Home | Comment & Analysis    Sunday 7 January 2007

Ethiopia’s Zenawi: Betting on a losing horse


By Jamal Madar

Jan 6, 2006 — Meles Zenawi may be celbrating in his palace in Addis Ababa for his lightning victory over the poorly armed and ill-trained forces of Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) but his victory may soon prove to be hollow.

Zenawi’s US backed war aim was essentially two folds: First, to disrupt or destroy the ruling apparatus of the UIC and, depending on the success of combat operations, decapitate the whole UIC regime. Second, to replace the UIC with the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) headed by Abdillahi Yusuf, which is more receptively attuned to the Ethio-US interests and provide protection to it until such time when it has reasonably attained the capability to defend itself from Islamists.

Undoubtedly, Zenawi, under instructions from his US benefactor, has succeeded to remove the UIC from power, for the time being at least, but he has not been able to decapitate the UIC. The UIC forces hastily abandoned Mogadishu to spare civilian population from death and destruction and dispersed their militia and heavy weaponry around the country to fight another day. Conversely, the so-called extremist elements within the UIC, which Ethiopia and the US longed to capture or kill, are still out there in the wilderness, thumping their noses at Melez Zenawi.

As part of its on-going war against what George Bush described as “Islamo fascists”, Washington gave Addis Ababa the green light to invade Somalia and topple the UIC, which it [Washington] views “a new Taliban and al-Qa’ida sympathisers who were turning Somalia into a haven for terrorists including those responsible for the US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998,” according to The Australian.

"Washington encouraged Addis Ababa to go ahead. They provided the same sort of diplomatic cover they did for Israel going into Lebanon last summer, and for similar reasons — to keep a foothold in the region," said analyst Michael Weinstein according to The Daily Nation.

The TFG, which Zenawi staked so much of Ethiopia’s credibility, is not only ineffectual and unpopular, but it is also powerless militarily and cannot protect itself from the Islamists without prolonged Ethiopian military presence in Somalia- something, which Zenawi cannot afford at the moment because of the growing ONLF insurgency in the Somali region of Zone 5, his current hostilities with Eritrea coupled with the ever-increasing domestic opposition to his authoritarian rule and the international pressure on Addis Ababa to pull back its troops. Moreover, the perception in the Somali street is that ‘the TFG is nothing more than ‘a motley collection of traitors and mercenaries who are at the beck and call of Meles Zenawi’ and has little or no popular support in the country. Surely, if the TFG had any support among the Somali people, it wouldn’t have needed Ethiopia to fight for it. The only credible support that the TFG has until now comes largely from the heartlands of Abdillahi Yusuf’s hometown- the self-autonomous region of Puntland.

The TFG may be recognised by some 88 countries but, in the eyes of the Somali people, it is a discredited and reviled government associated with warlords. Most, if not all, of the blood–thirsty warlords who wreaked death and destruction across Mogadishu and its environs for the past one-and-a-half-decades were cabinet ministers that belonged to the TFG.

These warlords include: former ministers such as Security minister, Mohamed Afrah Qanyare, Trade minister, Muuse Sudi Yalahow, Religious affairs minister, Omar Mohamoud Mohamed and minister for Militia and Rehabilitation, Botan Isse Alin

Other warlords, without portfolio, inlcude Mohamed Dheere whose reign of terror in Jowhar- the seat of the TFG- put him in collision course with Abdillahi Yusuf and Ali Mohamed Gedi over government’s meagre resources. Eventually, Mohamed Dheere had to kick out the Ethiopian backed TFG from Jowhar forcing the government to flee to Baidao. Ironically, when the Islamists expelled him from Jowhar, Zenawi took Mohamed Dheere to his bosom and trained him and his followers in Feerfeer, Ethiopia.

Needless to say, these TFG warlord-ministers caused untold misery and mayhem right across the country.

It was only in June 2006 when the Islamists fully seized control of Mogadishu and defeated the TFG warlord-ministers that Prime Minister Gedi had actually sacked the four ministers in question for their involvement in the Somali bloodshed.

With the backing of Ethiopia, it is now business as usual for these same warlords. Mohamed Dheere is now back to Jowhar to restore and re-establish his warlord ship. Another warlord, Mohamed Afrah Qanyare, returned to his old hunting ground, Dayniile, Mogadishu, to re-exert his authority in there.

There is no doubt that the TFG lost its mantle of legitimacy when it allied itself with Ethiopia. It would be hard for the TFG to shrug off its image of subservience to Meles Zenawi as well as its past era of jungle mentality and warlordism.

On the contrary, the UIC forces brought about peace and stability throughout much of central and southern Somalia. They re-opened Mogadishu airport and seaport for business, both of which closed for more than one-and-a-half decades. They cleaned and collected mountains of garbage from the streets of Mogadishu, restored law and order, expelled all blood-thirsty warlords who killed, maimed and destroyed the lives of thousands upon thousands of Somali people and sold innocent muslim clerics by the dozen to the US as part of the CIA extra-ordinary rendition. The UIC authorities removed all barricades erected by TFG warlord-ministers in the main roads between townships and cities. More importantly, they evicted all squatters who occupied properties owned by other people and returned them back to their rightful owners.

If there were any blunders and mistakes to which the UIC authorities fell victim, it was that they have over reacted with their approach to certain sensitive and contentious issues, such as the banning of Khat where thousands of people’s livelihoods depended on, their empty rhetorical threats against Ethiopia [though Ethiopia occupied Somali territories] and the break-away republic of Somaliland where they could have won friends rather than enemies.

Such is the stark difference between the TFG and the UIC. It simply defies the conventional wisdom as to how the people who suffered so much for so many years under the warlord-ministers of the TFG would suddenly welcome back and offer support to their tormentors.

Given its past record of warlordism and its unholy alliance with Ethiopia, it is hard to imagine how the TFG would ever govern the country without popular support, which is the key to its success. If the past is any guide, the prospect of a protracted guerrilla war tactics against Ethiopia’s occupying forces and its puppet TFG is now a more realistic scenario than ever before. Surely, Zenawi is betting on a losing horse.

* The author is a Somali-Briton based in London, UK. He can be reached at adammadar@yahoo.com

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