In Defense of Stability in East Africa
December 30, 2006.

From the outset, I would like to make it clear that I am not a member or supporter of the current ruling party in Ethiopia and have never been in the past. I also want to make it clear that I am writing this analysis in my capacity as a concerned citizen and represent no political entity.

My analysis in this article supports the actions taken by the Ethiopian government in as much as it is to help safeguard the stability in the region. I believe that as much as there are serious differences about the conduct of domestic politics in Ethiopia, allowing a stable political environment in the region for the necessary discourse to solve such problems deserves a higher priority.

Well over one year ago, I wrote an article which suggested that based on a quick survey of the political situation of the countries in East Africa, peace and stability are the most precious political commodities in the region.

Several months ago, a political group called the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) came to the surface in Somalia. Osama bin Laden used the opportunity to indicate to his supporters that Somalia is his “new” front. The United States government has indicated in the past that the UIC leadership includes individuals implicated in terrorist activities in the past and suggested links between Al Qaeda and the UIC.

That much should have been enough for close observers to be concerned enough about the stability of East Africa. If the concern for the stability of East Africa warranted an emergency meeting by any party, and there is no argument here it shouldn’t have, the time to call it should have been then.

Perhaps not many paid much attention to it then, and the media touted the UIC as an invincible powerful movement, all along neglecting the legal footing of the internationally recognized secular Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia. The initiatives that were taken to bring the TFG and the UIC to the negotiating table were in the right direction, but the failure of the UIC to abide by its own agreements and its urge, as much illegal outfit as it is, to destroy the TFG and the Transitional Federal Institutions (TFI), should have been taken as another declaration of war on the stability of East Africa.

It was at this point that Ethiopia told the world that “there is a limit to this” and openly entered a war of self-defense, reportedly at the invitation of the TFG of Somalia. TFG and Ethiopian soldiers died in the war of self-defense, and subsequently routed the UIC fighters from much of Southern Somalia with a striking speed. According to Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, these fighters came from as far away places as the United Kingdom in Europe. From the beginning, Ethiopia has made it clear that it is interested in the reconciliation of Somali groups, and that it is fighting with the terrorist elements within the UIC.

After observing such theatrical political game played by the UIC, and after the TFG of Somalia with Ethiopia’s backing defeated the UIC’s quest to destabilize the region, the Arab League made an emergency meeting in Cairo to warn that the war could threaten the peace and stability of the Horn of Africa. The African Union Commission Chairman, Alpha Omar Konare, and the government of Djibouti followed suite to echo the call of the Arab League.

If the call was made evenly to all foreign forces to pull out and leave Somalia’s issues to the Somalis alone, clearly stating how to assess their presence and their removal, we would take the call for a farsighted deliverance. However, when Ethiopia that has been invited by the internationally recognized TFG of Somalia is singled out to pull out its force while saying little about the other forces that have come from far away places, one would wonder if the call of the Arab League is to give a tacit support for the terrorists more so than the concern for the stability of East Africa.

In the past, Ethiopia has fought against foreign aggression and won without much outside help. Today, we cherish that victory as an African virtue. This time around, as the directly affected country, Ethiopia is defending its independence from the “holy war” declared up on it by the vices of terrorist outfits from the “holy land”. We will cherish this victory as well as another African virtue.

This victory should reinforce the organic foundation of the brotherly relationships between the peoples of Ethiopia and Somalia. Perhaps, the secular governments of Ethiopia and Somalia should declare Ethiopia and Somalia Terrorist Free Region and seriously address the domestic political problems each faces in its country. Some form of security and economic integration between the two countries will probably keep away the terrorists. This is a rare opportunity for both governments to sign some sort of accord for this. The Baidoa Accord might be a fitting one.