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Ethiopian Generals and Somali Warlords


The Bush Administration's Dubious Allies in the Horn of Africa
By Ken Silverstein.

Sources Add Ethiopia to the list of countries cashing in on their cooperation with the Bush Administration's “war on terrorism.” Two weeks ago, with the world's attention focused on the Israel–Hezbollah war, several thousand heavily-armed Ethiopian troops tiptoed into neighboring Somalia. Their mission was to halt the advance of a radical Islamic group that already controls most of the country and to provide support for the weak transitional government based in Baidoa. It's not clear if the Ethiopian army's move into Somalia had the tacit approval of the Bush Administration, but the U.S. certainly did not ardently oppose its intervention.

The Islamic militia is mustered in the mullah-led Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), which the United States characterizes as a Taliban-style movement with ties to Al Qaeda. In June the UIC drove a U.S.-supported coalition of more secular (but nasty) warlords from Mogadishu, Somalia's capital.

The warlords had marketed themselves as the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism, and had received money and assistance from the CIA. “Everybody is playing the counterterrorism card on the Bushies,” said one former intelligence officer who has followed the situation. “All you have to do is say 'counterterrorism,' like this silly alliance in Somalia, and you'll be given guns, money, and trucks. It's becoming a sick joke.”

Like the Somali warlords, Ethiopia has proved adept at the game. Following the 9/11 attacks, the country emerged as a key American ally in the Horn of Africa. The Pentagon has a large base in neighboring Djibouti and has worked closely with the Ethiopian military, conducting joint exercises and keeping a watchful eye on events in the region, especially in Somalia.

In December of 2002, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi met with President Bush in the Oval Office. The White House lauded the two leaders as “friends and allies of America, [who] have joined in global war on terror.”

But Zenawi is no Nelson Mandela. His government is accused by human rights groups of widespread torture, extrajudicial killings, and arbitrary political imprisonment. Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index ranks Ethiopia 137th out of 158 countries.

In March of 2005, the opposition was running strong in the early returns of a general election, at which point Zenawi's ruling coalition abruptly declared victory and canceled the remaining count. As foreign observers cried foul, people took to the streets of Addis Ababa in protest. Zenawi sent in troops, including sharpshooters, and when the protest was over, 42 demonstrators were dead. In addition, the Ethiopian military has been implicated in a number of bloody attacks on the Anuak, a large ethnic group who live near the Sudanese border.

There's also trouble in Southern Oromiya Province, where violence broke out this spring between the Guji and Borena clans. When the Ethiopian government, keen to secure access to the potential income stream from a gold mine in the Borena Zone, put the mine under the control of the Guji, a group it has historically favored in the region, fighting ensued, and the government aided the Guji. Sources in the region said that the violence continues and that the province is now in the throes of a major humanitarian crisis. More than 100,000 people are reported to have fled their homes.

But it's not likely that the Bush Administration will take too tough a stand against Zenawi's policies now that Ethiopia is an ally in the war on terrorism. “The last five years have been among the most feeble in the history of U.S. diplomacy in Africa,” says John Prendergast, a former State Department official now with the International Crisis Group. “[American] policy towards Africa is totally directed by the Pentagon and by concerns over terrorism, nothing more.”

This is Ethiopian Generals and Somali Warlords by Ken Silverstein, published Wednesday, August 2, 2006. It is part of Washington Babylon: August 2006, which is part of Washington Babylon, which is part of Harpers.org.

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