Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Horn of Africa Week: Dueling dictators hammer Somalia

It's all Horn of Africa news all the time this week at Dictators of the World! And who are today's lucky despots? Why, that would be Ethiopian strongman Meles Zenawi and his Eritrean rival Isaias Afewerki, both of whom are once again locked in war, only instead of the usual bloody border conflicts, they're throwing down in Somalia.

For those people who haven't been following what's going on in Somalia this year, let's catch up. Following the decisive defeat of the ruling Islamic Courts Union by Ethiopian troops and US air strikes, the fragile internationally recognized (but militarily impotent) Somali government appeared ready to start the long hard slog to rebuilding Somalia's long demolished political and social institutions. Backed by Ethiopian troops, the government had moved back to Mogadishu, and appeared to be well on their way to getting down to business before all hell broke loose - again.

After their asses were thoroughly whipped by the Ethiopian army, Islamic Court Union leaders fled to the Middle East to start - what else? - jihad against the Ethiopian infidels. Enter Eritrean dictator Isaias Afewerki, whose ears pricked right up when the Somali holy war started looking for allies and weapons to kill Ethiopian soldiers. Just as Ethiopian troops started pulling out, and African Union and Ugandan peacekeeping troops started coming in, Mogadishu saw an enormous resurgence of violence that has since morphed into all out war.

Eritrea has publicly denied aiding the Somali Islamic militias, but have been unable to explain how Somali rebel leaders keep showing up in Eritrea to threaten Ethiopia with "total war". In a dictatorship like Eritrea which has no privately owned media, these sorts of threatening remarks are not just made, much less distributed to the press, without the assent of the government. What's more, these same rebel leaders have suggested that this "total war" may, in fact, involve an Eritrean military invasion of Ethiopia itself.

"If we let Somalia burn, we will end up getting scorched as well."
- Meles Zenawi
Isaias Afewerki, however, may have bitten off more than he can chew. In Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi says he's ready for whatever Eritrea is ready to dish out, be it on their shared border or in Somalia. The fact that Zenawi's opponents in Somalia have been linked to al Qaeda has won him military support from the United States in the war on terror - an X factor that may tip the balance in Zenawi's favor.

In the grand scheme of things, it seems like a good bet that the proxy fight in Somalia will be just one front for a renewed war between two rival dictators, regional stability be damned. Naturally, I'll be keeping an eye on the news to see just which tyrant comes out on top of Africa's newest, and most bitter, enemies. It sounds lame, but it's still true, that no matter which tyrant comes out on top, Somalia guaranteed to be the loser.

UPDATE: Behailu Damte weighs in on Eritrea's recent displays of gulliness at African Path.

UPDATE II: The gloves are definitely off. Eritrean backed rebels kill 74 people in Ethiopia, while Ethiopian tanks attack militias in Mogadishu.

No comments: