In a peculiar note1 (now hidden from view) in an state-sponsored news centre, the Government of Ethiopia suggested that the cause of violence in Somalia is some intervention by Eritrea. Clearly the violence in Somalia started nearly two decades ago before Eritrea’s independence when the Government of Somalia (the administration of Siad Barre) collapsed and the ever strong Somali clans struggled for power.
Instead of the initial cause of violence in Somalia, Ethiopia is likely referring to more recent violence (since 2006). Of particular interest to Ethiopia has been the rise of Islamism in Somalia. Although a long-standing Muslim community, Somalis are of the Sufi persuasion which have typical shied away from political Islam2. However, since clan disunity has allowed the conflict in Somalia to continue and intesify, some leaders used the common thread of Islam to thread unity. It was for this reason that in the middle of the last decade we saw the slow rise of the Union of Islamic Courts, an indigenous Islamist proto-government.
Since 2004 however, the international community had created its own Government for Somalia (in Kenya) using the clan warlords.3 Thus instead of fomenting a government of unity, the community elected to create one of inherent disunity. Of course the logic was that their system would reflect Somalia itself, unfortunately it has destablized the country further instead. Ethiopia, as the largest country in the region to support this government has a special interest in protecting this entity.
Of course there is a strategic value to their investment. A brief review of the history of Ethiopia and Somalia reveals that three wars (now four) have been fought against one another. There is a particularly strong animosity between the two countries, more viscerally than between Eritrea and Ethiopia. With Eritrea to the North and Somalia to the South, combined controlling more than 5200 km of coastline. Of course this puts Ethiopia at not only a commercial disadvantage but at risk of being outflanked.
Eritrea’s strong, cohesive institutional structure and national identity superseding that of clan or tribal makes it difficult to exploit in a divisive manner. In Somalia, a country that we have seen is already at risk of this tactic we see the fruit borne from this policy. Unfortunately any intervention (or non-intervention for that matter) has consequences, and of course Ethiopia’s intervention in Somalia, continued interference in its internal dynamics, as well as that of IGAD has put all member countries at risk, regardless of their vote for or against intervention.
In particular we see Eritrea being the lone dissenting voice for continued intervention, particularly military, asking that member countries (of IGAD) support the peaceful resolution of conflict in Somalia by organizing the antagonists to come to a peaceful resolution.
In this recent note, Ethiopia has conflated this idea of peaceful resolution promoted by Eritrea with support of a broad number of organizations in Somalia. This confuses the principle with a narrow interpretation, which is not borne out by the facts. The astute reader would recognize this, however, the average lay person would miss the distinction and confuse Eritrea’s position. Unfortunately the Ethiopian Governement note does nothing to clarify and instead repeats the tired rhetoric and gross distortions bordering on falsehood.