By Keffyalew Gebremedhin
The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)
The following introductory paragraphs are intended to serve as a curtain raiser for the articles that would follow it in the weeks to come.
The main conclusion is its open and honest claim that Somalia could have been up and running long ago, if the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the forces it commands within Somalia — including all sorts of shady Somalia militias — have not been allowed to become authors and contributors of Somalia’s continuing tragedy.
In that, the individual articles provide tissues forming the conclusion’s muscle.
While engaging Al-Shabaab as everyone’s enemy, probably as a convenient cover for the top military leadership’s goal(s), these bad apples within the TPLF and their allies’ preoccupation has been their own superior position inside Somalia and Ethiopia. This perception assumes TPLF’s continuity in power in Ethiopia, which takes among others pacifying Somalia and keeping it weaker.
As far as Somalia’s interests are concerned, in the name of Ethiopian forces, overall the TPLF has used the opportunity to be divisive in a weak Somalia that has one language and one religion, and yet is fragmented by its clan system. All that the TPLF needed to do is buy one clan against the other, individuals versus individuals — same formula from towns to rural areas.
By so doing, the Addis Abeba-based TPLF regime has deterred the evolution of the politics of national unity in Somalia, at its mildest, needlessly delaying it. There are numerous examples where it had created armed loyalists, not subordinate to the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), or it also engaged through its agents to harass and disable elected officials and authorities from carrying out their responsibilities, about which examples would be provided later.
By so doing, it can be seen, the TPLF top brass has ignored targeting the common enemy — Al-Shabaab. The widely-circulating interpretation of this in Somalia is the precedence the corrupt TPLF interests has taken.
In the case of some, perhaps it could be the “thrill of the chase” — political violence on its own being their reward that has made the TPLF the enemy of the people of Somalia, as they are in Ethiopia.
For others, especially those that combine the two, as is the case with the so-called IGAD political advisor “Gen. Gabre” — hot tempered and violent — and the man who cannot even look straight into a camera eye but reportedly commanded Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia the pursuit must be keeping Somalia a weak state that could never lift finger against TPLF-run Ethiopia.
Such is Gen.Gabre’s story in Somalia, who as kingmaker was even alleged, according to some Stratfor experts, to have slapped Somalia President Sharif, when he refused his intercession mission on behalf of a militia group Ahlu Sunnah wal Jama’a (ASWJ), allied with Ethiopian force and wanting to be part of the Somalia governement. On this, I have so much to pick up where I leave it now.
Certainly, the TPLF being rogue by its very nature, the latest we know about the ASWJ from last August is its alleged involvement, along with the Somalia National Intelligence Agency (SINA), in the crime of kidnapping of Abdulkerim Sheik Musa, known in Somalia as Qalbi Dhagax. For TPLF/Ethiopia, he was a prized catch and a terrorist, as former commander of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).
What has enabled the TPLF to prevail in Somalia is not only the arms and the force behind it. But also it is the opportunism of Somalia politicians, individuals willing and ready to sell their friends, as the saying has it, for “thirty pieces of silver”, essentially to bolster their status and gains. This has subjected countless number of Somalia citizens TPLF victims.
Likewise, Ethiopians have been betrayed, their name used for selfish goals of the greedy TPLF leaders against Somalia, from whose strengthening and improved collaboration Ethiopia could have benefitted, instead of a den of terrorists. The TPLF is also known for the spread of the avarice of the collective — its base — it has encouraged as an ethnic minority regime in Ethiopia — nepotism as its first trait.
Roll them, dice them whichever way, these in no way even remotely serve the Front’s politics, security and economics. Nothing can be dismissed out of hand, however; its medium and long-term goals either on behalf of and in Ethiopia and Somalia are hardly visible, nor transparent, much less the application of rigours of evaluation. The snippets we came across every time are narratives of duplicitous TPLF motives and harmful surreptitious activities.
If the TPLF had the discipline to operate as per the AMISOM mandate, the Horn of Africa could have also been long spared of present and future threats of the Al-Shabaab terrorism and related extremisms. In closer examination, one could sense this situation has prolonged Al-Shabaab’s life instead. With that, the Islamic extremist organisation of terror has utilised the opportunity to improve and develop its destructive capabilities to cause more havoc on innocent people, as witnessed in Somalia including on October 14, 2017 and even subsequently since.
The anger of the United States government in the post-Nine-Eleven environment and thus its determination to fight off and wipe out, among others, Al-Shabaab’s terrorism in the Horn of Africa is important and appreciated.
