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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Outsourcing the Somali war to a Tigrean warlord

Haile Kassahun
Ethiopian Americans for Justice
Nov 25, 2006

War in the Horn of Africa appears imminent. If large-scale violence breaks out, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and the Bush administration will bear major responsibility for the ensuing chaos and human suffering.

Zenawi, who already has at least 8,000 troops in Somalia, just declared his readiness to widen the war.

There is a marriage of convenience between Ethiopia's Prime Minister and the Bush Administration. Zenawi is desperate to divert attention from his internal troubles and human rights abuses. An over-extended Bush administration finds it cost-effective and expedient to outsource the Somali war to an eager, yet repugnant local tyrant.

Zenawi is a polished Tigrian warlord in an Armani suit. He is an Albanian-style Marxist turned Christian crusader, a ruthless megalomaniac perfectly willing to burn down the neighborhood to stay in power.

Ethiopia's ruling Tigrai Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) has devised a grand internal and external strategy to stay in power. Creating Christian-Moslem conflict is the weapon to be used on the domestic front. This is designed to create a wedge between regime opponents who have united without regard to religion or ethnicity.

The recent religious violence that took the lives of some 19 people in the South West of the country appears to be the work of regime agents.

There is an active domestic propaganda campaign about the danger of jihadists and Islamic extremists. The campaign aims to confuse the issues, to hoodwink the country's Christian population and to garner its support. Such a situation will create a Christian-Moslem rift, virtually assuring the continuing rule of the ruling minority group. Sadly, such poison is being introduced to a population that has had unprecedented religious tolerance.

The bond between Christians and Moslems goes back to the beginnings of Islam. The prophet Mohammed sent his followers to Ethiopia when they fled persecution in Arabia. Ethiopia's Christian king received Mohammed's followers as honored guests and treated them with civility.

Although there were periods of contention, the early history of tolerance created a precedent for mutual respect and coexistence. It will therefore be an unforgivable crime to introduce religious conflict to an otherwise harmonious society.

Zenawi's external survival strategy depends on currying favor with the United States. Towards that end, he continues to fabricate intelligence reports about the danger Somali Islamists pose to Ethiopia and the United States.

Ethiopia's Prime Minister says the Somali Islamic Courts Union (ICU) is a terrorist organization that has to be stopped in its tracks. He provides no proof beyond accusations and name calling.

"I think the U.S. government panicked. They saw Islamic group; they said, 'Taliban is coming," said Herman Cohen, former Under Secretary of State for African Affairs, in a recent interview with Margaret Warner of PBS.

Cohen continued, "also, there are friends in the region, like the Ethiopians, who probably are feeding false intelligence about terrorists being hidden and that sort of thing…. So they want to keep the Islamists out of power, and they will bring the U.S. into it, if they can."

Ironically, this same grandstanding Zenawi and his organization were classified as terrorists by the United States not long ago. (See, for example, US Homeland Security's database of terrorist organizations. See also.)

Somalia's Islamic Courts Council poses a "clear and present danger," Ethiopia's strong man said during a recent, carefully-orchestrated speech to his rubber-stamp parliament. Again, he provided no proof.

Many Ethiopians would beg to disagree. What poses a "clear and present danger" is a homegrown rogue minority regime that refuses to respect election results, shoots opponents at will, throws tens of thousands in jail without respect for due process of law. The "clear and present danger" comes from the ruling Tigray People's Liberation Front that runs away from solving domestic post-election problems, pimps the country for political gain, and starts an unprovoked war with a neighboring country.

No matter how much one disagrees with the religious bent of the Islamic Courts Union, they have brought a modicum of stability to Mogadishu and other areas they control.

This is in contrast to the incompetence of the so-called Transitional Government of Somalia which has failed to show any popular support. President Abdullahi Yusuf has little credibility with his own people, spending most of his time in Ethiopia. It is reported that he has been in the service of Ethiopian security forces going at least as far back as a decade. Even his kidney operation a few years ago was paid for by Ethiopia.

