The Ethiopia-Somalia War of 1977

In the past week Somalia has found itself in diplomatic tiffs with both Kenya and Ethiopia. The Kenyan government recently denied entry to Somalian public officials on diplomatic passports — perhaps to pressure Somalia to drop claims over possibly hydrocarbon rich waters in the Somali Sea. In return, Somalia urged donors and the development community to not hold meetings in either Nairobi or Addis, and instead consider Mogadishu or other regional capitals. And in Ethiopia, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a map that included Somalia as part of Ethiopia (it also did not include South Sudan and the Sahrawi Republic).

greatersomaliaSomalia’s problems with its more powerful neighbors are not new. Both Nairobi and Addis have always looked at Somalia as a threat to their territorial integrity on account of their substantial ethnic Somali populations and on-and-off nationalist claims over all of “Greater Somalia” (see map). As such, both are currently working to ensure that a strong unitary state does not emerge in Mogadishu. In the 1960s Kenya fought irredentists in its Somali-speaking northeast. At the time Nairobi accused Mogadishu of supporting the irredentists.

Ethiopia, too, fought Somalia in the Ogaden in the late 1970s. Cuba, the Soviet Union, and South Yemen backed Addis (the OAU was also on Ethiopia’s side). Iran, Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia vowed to back Mogadishu were Ethiopia to invade Somalia’s territory.  In many ways the Ogaden War began the end of Siad Barre’s regime and Somalia’s eventual state collapse in the early 1990s (and arguably also set the Derg regime on its way to collapse). This great post recounts the dynamics of the war:

This blog post is intended to highlight the history of a short, but nonetheless bloody inter-state conflict which cost the lives of over 12,000 soldiers on both sides. The two opposing sides were well-equipped for manoeuvre warfare, and had been trained and equipped by the superpowers. That capacity for major combat operations (MCO) has been recorded by the historian Gebru Tareke, the most authoritative scholar of this conflict, quoting an Ethiopian veteran of this war who stated that ‘if one were to combine the Ethiopian air force and the Somali tank units, one would have created Africa’s dream army’. The Ethiopian-Somali War of 1977-1978 provides an example of non-Western MCO outside that continues to be worthy of wider consideration and analysis. It also had catastrophic consequences which continue to destabilise the region as a whole.

……On the eve of the Somali invasion of the Ogaden Barre’s forces were outnumbered on paper by their adversaries, having 25,000 troops (in one commando, 9 mechanised and 5 infantry battalions) facing 51,000 soldiers (in 3 infantry divisions, a mechanised battalion and an airborne battalion). However, Ethiopian combat power was dissipated by a series of insurgencies (most notably the Eritrean revolt), while military morale was further undermined by the purges and executions of the officer corps instigated with Mengistu’s ‘Red Terror’. The Ethiopians had a slight advantage with artillery and air power (6 field batteries to 4 Somali ones, and one bomber and three fighter/ground attack (FGA) squadrons to one bomber and 2 FGA squadrons), but were outnumbered in armour, as the SNA had 6 battalions of Soviet-supplied T-54/T-55 tanks to Ethiopia’s two battalions of US-made M-41s and M-60s. The mismatch between the two sides – and the preparatory guerrilla campaign by the WSLF – accounts for the immediate successes of the Somali onslaught in the summer of 1977.

Shortly after the SNA crossed the frontier in force on 13thJuly 1977, both they and the WSLF conquered 90% of Ogaden. The Ethiopians were routed, and on 12thSeptember 1977 the strategically-vital town of Jijiga fell to the invaders. Mengistu’s forces managed to keep a toe-hold on Northern Ogaden, thwarting an SNA/WSLF attack on Dire Dawa on 17thAugust, whilst defending Harar from a series of Somali/insurgent onslaughts from September 1977 to January 1978. Like Josif Stalin in the first months of Operation Barbarossa, Mengistu responded to battlefield setbacks by arraigning and executing both officers and soldiers for cowardice and incompetence. However, the Ethiopian dictator also rallied his people with patriotic appeals to defend the homeland against the Somali aggressors, and like the French Jacobins in the 1790s he raised a militia of ill-trained but fervent fighters who provided the manpower which enabled the professional military to hold Dire Dawa and Harar, and then subsequently reconstitute its depleted ranks. An external attack allowed Mengistu to overcome the internal revolutionary turmoil he had fuelled, temporarily unifying his people against an external enemy.

In addition to the fascinating military history of the Ogaden War, the post has this interesting tidbit about Soviet and Cuban designs in the Horn and southern Arabia:

Barre’s failure to gain US support was compounded by the rupturing of Somalia’s alliance with the Soviet bloc. Moscow and Havana had hoped that a ‘progressive’ Ethiopia and Somalia could form a Federation with another Marxist-Leninist state, the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY), and both Leonid Brezhnev and Fidel Castro were infuriated by the Somali dictator’s demands for the secession of the Ogaden as a precondition. Moscow came to the conclusion that in political, economic and demographic terms Ethiopia counted for more than Somalia, and the latter’s isolation from the OAU provided an additional incentive to back Mengistu. Furthermore, the Soviets concluded that after the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s turn towards the West, the USSR needed for reasons of prestige to bolster its newest ally in North-East Africa. In late September 1977 the PDRY sent two battalions of troops to Ethiopia, and two months later the USSR commenced a massive sea and airlift of arms to Mengistu’s regime. Barre responded by denouncing his friendship treaty with the USSR on 13thNovember 1977, and by expelling Soviet and Cuban military advisors from Somalia. This proved to be a catastrophic mistake on his part.

Soviet and Cuban military assistance eventually proved decisive in helping Addis regain control over the Ogaden. Read the whole thing here.

Also, the Battle of Jijiga needs to be made into a movie.

Finally, it is worth noting that the decades-long fears in Nairobi and Addis about a strong unitary state in Somalia will continue to hamper efforts to stabilize Somalia. While Ethiopian and Kenyan troops continue to serve as peacekeepers in Somalia, both countries’ medium term goals (the achievement of peace and stability) are at variance with their long-term strategic objectives (to keep Mogadishu too weak to mount any credible challenge to their respective territorial integrity). At the moment these dual goals are aligned with the interests of some of Somalia’s elites who want a federal system of government with decentralized security powers.

However, it is unclear if formalized warlordism will result in lasting peace.

 

A theory of Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed

Since getting into office, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has moved swiftly to implement both political and economic reforms. On the political front, he has released political prisoners, unbanned blogs, described violations of human rights by security officers as terrorist acts, and called for term limits for Prime Ministers. On the economic front, he has sounded the alarm over Ethiopia’s $26b foreign debt, wants to privatize important sectors of the Ethiopian economy, and has been working Ethiopia’s neighbors to strengthen economic ties (including ports deals with Somalia and electricity markets in Kenya, Sudan, and Tanzania).

Screen Shot 2018-06-25 at 11.10.38 AM.pngWhy Abiy and why now? It is certainly still early days, but I think he might be a case of a lucky draw at a critical time. In the face of sustained popular protests that began in 2015, Ethiopia was definitely overdue for reforms. But it was not a given that the TPLF (a key player in the EPRDF) would be willing to give power to a popular leader like Abiy. They took a guided gamble with a young former military man and lost (guided because they were somewhat forced to select an ethnic Oromo as Prime Minister).

And as a result the TPLF found themselves with a Prime Minister that is more popular than the EPRDF. That makes him harder to manipulate.

Once in office, Abiy took on the reform agenda with a lot more zeal than they had anticipated. His peripatetic approach to governance can be explained by Ethiopia’s headline economic indicators. The country exports a mere $3b worth of goods (against $18b in imports), which at 6.2% is the second lowest export/GDP ratio in Africa. Ethiopia has also been burning hard cash at a clip, forcing a 15% devaluation of the Birr and a recent $3b lifeline from the UAE. It goes without saying that the country needs to export more if it is going to create jobs at a faster rate for its youthful population. 70% of Ethiopia’s 100m citizens are below 30, and 80% of them live in the countryside.

