Ethiopia’s Withdrawal from Somalia: Move towards Peace…or Doom?

Jan 13, 2009 1:28pm

DANA HUGHES is the ABC News Digital Reporter based in Nairobi The news that Ethiopia is officially beginning its handover of security in Somalia was met with cheers by Somalis over the last few days. Some of the estimated 1 million people who have fled Mogadishu since the Ethiopian invasion two years ago are returning to their homes, feeling that they are now safe from the shelling and alleged human rights abuses committed by the Ethiopian forces and the Somali government soldiers fighting along side. Ethiopia, backed by the United States and other Western countries, invaded its neighbor with the objectives of ousting the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a government that was viewed as being radical and an al-Qaeda sympathizer, and bringing peace to a country that has been embroiled in conflict since 1991. The Ethiopian troops succeeded in ousting the ICU, but the cost has been high. In the last two years more than 10,000 civilians have been killed, the majority of the country is on the brink of famine, pirates rule the coastal waters, and aid groups have all pulled out their international workers calling the country “too dangerous” to fully operate in. Many analysts say Somalia is now in the worst shape it’s ever been. The United Nations has called the country “the worst humanitarian disaster in Africa.” As Ethiopia pulls out of strategic bases in Mogadishu and continues to formally hand over security it is also not clear who the country’s handing it over to. There are reports that Western diplomats are hoping that the overall hatred of the Ethiopian troops, and subsequent happiness in their withdrawal, will help propel the general population to support a moderate Islamic government. But over the last two years a strong insurgency has emerged spawning many radical Islamic break-away groups who now control most of the country. The most powerful, as well as one the most radical, is al-Shabab; a group on the U.S. terrorist list, and known for its brutal enforcement of Islamic sharia law.  I interviewed an undercover Kenyan journalist who witnessed al-Shabab leaders behead a young man for converting to Christianity. I also talked to a former al-Shabab fighter named Ali who claims he was forced to join the group. He told me that young men in Somalia are often given a choice: join us or die. “Those who have been forced are many,” said Ali. “They say you are either supporting the Ethiopians or you support us. Or if not, we’ll kill you.” Last year a 13-year-old girl was stoned to death for adultery after she reported being raped to the local al-Shabab authority. The group has also pledged it’s allegiance to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, developing techniques such as kidnapping, beheading and suicide bombings as means of warfare. The Ethiopians are not the group’s only target. Ironically, it also fights some of the same Islamic leaders who were ousted by the Ethiopians two years ago. Many of those have signed a peace agreement last October with members of Somalia’s Ethiopia-backed transitional government. The deal is supposed to eventually lead to a power-sharing government. But al-Shabab and other insurgent groups didn’t participate in the talks, and have refused to recognize the agreement. There are reports that yesterday an insurgent group had already overtaken one of the bases the Ethiopians withdrew from. One local journalist based in Mogadishu told me even before Ethiopia started the withdrawal process, he expected to see “the fall of Mogadishu” within the next few months. Despite the allegations that the ICU government in 2006 was harboring and sympathetic to known terrorists, during its 6-month run, Somalia experienced relative stability. It’s unclear whether the country can experience the same under al-Shabab, but Ali doesn’t think so. When asked what he thinks will happen if al-Shabab takes over the country, he predicted, “Somalia now will be going under hell.” The international community seems to be at a loss in dealing with the situation. The United States wants the United Nations to send in peace keepers, but the UN says at this point there is no peace to keep. Uganda and Burundi have committed peacekeeping troops through the African Union, but those troops have also been targeted and without more resources both countries have said their commitment is not sustainable. I spoke with Vince Crawley the spokesman for Africom, the U.S. military Africa Command based in Germany, about Ethiopia’s withdrawal and what it means for the stability in Somalia. He says Africom “tends not to comment on the movement of other nations,” but that they’re “watching the situation closely because it affects insecurity in the area.” When asked whether the U.S. military will take any action, Crawley says that “We would only take action in support of U.S. policy.” It remains to be seen how or if that policy will change once Ethiopia has pulled out fully and under a new Obama administration.  Read more blogs by Dana Hughes Read more blogs by ABC News Staff

You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus