A promised withdrawal – The Economist
Ethiopia says its troops will be out of Somalia soon. Will they? And then? (more…)
Ethiopia says its troops will be out of Somalia soon. Will they? And then?
IT TOOK Ethiopia two weeks in December 2006 and January 2007 to invade Somalia and crush fighters loyal to the Somali Islamic Courts Union. By contrast, it has taken two years for it to decide to withdraw, leaving the nastiest of the same Islamists in control of much of the country. Officially, Ethiopia is making good on a promise to quit, signed at peace talks in Djibouti last month between Somalia’s impotent transitional government and moderate Islamists. It has been reducing its presence for some time. Its intelligence network will remain on the ground, though some of its agents may well be killed by the ascendant jihadists. Several thousand of its troops will be stationed on Ethiopia’s side of the border, a day’s drive from Mogadishu, Somalia’s battered capital.
The Djibouti agreement is supposed to swell Somalia’s parliament with moderate Islamists, promising the country the first broadly-based government it has known since the collapse of Siad Barre’s regime in 1991, the last time Somalia had anything approaching a government that controlled the whole country. In truth, the Ethiopians are leaving because they are fed up—with the vanity of Somalia’s president, Yusuf Abdullahi, and his constant bickering with his prime minister, Nur Hussein; fed up, too, with the listlessness of the African Union (AU) and the UN. Both have failed Somalia almost as entirely as its own leaders.
The AU promised 8,000 troops to control Mogadishu but only 3,000 Ugandan and Burundian peacekeepers pitched up, and then only to protect a few key installations, while other parts of Mogadishu became ever more anarchic. The capital may now be in its worst shape ever. Several hundred thousand of its hungry people are in dangerous, squalid camps outside the city. The UN has tried to deliver aid, but its budget is far too small and the country is far too dangerous for aid workers, many of whom have been kidnapped and killed.
Among Ethiopian officials and soldiers, a sense of quiet relief prevails; it could have been worse. Perhaps 800 Ethiopian soldiers have been killed. No one knows the cost of the operation or how much of it may have been borne by the United States, which egged on Ethiopia to invade. But the Ethiopians’ original aims, to shore up Meles Zenawi, their ruthless prime minister, and rout Ethiopia’s ethnic-Somali separatists in the country’s restive Ogaden region in the east, have largely been realised.
Ethiopia, in any case, reckons that the jihadist fighters’ influence in Somalia is weaker than many observers think. It says the reason young men flock to the Shabab (Youth), the former armed wing of the Islamic Courts, wrap their faces in black scarves and kill in the name of Allah, has less to do with al-Qaeda’s virulent internet rhetoric than with the $100 monthly salary the Shabab pays. Somalia’s government forces have not been paid for months.
Some Ethiopian officials may hope to be begged to stay on with all their costs paid for, but they know that is as unlikely as the UN sending a robust force of peacekeepers. So far, President-elect Obama’s team of foreign-policy advisers has given no hint that it will drastically change American policy in the Horn of Africa. Until someone has the courage and the equipment to intervene decisively on a large scale, Somalia will remain the world’s murkiest failed state, with ordinary Somalis trapped in their misery.