This is from The Conversation:

The ruling party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front which has been in power for nearly 30 years, is decaying. It lacks the political will to introduce fundamental reforms which would address issues like endemic corruption, the incarceration of journalists and political opponents and widespread economic marginalisation.

These concerns precipitated protests from various segments of society and forced former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to resign.

Abiy emerged from within the ruling party amid this disarray. His message was markedly different. He spoke the language of the people and tapped into society’s aspirations and fears. While it was expected that he’d be a safe pair of hands for ordinary people as well as the ruling elites, nobody expected him to be as direct and decisive as he has turned out to be in his reform efforts.

These have met with resistance, particularly from the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, which is the dominant wing of the ruling coalition. It’s started to act as an opposition from within to Abiy’s work.

The rally at which the attack occurred was called to disentangle Abiy from the establishment and give him a unambiguous mandate to run the country.

People are enchanted with his message of “medemer”, or togetherness, as opposed to ethnic compartmentalisation. They support his systematic and nonviolent removal of corrupt leaders who thrived on spreading fear and using violence to cling to power.

In what appears to have been an assassination attempt, on Saturday a grenade attack killed two people and injured dozens in a rally addressed by Abiy Ahmed. So who might want Abiy gone?

…… one can say with some level of justification that whoever made this attempt must have felt threatened by Abiy’s popularity, message and reform efforts. Ethiopians are accustomed to fearing their leaders. But Abiy is loved.

And despite his refreshingly reformist record so far, it is also worth highlighting the risk of relying on Abiy the individual as opposed to a system of governance that can survive the man:

There is also good reason to question whether or not he is producing supporters who would see him as a cult hero rather than someone who can be criticised, questioned and held to account when he crosses the line.

While this should be a source of caution, the gravest danger to lasting reforms is likely to come not from personalist rule by Abiy but from the TPLF old guard. There is also the real danger that Abiy will under-deliver and create even greater frustration among hopeful Ethiopians.

 

Is Africa Rising or Reeling?

This is from Amadou Sy, director of the Africa Growth Initiative at Brookings.

Whether described as “Hopeless,” “Rising,” or “Reeling,” no one can deny that African countries have made substantial gains.  In a recent piece, I argue that “missed in the binary of a hopeless versus a rosy narrative are large disparities among countries in terms of political and economic governance.” So many countries are quickly rising to the top. Countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia (in spite of the regrettable recent internal violence), Kenya (it is ironic that his article is a “Memo from Nairobi”), and Senegal are expected to grow at more than 5 percent this year (IMF, 2016). Yes, not surprisingly, oil exporters will continue to suffer from the lack of diversification of their sources of revenues, and South Africa—a middle-income country—is struggling from self-inflicted wounds.  But even within these countries, some regions and sectors will fare better than others.

Africans are past the debate of whether their countries are hopeless, rising, or reeling. What they want to see is resilient, sustainable, and inclusive growth, and the debate they are interested in is about the actual policies that will generate such outcomes. That is why young Burkinabe, following the example of youth in Senegal, took to the street in Ouagadougou two years ago to stop and reverse attacks against democracy. That is what many Congolese in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are fighting for right now.

Change is inherently destabilizing. So it is kind of amazing that in light of recent hiccups in political and economic development across Africa most analysts have opted to completely ignore the gains that African states have made over the last 25 years. Instead, many have run back to the old tried and tested narrative of a reeling continent plagued by political instability and economic catastrophes.

screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-10-50-20-amTake the example of Ethiopia. You essentially have a country that for a couple of decades has tried a formula of faux ethnic federalism under the domination of the TPLF, the formateur of the EPRDF constellation (see works by my colleague Lahra Smith here and here). For a long time this institutional innovation allowed for a reasonable amount of political stability (remember that Ethiopia was an empire of different peoples for centuries); on the back of which the country has registered pretty impressive economic gains (see here for another perspective). But now those gains have made the initial institutional innovation untenable. Ethiopians are demanding for greater voice for non-TPLF factions. Remember that the key trigger of the recent Oromo Protests was the encroachment on Oromo lands by a rapidly expanding Addis Ababa. Economic development (and the inequalities it has produced) is partially responsible for lowering the perceived costs of political organization in an attempt to revise the rules governing the initial post-Derg political settlement.

