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The War on Terror Comes to Africa
E thiopia’s attack on Somalia, backed by a nod from George W. Bush, is a clear sign that the region is high on the U.S. agenda in its “war on terror.” But Ethiopia and Somalia aren’t new to global power politics. For decades brutal dictators have received massive support to play the pawns of the U.S., and previously also the Soviet Union.
Throughout the Cold War Ethiopia and Somalia were used as proxies, receiving billions of dollars worth of weapons while famines and wars raged throughout the region. U.S. support of Haile Selassie, emperor of Ethiopia from World War II until 1974, ensured U.S. access to the vital spy base at Kagnew, while next door the Soviets backed Siad Barre’s “Marxist” regime in Somalia.
On the back of U.S. aid, Ethiopia developed one of the largest armies in Africa, which it used to combat an independence movement in Eritrea and to attempt to control the region. Selassie’s policies became increasingly unpopular, however, especially when he ignored the famine of the early 1970s. (As 100,000 peasants were known to have died, one of Selassie’s ministers is quoted as saying, “If we could save the peasants only by confessing our failure to the world, it is better that they die.”) In 1974 the army overthrew Selassie’s rule and Major Mengistu took control of the ruling military committee, known as the Derg.
Ultimately, Mengistu preferred a relationship with the Soviets, which was more in line with his proclaimed ideology and, he thought, more likely to provide the weapons he needed to keep himself in power. Seeing Ethiopia as a far more important prize than Somalia, the Soviet Union did indeed outbid the U.S., sending $9 billion in military hardware before Mengistu was ousted in 1991. Soviet aid allowed Mengistu to unleash terror on political opponents, as well as many ordinary civilians, and increased the war drive against the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front, massacring thousands of civilians in Eritrea. Despite some embarrassment, Soviet support continued throughout the famine of the mid-1980s, which killed at least 1 million people, even as Mengistu spent $55 million celebrating the anniversary of his revolution.
To add to the murky politics, Mengistu also received a little help from Israel, which bribed him to allow the deportation of Ethiopian Jews needed to bolster the Jewish population of Israel. Shortly after the deal, Israeli-made cluster bombs started falling on Eritrean towns. While condemning Soviet aid to Mengistu, the U.S., needless to say, didn’t mention Israeli aid.
Across the border, the U.S. now supported Barre’s Somalia, albeit with less fanfare, not wanting to upset a potential future relationship with Ethiopia. As early as 1977, the U.S. promised to find allies who would be able to supply Somalia the military assistance that it would need to attack Ethiopia’s Ogaden region. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, and Pakistan all rushed in with the required aid.
In 1980 the U.S. signed an arms deal which allowed it access to Somali bases. Under Reagan, the U.S. supplied more than $680 million to Siad Barre, at least $195 million of which was intended for military use (the figure increases dramatically when related aid is counted), despite Congressional obstacles. Barre spent around one-fifth of his country’s income on arms while he faced the lowest literacy rate in the world (12 percent).
While the Cold War wound down, and as Barre was ousted from power, the U.S. initiated a “humanitarian intervention” to clean up the mess left in Somalia (with no mention of the role of U.S. support in creating this situation), which included a raging famine and rampant warlordism. The result of the 1992/1993 UN-backed “Operation Restore Hope” was disastrous. It is estimated that between 6,000 and 10,000 Somalis died before President Clinton terminated the operation after 18 U.S. soldiers were killed. But few questioned the motives of Bush I’s administration in sending the troops in the first place.
One of those who did was Stephen Shalom. Writing in the early 1990s, he detailed how the U.S. military establishment was desperately searching for a post-Cold War justification for its continued budget levels and the central position the military played in U.S. policy-making. Military power was vital to the U.S.’s continued position in the world, but how to justify it? The “war on drugs” was tried in Latin America, “sovereignty and justice” in Iraq/ Kuwait, and “humanitarian intervention” in Somalia.
These justifications served for the down times, but ultimately the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 solved the problem. The “war on terror” had begun.
Like the Cold War, the war on terror is an all-encompassing template for world affairs—if a situation looks similar, incorporate it into the bigger game. That’s why the Ethiopian government has referred to the Somali Islamic Courts—the group that has until recently been de facto ruling Somalia—as a “terrorist group.” In a December interview with the Washington Post , Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia’s prime minister and former head of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, said, “It does surprise me that intelligent people in the 21st century could claim that if you respond to the terrorists with force, you spawn terrorism, but if you appease them, you somehow tame them.”
Meles puts up with no nonsense at home either. When opposition groups protested at his re-election in November 2005, government forces opened fire—197 people were killed and thousands were arrested, including 100 opposition leaders, journalists, and relief workers.
All of this plays extraordinarily well in Washington. The Bush administration has stated that the Islamic Courts group is “controlled by Al-Qaeda cell individuals.” To this end the U.S. funded the very warlords that threw its troops out of Somalia a decade earlier during Operation Restore Hope. In January 2006, an International Crisis Group expert reported that between $100,000 and $150,000 was being funneled by the U.S. to warlord proxies in Kenya every month, effectively breaching the UN embargo on arms to Somalia.
T he real tragedy is that the situation in Somalia, as in so many other places, is actually more complex than the U.S. and its Ethiopian proxy would like to admit. Since 1991 there has been no stable government. In 2004 Kenya, worried about the impact that a politicized brand of Islam in Somalia would have on its own Muslim minority, helped get agreement from various warlords to establish a Transitional Federal Government (TFG). The TFG, made up of some very unsavory characters, initially pretended to run Somalia from Kenya and until very recently actually controlled almost none of the country. Nonetheless, it has received international backing, as it contains so many warring factions and tribes.
The Islamic Courts does not have international recognition, but does have popular support and, until recently, controlled most of the country. Opinions of the Islamic Courts differ markedly within Somalia. Many praise the stability that it has brought after so many years of chaos and violence and believe that religious forms of justice are widely seen as the only way to rise above warlord violence. However, the International Crisis Group wrote in 2005 that “Islamist extremism has failed to take a broader hold in Somalia because of Somali resistance—not foreign counterterrorism efforts.”
It was in this context that Ethiopia secretly stationed at least 8,000 troops in Somalia from the TFG capital in Baidoa. In October 2006 the Islamic Courts issued a threat to Ethiopia to leave Somalia. In December Ethiopia, with backing from the U.S., decided it was time to invade properly, conducting air raids and entering the capital Mogidishu as the Islamic Courts withdrew. The Ethiopian government made its intentions clear, “We are going to use any appropriate means to destabilize the anti-Ethiopian forces in Somalia.”
Ethiopia appears to have won, for now, with the warlords in the TFG installed as Somalia’s de facto, as well as de jure, government. Ethiopia claims 1,000-2,000 have been killed with 4,000-5,000 wounded—while tens of thousands risk being displaced. Martial law has been declared in an attempt to rein in the chaos that has returned to the streets of Mogadishu. Even more worrying is what this means for the future of the region, where the war on terror is now firmly implanted, with all the international repercussions that entails.
Somalia’s TFG is highly unstable, unpopular, and broke, while the Islamic Courts is likely to re-start an insurgency. Countries throughout the Horn of Africa have also been affected. Eritrea (which gained independence from Ethiopia in 1991) supports the Islamic Courts while Kenya supports the TFG—both are religiously mixed countries; religious and ethnic divisions in Sudan are well known. Both “sides” have been radicalized and are calling on international support. The Guardian newspaper describes the dangerous situation aptly: “Washington has viewed Somalia’s domestic complexities and their intertwined regional repercussions through the distorting prism of the ‘war on terror’…the stage is set for a wider, partly proxy conflict, in which a fully fledged Somali war joins the daily horrors from Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Nick Dearden is an independent activist based in London.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; email@example.com; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; firstname.lastname@example.org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: email@example.com; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; email@example.com.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; email@example.com; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: email@example.com; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.