Somalia: The Other (Hidden) War
by Carl Bloice, Black Commentator
http://www.zmag.org/, May 7, 2007
The U.S. bombing of Somalia took place
while the World Social Forum was underway in Kenya and three days
before a large anti-war action in Washington, January 27. Nunu
Kidane, network coordinator for Priority Africa Network (PAN)
was present in Nairobi, and after returning home asked out loud
how 'to explain the silence of the US peace movement on Somalia?'
Writing in the San Francisco community newspaper Bay View, she
suggested one reason I think valid: 'Perhaps US-based organizations
don't have the proper analytical framework from which to understand
the significance of the Horn of Africa region. Perhaps it is because
Somalia is largely seen as a country with no government and in
perpetual chaos, with 'fundamental Islamic' forces not deserving
of defense against the military attacks by US in search of 'terrorists'.'
To that I would add: the major U.S. media's role in the lead up
to the invasion and the suffering now taking place in the Horn
of Africa. 'The carnage and suffering in Somalia may be the worst
in more than a decade -- but you'd hardly know it from your nightly
news,' wrote Andrew Cawthorne from Nairobi for Reuters last week.
Amy Goodman's Democracy Now recently examined ABC's, NBC's and
CBS's coverage of Somalia in the evening newscasts since the invasion.
ABC and NBC had not mentioned the war at all. CBS mentioned the
war once, dedicating a whole three sentences to it. This, despite
the fact that there have been more casualties in this war than
in the recent fighting in Lebanon.
While the major U.S. print media has not completely ignored the
conflict, its reporting is even shallower than its reporting was
prior to the invasion of Iraq. As recently as last week, Reuters
was still maintaining that Ethiopian troops had invaded its neighbor
with the 'tacit' support of the United States. At least the New
York Times has taken to describing it as 'covert American support.'
Both characterizations obscure the truth. The attack on Somalia
was preplanned and would never have taken place without being
approved by the White House. We now know that the Bush Administration
gave the Ethiopian government the go ahead to ignore its own imposed
ban on weapons purchases from North Korea in order to gear up
for the battle ahead. U.S. military forces took part in the assault.
'US political and military alliance with Ethiopia - which openly
violated international law in its aggression towards Somalia,
is destabilizing the Horn region and begins a new shift in the
way the US plans to have permanent and active military presence
in Africa,' wrote Kadane.
The planning for the invasion actually began last summer when
the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) took control of the Somali government.
It, too, was supposed to be a slam dunk. The U.S.- Ethiopian version
of shock and awe was to swiftly bring about the desired regime
change, installing the Washington-favored, government- in-exile
of President Abdullahi Yusuf. Only a few days after their troops
entered the country, Ethiopian officials said their forces lacked
the resources to stay in Somalia and they would be leaving soon.
At one point, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi declared -
Bushlike - that the invaders' mission had been successfully accomplished
and two-thirds of his troops were returning home. That turned
out not to be true. Three months later the Ethiopians are still
in Somalia committing what numerous observers are calling horrendous
'The obviously indiscriminate use of heavy artillery in the capital
has killed and wounded hundreds of civilians, and forced over
200,000 more to flee for their lives.' Walter Lindner, German
Ambassador to Somalia, wrote to the country's acting president
last week. Displaced persons are 'at great risk of being subjected
to looting, extortion and rape - including by uniformed troops'
at a various "checkpoints." "Cholera - endemic
to the region during the rainy season - is beginning to cut a
swathe through the displaced,' he continued, adding that attempts
by international groups to offer assistance to the victims are
being obstructed by militias who are stealing supplies, demanding
'taxes' and threatening relief workers.
On April 3, the Associated Press reported that a senior European
Union security official had sent an email to the head of the EU
delegation for Somalia warning that 'Ethiopian and Somali military
forces there may have committed war crimes and that donor countries
could be considered complicit if they do nothing to stop them.
I need to advise you that there are strong grounds to believe
that the Ethiopian government and the transitional federal government
of Somalia and the African Union (peacekeeping) Force Commander,
possibly also including the African Union Head of Mission and
other African Union officials have, through commission or omission,
violated the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court,"
the e-mail said.
In the meantime, the Bush Administration has worked hard to raise
troops from nearby cooperative states to take over the job. Promises
were made, but with one exception, remain unfulfilled. In a telephone
conversation, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni promised President
Bush to provide between 1,000-2,000 troops to protect Somalia's
transitional government and train its troops. The Ugandans arrived
but are said to have been largely confined to their quarters,
refraining from taking part in the effort to crush the opposition.
Meanwhile, the 'Transitional Government' and Ethiopian forces
have been reported shelling civilian areas in the capital from
the government compound they are supposedly guarding.