Nonetheless, I am troubled by its failure in particular in the Horn of Africa to recognise the regional and international mission in Somalia has been robustly mandated and thus has become ‘peacekeeping in perpetuity’, with little to show. It has lacked smart yardstick to evaluate its performance, as appropriate, especially whether it should continue as is, or its military strategy be revised.
This reminds me of how once Atlantic City casino-owner, where I sometimes used to have fun in late 1980s and always lost, the owner was businessman Donald Trump. His business went bankrupt and was the grit of the media. But he soon transformed bankruptcy to his advantage and came out of it. I heard him speak on television why he lost during an interview. I recall, him saying he was back; he went bankrupt because, “I took my eyes of the ball.”
There is a lesson for the US Somalia policy there if immediate action is taken, although President Trump has already as of March started responding to force commanders’ requests for more latitude. He would need to go further and establish why the fight against Al-Shabaab terrorism is not moving at all.
Some dress up this situation, comparing the 2006 map, when Al-Shabaab was all over, as shown here, while in 2017 the territories it occupies are smaller.
Diplomacy is a polite world. And it seems it is that pain inflicted on his country and the helplessness, characterised by substantial calmness, President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Farmaajo that enabled him to underline this problem during his visit in Addis Abeba on October 23, 2017, as follows:
“I believe that when we unite against this threat we will be able to defeat al-Shabab quickly, otherwise this kind of threat will continue with devastating destruction of human life and property”.
In stating this, one has to reconcile to the reality that evidence for everything may not be readily available. Since in situations of this sort, especially for dark activities and dicey operations of nations and individuals, evidence is not potatoes to be picked up from the farm. Nor is it available in the market to touch and feel its tissues forming broader conclusion, such as the above.
Whatever pieces, supporting such a conclusion in this article, had to be pieced together. To that end, this writer has relied on available information: local, regional and international media, research materials, diplomatic communications, more particularly WikiLeaks, and a series of reports to the United Nations Security Council by the Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring (SEMG).
The experiences of Ethiopian citizens and knowledge of the demented TPLF, its history, psychology, false sense of self-importance, its cruelty — especially understanding its known disturbing behaviours and actions — have proved additional help in the interpretation of events. Above all, a similar pattern of behaviour has also been noticed in its operations in Somalia too.
In the early phase of the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, one gets the sense from WikiLeaks, the regime’s behaviour could in part be attributed to the sharing by CENTCOM Gen.John John Abizaid of US experience in Iraq to dictator Meles Zenawi in November 2006. Its import is the need to hit the enemy hard everywhere, without dissipating the force’s energy and limited resources.
Recall that already by April 2007, days after the Ethiopian force marched into Somalia, the TPLF-led Ethiopian force was accused of committing war crimes, having entered the country at the head of 50,000 troops and very modern weapons. Security expert David Axe in his Wikileaked cable confirms U.S. Secret Somalia OP of October 12, 2010 recalling the thing that took everyone by surprise:
“Ethiopia’s air force did not appear capable of coordinated air strikes in support of on-the-move ground troops; it seemed likely that the Su-27s were piloted by Russian or Ukrainian mercenaries – a time-honored tradition in Africa [the US must know the respected Ethiopian Air Force no longer is there, thanks to the TPLF (added by the writer)].”
Even then, as it happens, the eye-popping charge of Ethiopian war crimes forced the EU to alert its head delegate in Nairobi to advise on: “significance of the events of the past four days in Mogadishu in terms of the international law on conflict”. The EU’s intention was to be seen doing something, to avoid its silence or inaction being interpreted as complicity with war crimes.
Irrelevant as the EU Commission’s action might have been, The New York Times returned to this very matter on May 6, 2008, that is exactly about a year later citing Amnesty International’s report, alleging the Ethiopian force had been:
“killing civilians and committing atrocities, including slitting people’s throats, gouging out eyes and gang-raping women.”
This only has suited Al-Shabaab, with the citizens of Somalia also turning to with their unreserved support. Only the latest cruelty, i.e., Al-Shabaab’s October 14 truck-bombing has shown them that Somalia does not want the terrorists, rather a peaceful life and being in charge of their lives. How could this be possible with the TPLF around?
Briefly put, the available information has enabled this writer and researcher to conclude Somalia’s stabilisation arrives only through the immediate withdrawal in a responsible manner of the TPLF-led Ethiopian forces from Somalia.
This would also enable Somalia and its allies to put their acts together and annihilate Al-Shabaab and help the country in its future of reconstruction! Without a doubt that would mark the beginning of a peaceful future for the Horn of Africa sub-region.
