Ethiopia in Somalia: One year
by Martin Plaut
The Ethiopian decision to invade Somalia
in December 2006 altered the balance of power in the Horn of Africa.
On 28 December 2006, they helped government
forces capture Islamists from the capital, Mogadishu, which they
had controlled for six months.
Ethiopian forces, which had been facing
Eritrea along their 1,000km border, but were otherwise confronting
few security threats, are now engaged on three fronts.
The forces in Somalia are now bogged down
and cannot withdraw, as Prime Minister Meles Zenawi recently acknowledged.
In addition to the conflict in Somalia
they now also confront a growing rebellion in the Somali region
of Ethiopia from the Ogaden National Liberation Front.
Knox Chitiyo, head of the Africa programme
at the Royal United Services Institute in London, believes the
Ethiopian military position is increasingly difficult.
"The government now has daggers pointing
at it from all directions," he says.
"It is facing a multi-front war with
no prospect of a military victory."
The invasion has:
0. Left Ethiopia bogged down in Somalia
0. Forced around 600,000 Somalis to flee their homes, in what
the UN has described as one of the worst humanitarian situations
0. Brought the United States into the conflict, allied to Ethiopia
0. Left Eritrea even more isolated from the international community
and threatened with being declared a terrorist state by Washington.
The US says it opposed the Ethiopian invasion, although it certainly
supplied assistance to the Ethiopian military once the invasion
had happened, and used its AC-130 gunships to try to kill senior
Islamists on at least one occasion in January 2007.
The US Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi
Frazer said: "We urged the Ethiopian military not to go into
This is acknowledged by Ethiopian officials,
who say the then head of US Central Command, General John Abizaid
told them the invasion would be a mistake, and warned that Somalia
would become "Ethiopia's Iraq."
Others analysts are not so apocalyptic.
Ethiopia argued it had no alternative but to confront the Union
of Islamic Courts (UIC) after it took power in Mogadishu in mid-2006,
because of the Islamists' alleged links with al-Qaeda.
The declaration of a jihad against Addis
Ababa by UIC leader Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys was seen as the last
But even if the UIC was routed, it has
now re-formed and has banded together with other forces in the
Eritrean-based Alliance for the Liberation of Somalia.
Sally Healy of the Royal Institute of
International Affairs argues that even if Ethiopia has made some
security gains, the suffering of ordinary Somalis has been disproportionately
"The cost for the people of Mogadishu
has been unacceptable," she says.
This reflects the view of the United Nations,
which now considers Somalia the worst humanitarian crisis in Africa.
Peter Smerdon of the World Food Programme
says it will have to try to feed at least 1.2 million Somalis
"More than 600,000 people were forced
from their homes in Mogadishu in 2007 by fighting and the worst
cereals harvest in 13 years in Middle and Lower Shabelle, traditionally
the most agriculturally productive regions of the whole country,"
Mr Smerdon says.
He warns the numbers needing food aid
could well rise if there is continued insecurity and any kind
of repeat of the floods and bad harvests seen in recent years.
So how might the Somali crisis be resolved?
Ethiopia has said it would consider withdrawing
its troops if an international peacekeeping force were put in
place, but UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said the situation
in the country makes such a deployment "neither realistic
The UN believes a new initiative is required,
bringing together Somalia's Transitional Federal Government and
This proposal was put forward by the UN's
senior Somali official, Ahmedou Ould Abdallah, when he addressed
the UN Security Council earlier this month.
"These discussions should preferably
be held in a location close to Somalia or in one where most observers
following the situation in the country are based," he said.
"I am preparing the agenda, identifying
a possible list of participants, and the timing for this process."
Ms Healy says this is really the only
Until an exit strategy can be achieved
for Ethiopia, its troops will remain in occupation of the country
- providing a cause around which the Islamists can rally.
"The Somali people must create a
situation that would allow the Ethiopians to leave," she
But 16 years after the country last had
a functioning national government, there seems little prospect
of President Abdullahi Yusuf asserting control of the whole country