None of the reporters on the scene appear to have explored the
question of why the other African governments have failed to send
troops but I think the answer is obvious. They would be called
'peacekeepers' but would be called upon to inject themselves into
a civil conflict on the side of an unpopular puppet government,
something they are loathed to do.
Three months ago, I wrote in this space that 'If the unfolding
events in Iraq are any indication, what started out as a swift
invasion and occupation could turn out to be a long and widening
war.' That was an understatement. As of this writing, about 1,300
people are reported to have perished in the fighting, over 4,300
wounded and nearly 400,000 have fled their homes.
Refugees trying to cross the Red Sea are reported drowning off
the Somali coast.
"There is a massive tragedy unfolding in Mogadishu, but from
the world's silence, you would think it's Christmas," the
head of a Mogadishu political think- tank told Cawthorne. 'Somalis,
caught up in Mogadishu's worst violence for 16 years, are painfully
aware of their place on the global agenda.'
"Nobody cares about Somalia, even if we die in our millions,"
Cawthorne was told by Abdirahman Ali, a 29- year-old father- of-two
who works as a security guard in Mogadishu.
And, just as in Iraq, the U.S. supported forces - the small
army of the enthroned and very unpopular government and the invaders
- are caught up in a civil war, set in motion by the invasion
and occupation. In addition to the forces loyal to the overthrown
Islamist government, the regime in power is opposed by the Hawiye,
one of the country's largest clans. A spokesman for the clan recently
called upon 'the Somali people, wherever it exists, to unity in
the fight against the Ethiopians. The war is not between Ethiopia
and our tribe, it is between Ethiopia and all Somali people,'
"For the major [world] leaders, there is a tremendous embarrassment
over Somalia," Michael Weinstein, a US expert on Somalia
at Purdue University told Reuters. "They have committed themselves
to supporting the interim government -- a government that has
no broad legitimacy, a failing government. This is the heart of
the problem. ... But Western leaders can't back out now, so of
course they have 100% no interest in bringing global attention
to Somalia. There is no doubt that Somalia has been shoved aside
by major media outlets and global leaders, and the Somali Diaspora
is left crying in the wilderness."
Last week, during what was described as a lull in the fight, Ethiopian
soldiers were moving from house to house in the capital Mogadishu,
taking hundreds of men away by the truckloads to an uncertain
fate. Meanwhile, the traumatized residents of the rubble strewn
city were reported gathering up bodies, many of them rotting,
for burial. 'Most of the displaced civilians are encamped on Mogadishu's
outskirts, where the scenes are medieval,' reported The Economist
last week. 'People lack water, food and shelter. Cholera has broken
out. The sick sometimes have to pay rent even to sit in the shade
of trees. Things will get worse with the rains, which have started.
Aid agencies say people will soon start dying in large numbers.
Some reckon Somalia is facing its biggest humanitarian crisis,
worse than in the early 1990s, when the state collapsed amid famine
Martin Fletcher wrote in the London Times, April 26, about five
days he spent in Mogadishu, during which he canvassed many ordinary
Somalis. 'Overwhelmingly, they loathed a government they consider
a puppet of the hated Ethiopians.'
Last week the Washington Post reported that interviews it conducted
in Ethiopia and testimony given to diplomats and human rights
groups, 'paint a picture of a nation that jails its citizens without
reason or trial, and tortures many of them -- despite government
claims to the contrary.'
'Such cases are especially troubling because the U.S. government,
a key Ethiopian ally, has acknowledged interrogating terrorism
suspects in Ethiopian prisons, where some detainees were sent
after being arrested in connection with Ethiopia's invasion of
Somalia in December,' said the Post story. 'There have been no
reports that those jailed have been tortured.' The following day,
the paper reported, 'More than 200 FBI and CIA agents have set
up camp in the Sheraton Hotel here in Ethiopia's capital and have
been interrogating dozens of detainees -- including a U.S. citizen
-- picked up in Somalia and held without charge and without attorneys
in a secret prison somewhere in this city, according to Ethiopian
and U.S. officials who say the interrogations are lawful.'
History will probably record the Ethiopian government's decision
to team up with the U.S. Administration for regime change in Somalia
as the height of folly. The country has enough problems at home.
This was brought into sharp relief April 24, when forces of an
ethnic- Somali separatist group, the Ogaden National Liberation
Front, raided an oil exploration facility, killing 74 people,
including nine employees of a Chinese oil company. 'As Much as
China's - and indeed America's - ally Meles Zenawi, the Ethiopian
prime minister, might like to be on top of security across the
Horn, he is not always able to deliver,' said the Financial Times
editorially April 26. 'His army is the region's most powerful
conventional force. But under his rule, Ethiopia is fraying again
around the edges. Armed separatist groups are now changing tactics.