Keep in mind, until recently the unanswered question is what the Donald Trump’s Transition Team put to the State Department in January 2017:
“We’ve been fighting Al-Shabaab for a decade. Why haven’t we won?”
It is five days before this shift in US policy, Africom chief said at a news conference:
“It’s very important and very helpful for us to have little more flexibility, a little bit more timeliness, in terms of decision-making process. It allows us to prosecute targets in a more rapid fashion”.
Other nations that can integrate their forces within AMISOM can be found to make the final push against Al-Shabaab. Also recall that the United States has managed to get Uganda to contribute 5,000 troops for Somalia operations. Many more could be found.
— ONE —
Setting the stage:
Somalia asks Ethiopia to coordinate its operations with AMISOM and SNA
It is in response to the October 14 worst Al-Shabaab attack, killing 358 people that Somalia’s President Farmaajo came face-to-face, in his agony, with Ethiopian officials to get across his concern — wanting them to see eye-to-eye during his quick consultations in Addis Abeba on October 23, 2017.
The question now is why did Mr. Farmaajo have to make such an appeal to Addis Abeba having come in person, when, Ethiopia which went into Somalia in 2006 continues to be seen as an invader and human rights violator by most Somalia citizens at home and abroad, or when it still has sufficiently large force in that country?
Recently I came across Part II of Somalia journalist in UK and moviemaker Jamal Osman’s article from September 2017 on a Turkish medium, entitled: Ethiopia must let Somalia determine its own fate. Not only the article got me to sympathise with the writer’s deeply-held political conviction about Ethiopia withdrawing from his country. But also our meeting of minds on this very goal he so much seeks took me by surprise, both of us arriving the same conclusion — coming as we did from different directions.
Already, for a while now, I too have set my mind on this (about which I would explain later) and thus strongly support my country’s withdrawal from Somalia. On the part of Ethiopia, there is the need to work on changing the minds of the people of Somalia. They have difficulty getting over the past, as well as the present of TPLF’s cruelty.
Unable to put their minds on why this happens, many now see Ethiopian forces presence in AMISOM, as Jamal Osman puts it, “To Somalis and many outside observers, Ethiopia is the aggressor in the relationship. Ethiopia, a landlocked state, has long harboured ambitions to annex Somalia in part of its quest for a Greater Ethiopia.”
First of all, admittedly it is not my place to give assurances about Ethiopia’s intentions, i.e., whether it will or won’t do this or that. As an ordinary citizen, however, I take it upon myself to tell Mr. Osman that is not the Ethiopian mind; Ethiopians also perfectly realise their country swallowing Somalia would only be invitation to a disaster. Secondly, the TPLF rather is preoccupied with destroying the historical Ethiopia. If you can keep secret, I can tell you, it is giving away Ethiopian lands to its Sudanese friends that had hosted it during its 17-year war of destruction of Ethiopia.
Besides, if it’s any comfort to Somalians, such a national goal at the level of ‘governmental authority’ today in the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia seems to have long become anathema. Therefore, the several dozens of confused ‘Liberation Fronts’, are made to vegetate within a mental outlook that has confined them to their ethnic localities. More importantly, TPLF itself has no time for that; it is too busy with its greed of individual enrichment of its leaders, while having cultivated avarice in its base at the expense of the rest of Ethiopians.
The fact of the matter is that, whereas Ethiopia has one of the largest military contingents in Somalia, it is just marauding rural parts of the country, to hunt Ethiopian opponents of the regime that have been leaving the country. One needs to see here that, for the TPLF the AMISOM’s mandate is not its priority.
I presume the point Mr. Farmaajo tried to impress on the Ethiopian prime minister: “we need to support each other and strengthen our solidarity in order to effectively fight al-Shabaab” — signed on by none other than the Ethiopian Foreign Minister Workneh Gebeyehu on his ministry’s Facebook, must tell something all citizens of Somalia as well as those interested in the success of AMISOM operation in that country.
Indeed the Somalia leader has given nearly similar message to the other AMISOM troop contributing countries — Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda. This writer is under strong impression that the message for the others is only to use them as pressure group on Ethiopia with a view to getting the TPLF regime to operate within AMISOM and also coordinating the activities of its forces with the Somalia National Army (SNA).
Why do the others need such a message, when they have always lived within the ambit of the mission’s mandate?
In other words, President Farmaajo is using his country’s present misfortune to hit back as hard against Al-Shabaab and also assert his government’s right as a national administration with authority of the will of an increasing number of Somalia citizens, who have become his support base.
