27 October 2006

Why Is Smitty In Djibouti? Part II - A History of Somalia

Yesterday I closed with the mention that Ethiopia has several reasons to be involved in the Somalia mess. CJTF-HOA (Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa), which is the command I'm attached to, is very active in Ethiopia, and Ethiopia has long been the most important power in the Horn. The main reason Ethiopia remains interested in Somalia is that the Somalis have a habit of invading Ethiopia every so often. Not surprisingly, the Ethiopians tend to invade Somalia every now and then as well.

Ethiopia is a polyglot state whose people belong to no fewer than 80 ethnic groups. At least five of these are fighting for independence, one of them being the Somalis. Most of eastern Ethiopia is a scrub desert called the Ogaden, and is inhabited by the Ogaden subclan of the Darood clan of Somalis. When Somalia's CIC leaders speak of creating a "greater Somalia," make no mistake that they include the Ogaden. Sparsely populated, the Ogaden has perhaps four and a half million people and is roughly the size of Alabama and Georgia.

The CIC are not the first people to discuss the notion of a “Greater Somalia.” (Nevermind the fact that a truly greater Somalia would probably exist someplace other than Somalia, which is not a very great chunk of territory at all.) The current map in the Somali region is a combination of colonial and post-WWII factors. The Somalis had existed across the Horn for millennia. The Ethiopian monarchy reigned over a smaller inland region. Because this was an ancient Christian monarchy, when the European powers began carving up Africa to suit their needs they left the Ethiopians alone and rather than fighting over control of the territory, they fought over control of independent Ethiopia’s economy, which was far and away the strongest in the region. The British took Sudan and Kenya, surrounding Ethiopia on the north and south. The French created Djibouti and built a railroad from the port here to Addis Ababa to capture as much Ethiopian commerce as possible. Somalia was ignored.

Djibouti was slightly more than half Somali. The British, who controlled the port of Aden on the Gulf of Aden, took northern Somalia because they wanted to control Berbera, Aden’s counterpart on the southern coast of the Gulf. Nobody much cared about the rest of Somalia, which then as now was devoid of resources and riven by interclan fighting. Italy was late to the colonial game and weak relative to France and Britain; they seized what remained of Somalia, including the Ogaden, without much of a fight.

Ethiopia had long attempted to subvert and control the Somalis on its eastern border, going back hundreds of years, and the animosity between Somalis and the Ethiopian state is long-standing. After the Italian seizure of southern Somalia, Ethiopia saw an opportunity in Italy’s weakness, and marched on Somalia. The Ogaden was successfully overtaken in 1900, but Ogaden is a fairly worthless scrap of territory even by Somali standards. Somalis themselves fought a proxy war for Italy against Ethiopia for twenty-some years, while British control in northern and extreme southern Somalia and French control in Djibouti became entrenched.

Interestingly, it was the Italians’ laissez-faire attitude toward their colony that saved them the worst of the anti-colonialist struggle. The British faced stiff and bloody resistance in northern Somaliland (though not in the Somali parts of Kenya), while the Italians concentrated their efforts on turning their Somalian holdings into something worthwhile. Many Italians immigrated to the colony and built numerous agricultural and other projects. Mussolini even pointed to Somaliland as an example of his good leadership, contrasting the relatively peaceful development of Italian Somaliland against the bloodshed in British Somaliland.

In the 1930’s, Mussolini invaded Ethiopia (heretofore the only pre-colonial African country to remain uncolonized) from Somalia, using both Ethiopian and Somali troops. WWII brought an end to Italian control of Ethiopia and Somalia; the British eventually occupied the entire area, including the French port of Djibouti. But the British had no desire to hold on to Somalia once the war ended. Somalis desired independence, and here for the first time in the modern era the notion of Greater Somalia came up.

A 1948 conference between the WWII victors sought to sort out the Somali issue. Somalis themselves, which had formed a pro-independence political party, the Somali Youth League, were not given a seat at the table. Instead of independence, the conference returned Djibouti to France and granted the Ogaden to independent Ethiopia, over Italian objections. The British took the northern part of the country centered on Berbera, while the Italians were granted southern Somalia in recognition of their competent administration in the pre-war years. The British and Italians both recognized the need to grant independence to Somalia and began building national institutions that would survive the transfer of power. The southernmost portions of former Italian Somaliland, however, were awarded to British Kenya, presumably as a buffer against the rest of Somalia. These areas had been initially colonized by the well-regarded Italians and the residents were not happy with the transfer. The Somali Youth League then developed the modern flag of Somalia, a five-pointed star on a blue background. The five points of the star reflected the five parts of Greater Somalia: Italian Somaliland, British Somaliland, Djibouti, the Ogaden, and the Somali portions of Kenya

For their part the Italians were better managers than the British, who spent no effort on infrastructure or economic development and instead concentrated on ensuring British economic dominance of the port of Berbera. They let go of their Somaliland protectorate in 1959 four days before the Italians released their portion, and the two halves merged immediately.

Less than two years passed before the northern part of Somalia started talking secession. Northern Somalia is home to two clans, the Ishaaq and Dir, who are not represented in southern Somalia except around Mogadishu; likewise the southern tribes (Hawiye, Rahanweyne, Digil, and Darood) do not live in northern Somalia (though the Darood are the main clan in Puntland). This dispute simmered along as a political matter for many years, while other political parties sprang up seeking the return of the Ogaden and the Kenyan areas to Greater Somalia.

In 1963 the Bare Revolt erupted in southern Ethiopia. Led by Oromo (an Ethiopian tribe) and Somali elements, it sought the independence of the Bare region, which made up most of the southern Ogaden. Later that year Somalia and Ethiopia fought a brief but brutal border war; after the cease-fire, the Somalian government began funding the Bare Revolt, which lasted until the end of the decade.

The area then developed a Cold-War flavor, with all the turnarounds that implies. The Somalian government turned toward the Soviet Union and China, while Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia sought closer relations with the West. Soviet and Marxist influence combined with Somalia’s ancient clan wars to bring the democratic government to a near standstill. In 1969 Siad Barre led a military coup, and the country was taken over by the Supreme Revolutionary Council.

Somalia under Siad Barre initially sought to avoid military conflict and instead proceeded on a crash course of economic and cultural development. He created a new regional system that ignored clan boundaries in an effort to end the influence of clans on Somali life. In this Siad Barre preceded the CIC by thirty-five years; though Barre was no better at eliminating tribalism than the CIC. Though one of his goals was the erasure of clan-lines, every single member of Siad Barre’s inner circle in the government was of the Darood clan; the Rahanweyn, Digil, and Hawiye were represented only in the powerless council of advisors, and the Ishaaq and Dir of northern Somalia weren’t even granted seats there. (Today the CIC is made up almost entirely of Hawiye clansmen.)

Through the 1970s, Siad Barre took money and military aid from the Soviet Union and quickly developed a military capable of matching the main regional power, Ethiopia. In 1974, the communist military junta called the Derg deposed Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, and in the years following the Ethiopian military fell apart and numerous separatist struggles began, including one in the Ogaden. The Derg quickly proved to be far more ardently Marxist-Leninist than Siad Barre, and the Soviets began supplying the new Ethiopian regime, which quickly kicked out the American military mission in the country.

In 1977 the Derg finally settled on a leader, Mengistu Haile Miriam. Mengistu quickly accused Siad Barre of supporting the Ogaden rebels. Siad Barre denied this, and while the diplomats were still arguing over the evidence, he invaded Ethiopia. The Soviets attempted to get a cease-fire, but failing at that they simply abandoned Somalia. The U.S. came in on Siad Barre’s side, and the two superpowers fought to a standstill in 1978, when the Somalian military retreated back across the border at perhaps a third of the strength it had when it invaded.

Somalia continued to back the Ogaden rebels in Ethiopia, but with Soviet military assistance the Ethiopian military eventually overcame the rebels; however, an active separatist movement remains in the Ogaden to this day, occasionally perpetrating bombings and kidnappings. In response, the Ethiopian military conducted numerous cross-border attacks in central Somalia throughout the 1980s. Siad Barre abandoned the dream of Greater Somalia, having as he did a military incapable of making the dream a reality.

During the 1980’s Siad Barre’s regime became increasingly tyrannical and clan-based, persecuting especially the Isaaq clan in the north and the Majeerteen subclan of the Darood (you’ll note that Barre was himself a Darood, but of a different subclan); Abdullahi Yusuf, the current TFG president, is a Majeerteen and attempted a coup against Siad Barre in 1978 before escaping to Ethiopia to work to bring down the Barre regime.

Siad Barre’s government collapsed in 1991 under the weight of its own oppression. In his last years in office he played the clans off against one another in an attempt to hold on to power. When he fled the country, the clans began fighting. The U.S. intervened and then left again, the UN did the same, and so for the last 15 years there has been no functioning government in all of Somalia.

Now, however, the CIC is on the scene, proclaiming a “Greater Somalia” and Islamic government. Ethiopia supports the Transitional Federal Government-run by Abdullahi Yusuf, who has lived in Ethiopia for many years-and we can assume will defend it militarily as long as is necessary. As long as Ethiopia sees a threat coming from Somalia, it will find a way to stick around.

Tomorrow I'll look at Ethiopia itself--and Eritrea and Kenya and the rest of the Horn, too.

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