A Bush administration preoccupied with Iraq appears to have decided to let Ethiopians do the fighting. US policy in Ethiopia and Somalia has been relegated to low-level, inexperienced officials.

It's the same folks who lent American support to unsavory Somali warlords, leading to an embarrassing foreign policy debacle in June. The public face of this rookie team is Jendayi Frazer, US Assistant Secretary for African Affairs. Frazer is reportedly close to the Zenawi regime and relies heavily on the EPRDF's self-serving intelligence feed.

Incidentally, some of the pro-US warlords may be among those responsible for the killing of US rangers during the "Blackhawk" incident.

According to a Washington Post dispatch of May 17, 2006, some of the warlords "reportedly fought against the United States in 1993 during street battles that culminated in an attack that downed two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters and left 18 Army Rangers dead."

These warlords continue to spend a great deal of time in Addis Ababa, chewing the narcotic Khat, driving expensive cars, guzzling top-shelf whiskey and frequenting whorehouses -- all courtesy of the American tax-payer.

Zenawi is eager to keep the focus away from his domestic troubles at all costs. In the past, he had no qualms sacrificing at least 50,000 Ethiopian troops during the Ethio-Ertrean war of 1998 -2000. The war was allegedly fought over a barren border area called Badme. Incomprehensibly, he was quick to give up Badme--land over which so much blood was shed. When ceding territory became domestically unpopular, he began backtracking and flip flopping, making border demarcation a permanent thorny issue that continues to this day.

Zenawi also had no problem giving orders for the shooting of civilians protesting the stealing of the 2005 elections. Over 193 civilians were murdered in broad daylight and upwards of 30,000 jailed in a post-election reign of terror, according to a commission established by the regime. Among those arrested are almost all elected leaders of the opposition party, including the mayor of Addis Ababa, human rights advocates, journalists and civic society leaders.

There is no rule of law or an independent judiciary to dispense justice. Prisoners are guilty until proven innocent. Even when the court releases prisoners the security forces rearrest them. Long imprisonment without any evidence--sometime lasting as long as 10 or 15 years-–is common.

Beyond imprisonment, the autocrat's 15-year rule has been marred by a systemic pattern of human rights abuses and extra-judicial killings. A few additional examples of the regime's violent rule include the following:
At least 30 helpless prisoners in Kaliti were shot dead last year;
424 ethnic Anuaks war massacred by the Ethiopian army in 2003 to make way for oil exploration by a Malaysian company;
66 protesters were gunned down in Awassa and Addis Ababa in 2002;
40 students were murdered in 2001;
and another group of 19 students were killed in Addis Ababa in 1993.
Widespread killings and mass arrests have been common in regions inhabitted by the majority Oromos. Some 15,000 to 20,000 people have been killed in the Oromia region alone, according to a former judge who recently defected to the West. This disturbing information was revealed in a recent interview the judge, Teshale Abera, gave to the Mail and Guardian newspaper. According to the judge, Ethiopia's current regime is as bad as the Mengistu regime it replaced.

Ethiopia is also gripped by an economic crisis, contrary to the government's Orwellian propaganda. Regime cadres are increasingly squeezing peasants. Urban unemployment is still upwards of 50 percent. The cost of living has skyrocketed, making life unbearable for the ordinary person.

Upwards of four million Ethiopians need ongoing international food handouts. Over three million are infected with HIV/AIDS. (The only sector doing well is party-owned businesses and the few parasites that benefit from ethnic patronage.) Add to that mass arrests and the continuing intimidation of all opponents. A state of fear pervades the country. All is not well behind the fa├žade of a few high rises that have cropped up on Bole Road.

The Bush administration has made a Faustian bargain with the Zenawi regime. It has downplayed widespread killings and egregious human rights violations in exchange for Zenawi's services in the war against terror.

The same administration that has refused to speak up against the massacre of Ethiopians wants Ethiopia to sacrifice its sons and daughters fighting Somalis in pursuit of a big power's muddled, questionable strategic goal.

