behind the desert dunes. The Somalis have been “disappearing” like that for centuries, always coming back to harass those who claim to have defeated them.
The danger this time is that the resistance will draw in other countries. Eritrea, which fought its own costly war with Ethiopia, does not need an invitation to help its enemy’s enemy. The UIC is also said to be receiving financial assistance from rich leaders of sympathetic Islamic sects, drawn from such countries as Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the Gulf sheikhdoms. And the most explosive fuel will be the involvement of the US on the side of Ethiopia. General John Abizaid, commander for the US central command, is reported to have visited Ethiopia last month, after which Ethiopia moved from providing the Somali government with “military advice” to open armed intervention.
The US objective is to safeguard access to the Red Sea for its oil tankers, and to prevent al-Qaida cells being nurtured in Somalia or in Ethiopia, which has a sizeable Muslim minority. Now, by allowing the US to persuade it to invade, Ethiopia has signalled to the Islamic world that it is willing to join the US in its “war on terror”.
Can Ethiopia afford to be universally regarded as a US puppet? In the African Union (AU) – which has its headquarters in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa – US policy is already causing enormous confusion. For months the AU has been trying, unsuccessfully, to persuade the UN security council to bolster the AU force in Darfur, Sudan. Yet within days of Ethiopia’s invasion, the security council, under US instigation, was able to pass a resolution asking for an AU force to be sent to Somalia. Clearly, the US wants to legitimise the invasion by placing it under the umbrella of the very AU that it has humiliated for months.
As one of the poorest countries on earth, Ethiopia needs to have the solidarity of the “wretched of the earth”. In allowing itself to be associated with George Bush’s foreign policy, it is placing itself on the wrong side of the struggle between the weak and the strong.