Unable to match the army on the battlefield, the Ogaden National
Liberation Front has chosen the spectacular to draw attention
to its cause. Only recently, a separatist group in the north tried
something similar, by kidnapping a group of British diplomats.'
'Both horrific events can be attributed partly to fallout from
Ethiopia's messy intervention in neighboring Somalia,' said the
newspaper. 'Initial battles last December were decisively in Ethiopia's
favor. But like the Americans in Iraq, the Ethiopians in Somalia
were ill prepared for the aftermath. A growing insurgency has
delayed the withdrawal of their troops, exposing the government
to attacks at home. It has also inflamed tension among ethnic
Somalis in Ethiopia, who fight for the ONLF.
'Ironically, the Chinese workers killed near Ethiopia's border
with Somalia may have been victims more of Washington's policy
in the region than of Beijing's. The US has actively backed Mr.
Meles's Somali adventure. In doing so it has undermined multilateral
efforts to bring about peace.'
'There are two main questions that Colonel Yusuf's and Ethiopia's
western backers should now ask themselves,' said the Guardian
April 26. 'What was gained by encouraging the Ethiopian army to
topple the Islamic Courts? The US allowed Ethiopia to arm itself
with North Korean weapons and also participated in the turkey
shoot by using gunships against suspected insurgents hiding in
villages near the Kenyan border. Washington was convinced that
the Islamic Courts were sheltering foreign terror suspects. But
how many did they get and what price have Somalis paid?'
'America can be more heavily criticized for subordinating Somali
interests to its own desire to catch a handful of al- Qaeda men
who may (or may not) have been hiding in Mogadishu,' said The
Economist. 'None has been caught, many innocents have died in
air strikes, and anti-American feeling has deepened. Western,
especially European, diplomats watching Somalia from Nairobi,
the capital of Kenya to the south, have sounded the alarm. Their
governments have done little.'
Chatham House, a British think tank of the independent Royal Institute
of International Affairs, has concluded, "In an uncomfortably
familiar pattern, genuine multilateral concern to support the
reconstruction and rehabilitation of Somalia has been hijacked
by unilateral actions of other international actors -- especially
Ethiopia and the United States -- following their own foreign
Actually, there is no more reason to believe the Bush Administration
promoted this war, in clear violation of international law and
the UN Charter, 'to catch a handful of al-Qaeda men,' than that
the invasion of Iraq was to eliminate weapons of mass destruction.
What has unfolded in over the past three months, flows from much
larger strategic calculations in Washington.
The invasion and occupation of Somalia coincided with the Pentagon's
now operational plan to build a new 'Africa Command to deal with
what the Christian Science Monitor dubbed 'Strife, oil, and Al
When I first visited this subject shortly after the invasion,
I quoted a 10 percent figure for the proportion of petroleum our
country takes in from Africa and noted that some experts were
saying the U.S. will need to up that percentage to 25 by 2010.
Wrong again. Last week came the news that the U.S. now imports
more oil from Africa than the Middle East, with Nigeria, Angola
and Algeria providing nearly one-fifth of it -- more than from
Saudi Arabia. While the rulers in Addis Ababa claim the invasion
was a preemptive attack on a threatening Somalia and the Bush
Administration says giving a wink and a nod to the attack was
only a chance to capture a few terrorist holed up in Somalia,
for most of the media and diplomatic observers outside the U.S.
it was another strategic move to secure positioning in the region
where there is a lot of oil. On file are plans - put on hold
amid continuing conflicts - for nearly two-thirds of Somalia's
oil fields to be allocated to the U.S. oil companies Conoco, Amoco,
Chevron and Phillips. It was recently reported that the U.S. -
backed prime minister of Somalia has proposed enactment of a new
oil law to encourage the return of foreign oil companies to the
Salim Lone, spokesperson for the United Nation mission in Iraq
in 2003, now a columnist for The Daily Nation in Kenya, recently
told Democracy Now: 'the prime minister's attempt to lure Western
oil companies is on a par with his crying wolf about al-Qaeda
at every turn. Every time you interview a Somalia official, the
first thing you hear is al-Qaeda and terrorists. They're using
that. No one believes it. No one believes it at all, because all
independent reports say the contrary.'
I spoke with Kidane last week and she allowed that the situation
in Somalia might seem complex to many in the peace and social
justice movements. However, she said it is impossible to overlook
the parallel with the situation in the Iraq. 'It's aggression,
that is undeniable, and the same language is being used to justify
it,' she said. Kidane is on target in insisting that the movements
for peace and justice in the U.S. - and elsewhere - must take
up the issue. The unlawful U.S.- Ethiopian invasion and occupation
of that country and the accompanying human suffering and human
rights abuses constitute a new - and still mostly hidden -
war in many ways similar to that in Iraq. And, waged for the same
[BC Editorial Board member Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco,
a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees
of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked
for a healthcare union.]