The state has pushed back violently against these revisionist political movements, particularly in the Oromo region (see image). A recent state of emergency takes away any pretense of proportionality, meaning Ethiopia is headed for greater shrinkage of political space.

Writing in 2003 Alem Habtu presciently observed that:

Ethnic federalism institutionalized ethnic groups as fundamental constituents of the state. It established them as social categories sharply distinct from the overarching category of citizenship. Many citizens are worried that it might lead to the demise of the state altogether. Thus far, there is no evidence that new ethnic nationalisms have emerged in Ethiopia as a consequence of ethnic federalism, as they did in the former USSR. But it is too early to entirely dismiss their emergence.

…… EPRDF has been undergoing an organizational-cum-ideological crisis since 2001. In a series of party meetings in June 2001, OPDO and SEDPF as well as the five allied regional parties, complained publicly of TPLF/EPRDF “tutelage.” Its crisis was manifested in its employment of Leninist organizational practices while adopting pluralist principles. It may face a great challenge in sustaining the ethnic federal project unless it undergoes ideological and organizational changes. Only time will tell whether it can do so without severely undermining the integrity and political management of the federal structure. If the federal state were to be in grave danger or collapse, the military may once again seize power. But if the latter fractures along ethnic lines, we could witness a Yugoslavia-like scenario. Inasmuch as EPRDF is a coalition, it is different from the Communist party of the USSR or Yugoslavia. The viability and stability of the infant political system is dependent on its flexibility and adaptability [emphasis mine]. Contingent events will shape the outcome of the ethnic federal experiment. In any case, the experiment is politically fragile.

On balance, it would be inaccurate to claim that Ethiopia is in decline. There are countless stories documenting very concrete gains in the country over the last two decades. Several state-owned enterprises are getting things done, with some — like Ethiopian Airlines — outcompeting their private competitors in the region. The narrative of general decline therefore betrays a singular misconception of how political development works. Did anyone really expect the process of reckoning with the failures of the institutions of ethnic federalism in Ethiopia to be smooth?

Serious students of Ethiopia (and of political development in general) certainly did not.

My own assessment is that this episode will be more of a Tiananmen Square moment for the Ethiopian state, as opposed to what happened in the USSR or Yugoslavia. I hope I am not wrong.

screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-5-17-29-pm

Ethiopian rules Africa’s skies

What can the international community do? Well, now is the time to make it clear to the Ethiopian government that basic respect for human rights will not always be sacrificed on the altar of economic growth. The TPLF leadership must be made to understand that for stability to obtain they must allow for some dispersal of power. They must be reminded of the fact that China’s rise was actually accompanied by significant openings on both the political and economic fronts. Nobody wants to go back to the suffocating and rudderless tin top dictatorship of the Derg.

I’ve always considered binary analyses of a continent of 55 countries as evidence of intellectual laziness. These analyses are nothing but a repackaging of 18th century views of the Continent as a place full of simple peoples, who live simple lives, that can be packaged into simple narratives. As I have tried to show with the Ethiopian case, what is happening in the country is complicated. And it is silly to try and project this onto the rest of the Continent.

All this to say that I agree with Sy. Read the whole thing here.

Meles Zenawi, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, is dead at 57

The BBC reports:

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has died at the age of 57, state media say, after weeks of illness. A government spokesman said Mr Meles had died in a hospital abroad – but did not say exactly where or give details of his ailment. Speculation about his health mounted when he missed an African Union summit in Addis Ababa last month.

Mr. Zenawi is believed to have died in a Belgian hospital – the Saint-Luc University Hospital in Brussels (where he was allegedly receiving treatment for an acute case of hematologic cancer). The last time he was seen in public was on the 19th of June 2012 at the G20 summit in Mexico.

For now the leadership transition in Ethiopia, Sub-Saharan Africa’s second most populous country, appears to have gone smoothly. According to the BBC report, the deputy Premier – Hailemariam Desalegn – will take over.

