Sunday, January 7, 2007

Resounding boo for Ethiopia's invasion

03 Jan 2007 19:34:00 GMT
by: Nina Brenjo

"Slow genocide" is the phrase a Somali, who runs a humanitarian relief organisation, used to describe the reign of warlords before the Islamists' six-month rule of his country. And he's not alone in thinking that the recent ousting of Islamists, in power since June 2006, is far from good news for Somalia, according to Martin Fletcher, Britain's Times correspondent who recently visited Mogadishu.

It is true that the Islamists reintroduced public executions and discouraged Western music, dancing and films, but they also brought stability after 15 years of anarchy and civil war. The official government, however, is now back in Mogadishu, and not without considerable help from neighbouring Ethiopia.

So, what does the world's media make of the latest change of government in Mogadishu?
"It is a dangerous gamble," says Fletcher. Washington's implicit backing of Ethiopia in its war against Somalia's Islamists could indeed backfire and Somalia may become what Washington fears most -- a breeding ground for Islamist terrorists, he concludes.

"There are many other reasons why the change of power in Mogadishu risks creating at least as many difficulties as it solves," says Britain's The Independent . It points out that the people appeared to be tolerating sharia, the brand of Islamic law that Somalia's Islamists were propagating. Surely sharia was a price worth paying for the stability the Islamists brought to the chaos-ridden Somalia, the paper implied.

So, instead of a war within Somalia, there is now the possibility of a regional war in which not just Somalia's neighbours, but also the U.S. and the Arab world have a stake, concludes The Independent.

Britain's Times agrees the country faces a grim future. Islamists are likely to regroup and possibly find help from Eritrea, which doesn't like the look of Ethiopia getting cosy in Somalia. In the worst case, the country is on the road to becoming "... the East African equivalent of Lebanon during the 1980s," says the paper.

The U.S. has just made yet another mistake by supporting Ethiopia in its Somalia venture, says W. Scott Thompson in New Straits Times. Instead of young and inexperienced soldiers of the Council of Islamic Courts, what we'll soon have is Jihadists descending on the country making serious trouble for "... government forces, ... the Ethiopian military occupiers and American 'advisers'". In its own editorial, the paper laments the fact that "the obsession with the war on terror" has given grounds for defending the inexcusable Ethiopian intervention.

If you want a good example of what happens to invaders, consider Rwanda and Uganda's enterprise in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), says Charles Onyango-Obbo in Kenya's East African. The two "most battle-hardened" armies in sub-Saharan Africa certainly didn't have an easy ride in the DRC conflict, which ended up killing millions of people.

Will Ethiopia succeed where the US failed? While the Islamic Courts have certainly been put to flight, if we need an example of a likely outcome, we need go no further than what happened to Rwanda and Uganda in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rwanda, with varying degrees of assistance from Uganda, Angola, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, and Eritrea helped overthrow the vile and thieving Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997 and installed the wine-loving and womanising Laurent Kabila as president.

Toward the end of 1998, Kabila had fallen out with Rwanda and Uganda, who thereupon invaded the eastern DRC. Angola and Zimbabwe rallied to Kabila's side. Directly and indirectly the conflict ended up killing five times more people than the 1994 Rwanda genocide - four million!
The Congolese used to say "Rwanda and Uganda might bite into Congo, but it is too big for either to swallow." They were right. In the end, both Rwanda and Uganda spat out the DRC and withdrew.

This was remarkable because the Rwandan and Ugandan armies at that point were among the most battle-hardened in sub-Saharan Africa, outclassed in that regard only by the Angolans.
Rwanda and Uganda went back into the DRC with more strategic advantages than Ethiopia has going into their Somalia campaign.

Salim Lone, U.N. spokesman in Iraq in 2003 and columnist for Kenya's Daily Nation, sums up the mood of all those voicing their disagreement with the intervention. In Britain's Guardian he says: "the Bush administration has opened another battlefront in the Muslim world" for the sake of fighting 'terror'. But the best way to fight the terror is "to engage with the Islamists to ensure that they have no reason to turn to terror".

Very few papers offer arguments in defence of the invader.
"The Ethiopian armed forces were the only practical instrument for immediately halting (the Islamists') advance. For that, the region and the wider world should be thankful," says Britain's The Daily Telegraph.

But the paper does remind Ethiopia of America's intervention fiasco in Somalia in 1992 and warns that its own meddling will suffer the same fate unless a U.N. force can be in place soon.
"It is ironic, but the Ethiopian military incursion in Somalia, controversial as it is, could be just what the doctor ordered for the stateless Horn of Africa nation", says Kenya's East African --another rare paper in favour of the intervention.

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