At the heart of the problem so far, as the UN SEMG has long recognised, is Ethiopia’s unwillingness to be part of AMISOM to date. It is cooperating when assistance is sought by the other members of AMISOM. However, unlike other troop contributing nations, the TPLF has dual political objectives in Somalia:
- (a) As stated above, to hunt and eliminate its Ethiopia opponents in Somalia, or those transiting through its territory, as well as those it has early on had alleged Eritrea was providing them support and the wherewithals against its interests in Somalia or wherever; and
(b) The other motive for the regime in being in Somalia is to enjoy an all-round Western support, as a reward for its over-rated anti-terrorism contributions.
In a number of SEMG reports to the Security Council, this Ethiopian force ambivalence has been touched upon in different ways to no effect, Ethiopia being a trused United States security partner, as follows:
“Ethiopia prefers to retain command and control of its troops inside Somalia independent of AMISOM, and therefore does not benefit from the exemption to the arms embargo established by Security Council resolution 1772 (2007). On the other hand, Ethiopia is seeking recognition and financial support from donors for its efforts against Al-Shabaab, while such support is currently channelled through AMISOM.”
At the same time, in a 2015 report, the UN acknowledges, Ethiopia also utilises its notorious Liyu Police, described in the reports as “an Ethiopian paramilitary force based in Region 5 of Ethiopia…increasingly active in Somalia.”
Not long ago, Ethiopia had an estimated 17,000 force members, comprising 4,800 of the authorised AMISOM contingent number from the National Defense Force (ENDF); it also has about 8,000 members of notorious Liyu Police (excluding other Somalia militias it operates: Ahlu Sunna wal Jama’a (ASWJ) and the ‘Shabelle Valley Administration’ militia (SVA)), while the non-AMISOM ENDF size at present is not clearly known, because of the repeated ins and pull outs it does, as well as AMISOM page not giving out the latest data.
The interesting part of this question that everyone must recognise is the fact the TPLF utilising soldiers from war fronts, every time Ethiopians demand respect for their democratic rights and their fundamental human rights. How would Washington, Brussels or Londoners interpret this if their governments mobilise their fighting forces to turn their guns and use their trainings for war against foreign enemy against citizens? They have to give this their serious attention, consistent with their own values.
It is important to note, unlike past presidents of Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia, who used to take their cues from Ethiopia, the present independent-minded Somalia president has shown that he is ready to cooperate and collaborate, but not subordinate himself to Ethiopia. TEO shall revert to this later, when discussing including Farmaajo’s subtle campaign in February 2017 during the election — a theme coming out of Somalia’s hunger for sovereignty, as a state.
In his diplomatic exchange with the Ethiopian prime minister, who as usual had so much to lecture during the press conference, while Mr. Farmaajo dutifully noted:
“Ethiopia has been very helpful and sacrificed and that sacrifice will not go in vain, but we need to also step up and do more because the terrorists have developed a mass destruction [capacity]”.
This must compel a good journalist, a serious politician and all curious minds to run in search of the meaning underlying this appeal. I grant you, its essence may only be accessible to those that already are familiar with modus operandi of the TPLF-led Ethiopian force in Somalia.
On arrival onto the political scene this year, President Farmajo has come with great optimism for many of his listeners. He has also raised hope in Somalia citizens in strengthening in Mogadishu the federal government’s hold and its success in pushing back and out Al-Shabaab, notwithstanding the interference of the obstructionist role of the TPLF in that country.
He has also raised the hope for Somalia by reassuring the international community through the United Nations Security Council in his statement of March 23, 2017. He spoke about his country’s optimistic future. In the briefest sentence and most hopeful words to the Council members, he said: “Despite the many challenges, none is insurmountable.”
Again on Friday 23 September 2017, Prime Minister Hassan Khaire had the same message to the UN General Assembly.
As an Ethiopian, I too am approaching this matter as a person who had lost his immediate younger brother in the 1977 Ogaden War, as have many Ethiopian families. If we dwell on our losses, we would allow it to become a hurtful legacy. In turn, it would perpetuate more destructions further into the future — relegating our countries to remain a den of intrigues, poverty and conflicts, which they always have been. It is time this changed.
My wish and hope are for a future of genuine peace between Ethiopia and Somalia, mutual collaboration as neighbours and respect for the territorial integrity of our respective states. Even democracy could dare to come to us!
Perhaps, for once, this may prove to us too, it is the right and only path to dig our ways out of conflicts, poverty, which have become identifiers of our subregion.