Mr. Desalegn is from the south of Ethiopia, away from the political centre of gravity of the country, which for centuries has been to the north – in Tigray and Amhara dominated areas.  

It is not yet clear if the smooth transition will stick. As the Economist reported a couple of weeks ago:

“power [in Ethiopia] has still rested with a clutch of Mr Meles’s comrades from his home area of Tigray in northern Ethiopia, many of them once members of a Marxist-Leninist group that used to admire Albania’s long-serving Communist leader, the late Enver Hoxha. This hard core, including the army’s chief of staff, General Samora Younis, retains a “paranoid and secretive leadership style”, according to a former American ambassador to Ethiopia, David Shinn. Were Mr Meles to leave in a hurry, relations between the young modernisers and the powerful old guard might fray.”

Under Mr. Zenawi (May 1991- Aug. 2012) Ethiopia was a mixed bag. His rule was characterized by one of the worst human rights records in the world. But he also brought some semblance of stability following the misguided and murderous Marxist-Leninist dictatorship of the Derg under Mengistu Haile Mariam; and presided over an economy with one of the fastest growth rates on the Continent.

It is also under Meles Zenawi that Ethiopia invaded Somalia to rid it of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) which was beginning to spread Somalia’s chaos into Ethiopia’s Ogaden region (it helped that the U.S. also wanted the ICU ousted from Mogadishu because of their alleged links of al-Qaeda).

A recent profile in the Atlantic summarizes it all:

“for every Muammar Qaddafi there’s a Meles Zenawi, the shrewd, technocratic Prime Minister of Ethiopia. Inside of the country, he’s known for imprisoning his political opponents, withholding development assistance from restive areas, stealing elections, and cracking down on civil society NGOs. In the rest of the world, he’s often praised for his impressive economic record, though not for his human rights. Zenawi has attracted Western support by being a responsible steward of aid money, a security partner in a rough region, and a G20 summit invitee.”

I remain cautiously optimistic that the Ethiopian ruling elite will pull through the rocky transition period. The next elections are due in 2015. In the current parliament the ruling party, the EPRDF, and its allies control nearly all of the 547 seats.

Beyond Ethiopia’s borders, the absence of Mr. Zenawi will certainly be felt in Somalia (which is presently struggling to get on its feet after decades of total anarchy and whose government partly depends on Ethiopian troops for security) and South Sudan (where Addis Ababa has been a broker in past conflicts between Khartoum and Juba). Ethiopia’s hostile relationship with Eritrea might also experience some change, most likely for the worse as whichever faction emerges victorious in Addis engages in sabre rattling in an attempt to prove their hold on power.

after sudan, ethiopia

Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir is here to stay. Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi is up next on a list of African autocrats who face elections this year. Ethiopia holds parliamentary elections on May 23rd in a vote that will determine who becomes Prime Minsiter. Africa’s second most populous country cremains under tight rule by the increasingly despotic Meles Zenawi. It is a foregone conclusion that Mr. Zenawi’s party will win. The only non-academic part of these elections will be how many seats the opposition is allowed to win. Mr. Zenawi has run the country since 1991 when he led a rebellion that overthrew the tinpot dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam.

More on Mr. Zenawi’s rule here.

The other elections coming up in the next month include Mauritius (May 5th) and the Central African Republic (May 16th). Keep track of these elections here.

as if somalis did not have enough problems….

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is implicated in a leaked report that suggests that corrupt officials have been diverting food aid intended for displaced Somali refugees. It is feared that al-Shabab (the Islamist insurgency group that is fighting against Somalia’s transitional government and its international backers) is benefiting from the diversion of food aid.

Diversion of food aid for other ends is not new in this region of the Continent. In the 1980s when the Ethiopian government under tin pot dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam was fighting Eritrean and Meles Zenawi-led rebels, both sides of the conflict diverted food aid and used it to purchase weapons, with disastrous consequences. The CIA seems to have forgotten about this particular case. The agency is a key nemesis of al-Shabab in Somalia.