U.S. troops stationed in Djibout and Camp Hurso in Ethiopia appear to be directly involved in the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia. The US has also been actively spreading disinformation that demonizes the Islamic Council while creating sympathy for the Ethiopian invasion. For example, the dubious document recently leaked to the media and purportedly prepared by UN experts has all the markings of a US disinformation campaign to justify a war against the Islamic Courts.

Ethiopia and Somalia are among the poorest countries in the world. Both people have experienced tremendous suffering in the last thirty years.

Where's the morality in pitting one poor African country against another? Where is justice? Where is the morality in coddling a tyrant once labeled terrorist by the United States? Why is it acceptable for the United States to ally with a murderous regime that has massacred at least 193 civilians and arrested over 30,000 in secret concentration camps? Why is such immorality being perpetrated in the name of the war against terror?

Congressman Donald Payne said the following during a recent briefing on the situation in Ethiopia: "…During the Cold War, United States supported dictators like Mobutu and never really condemned South Africa's apartheid government because they were anti-communists, and we were fighting the communists in the U.S. And so we're not going to repeat those mistakes," Payne said.

Thousands will die, tens of thousands will be maimed and millions will be made refugees. Just as in Iraq, when the mess gets to be too much to handle, the US will walk away under one pretext or another, leaving the local people holding the bag. There will be so much suffering that no amount of international handout will make a dent.

The Islamic Council has invited the US to come to Mogadishu, to engage in dialogue and observe first hand the situation on the ground. This is a good gesture that the United States and Ethiopia should take advantage of. The parties need to resolve all issues through dialogue. The misery and mayhem a new war brings, nor matter what the pretext, is not worth the cost to the people on the receiving end.

It's still not too late to stop this madness.

The author can be reached at ethiojustice@gmail.com

Somalia: Islamic Courts and MPs sign peace deal

Mohamed Abdi Farah
Left: Sharif & Sheik Aweys
November 25, 2006 (SomaliNet) -Somali’s parliament speaker Sharif Hassan Sheik Aden accompanied by some of his MPs are now in Djibouti for talks with the government officials there over how Djibouti would help revive the peace process between transitional federal government based in Baidoa and its rival of Islamic Courts. Before leaving the capital of Somalia Mogadishu, Sharif Hassan and other parliamentarians in the city signed a deal with the senior officials of the Islamic Courts controlling much of south and central Somalia. In the deal, both sides indicated that they are ready to resume the talks in Khartoum, Sudan which had earlier failed to open due to disagreements. In jointly press conference held in the capital, the two sides condemned what they called the Ethiopian aggression inside Somalia and called on Addis Ababa government to pull out all its troops from Somalia and let Somalis alone to resolve their inner conflict. The deal which contained in six main articles include 1. To maintain the Khartoum talks ahead and both sides should attend the dialogue to find solution for the conflict and also to implement the deal reached in the first and the second rounds of the Khartoum talks.
2. Both sides agreed that Khartoum talks should be emplaced first before the talks by the IGAD and AU in which they (Islamists and MPs) see it as remedy to the stand off between Islamic Courts and Inter Governmental Authority on Development hoping that there will be fruitful result from that meeting. 3. The two sides are indicating that Kenya government played a key role in the Somalia reconciliation process and still conducts efforts of mediation. 4. they agreed to set up a committee of transitional federal government and Islamic Courts to seek; means to overcome the political and social crisis, the best way to share power and its implementation, to stop any action that might trigger war until the talks in Khartoum, to facilitate holding the meeting in Sudan which is scheduled to take place in mid December to obtain effective and broad based government for Somalia. 5. Both sides appealed on Ethiopia government to stop the war threats and also withdraw its troops from Somalia soil, condemning the recent comments by the Ethiopian prime minister that he declared to engage war with Islamic Courts as provocative act that might cause bloody conflict in the region. 6. They lastly called on the international community, IGAD, AU, Arab League, OIC, EU and USA to help honestly how rival sides in Somalia would reach comprehensive agreement. On the government side, the speaker, Sharif Hassan Sheik Aden singed the new deal while on the Islamic Courts side, Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, the leader of Shura council singed it.

Ethiopia dangerous place for newborns - report

Half of Africa's 1.16 million neonatal deaths occur in Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda, the report said. Ethiopia ranks 3rd in the number of newborn deaths with 119,500 newborn death. Country
Ranking for number of newborn death
Number of newborn deaths
Ranking for number of maternal deaths
Number of Maternal Deaths
DR Congo
Africa most dangerous place for newborns -- report
JOHANNESBURG, Nov 22 (Reuters) - Each year more than one million babies in sub-Saharan Africa die before they are a month old because of a lack of essential health care, a U.N. report said on Wednesday."Sub-Saharan Africa remains the most dangerous region in the world for a baby to be born -- with 1.16 million babies dying each year in the first 28 days of life," said the report published, in Johannesburg and Geneva.
The document, drafted by nine agencies including the World Health Organisation, said six countries in the region had made progress in improving care, reducing neonatal deaths by about 30 percent in the past decade.
"Whilst the survival of the African child has shown almost no improvement since the 1980s, the fact that during 2006 several large African countries have reported a dramatic reduction in the risk of child deaths gives us new hope," said co-editor Joy Lawn.
Up to half a million African babies die on the day they are born, with Liberia having the world's highest neonatal mortality rate at 66 deaths per 1,000 births, compared with fewer than two deaths for 1,000 births in Japan.
Half of Africa's 1.16 million neonatal deaths occur in Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda, the report said.
Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Madagascar, Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda had made significant progress in reducing infant deaths over the last 10 years, thanks to increased government spending on basic health care.
The report said opportunities to save the lives of newborns within existing programmes were often missed, with only one-tenth of women in Africa attending antenatal care receiving preventive treatment for malaria.
Only one percent of mothers with HIV had treatment to avoid transmitting the virus to their babies during childbirth.
"Up to 800,000 babies a year could be saved if 90 percent of women and babies received feasible, low-cost health interventions," the report said, adding this would cost about $1 billion per year.
The United Nations said in October that more than 18 million children in Africa would be orphaned by HIV/AIDS by the end of the decade if more was not done to combat the pandemic among the continent's overwhelmingly young population.
Excerpts from the UN Report
To meet MDG 4, sub-Saharan Africa will need to achieve an annual average reduction in under-five mortality of at least 8 percent per year for the next decade. Four high burden countries with stagnant U5MR in the 1990s – Tanzania, Malawi, and Ethiopia – have reported 25 to 30 percent reductions in U5MR over the past few years based on data from Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) released in the past year (Figure I.3). These statistics equate to annual reductions of over five percent and suggest that major decreases in child mortality can be achieved.
More than half of African babies who die do so at home. In some countries, such as Ethiopia, as few as five percent die in hospital.
Source;Un report

Monday, November 20, 2006

Ethiopia expels officers from army, navy

November 20, 2006 (AP) - Air force Major General Almeshet Degfe and army Brigadier Generals Kumera Assefa and Asamenew Tsgie were banned from the military last week, said Dawit Assefa, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Defense. He gave no further details. "Banned means the three officers have been expelled or kicked out," Assefa said. In recent months, several senior officers have defected to arch-rival Eritrea or joined rebel groups like the Oromo Liberation Front, which has been fighting for greater autonomy in southern Ethiopia. In early August, an Ethiopian army officer of Oromo descent, Brigadier General Kemal Geltu, defected to Eritrea with more than 100 Ethiopian troops under his command. He said he was unhappy with the Ethiopian government's treatment of the Oromo, who make up a third of Ethiopia's 75 million people. Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a 30-year guerrilla war, but their border was never settled. They fought a two-year war that ended in December 2000 when both countries signed a peace deal, allowing an independent commission to determine their border. Ethiopia refused to implement the international commission's 2002 ruling. Eritrea has accused the international community of shirking its responsibility to ensure the ruling is obeyed. The border, while still not demarcated, has been mostly peaceful since the 2000 truce. Both countries have tens of thousands of troops dug in on each side of the 1 000km frontier. A 25km wide buffer zone that separates the two armies is patrolled by UN peacekeepers. - Sapa-AP

Map of oromia

Map of oromia