The question raised by yesterday’s history is, why the hell does Ethiopia care about holding on to the Ogaden?
Ah, well. That’s tough to explain, and I don’t know that I can do it exactly. But let’s examine the various secessionist and other movements that have existed in this part of the world over the last, say, forty years (roughly the period of decolonization).
1. South Sudanese rebels fought a near-30-year war for secession from the rest of Sudan (they have autonomy and a promise of a referendum on independence in 2012).
2. Eritrea fought a near-30-year war for secession from the rest of Ethiopia, which was granted in 1993.
3. The Afar minority in Djibouti fought two civil wars, the last from 1991-2001, supporting secession from Djibouti.
4. The Oromo Liberation Front continue fighting a war for independence from Ethiopia (Oromo make up 35% of Ethiopia’s population).
5. The Ogaden National Liberation Front continue fighting a war for independence from Ethiopia (Somalis make up 5% of Ethiopia’s population)
6. The Lord’s Resistance Army has fought a 15-year struggle against the Ugandan state since the rise of Yoweri Museveni, purportedly to ensure continued control of the government by the Acholi tribe, but more likely because there was nothing else to do for a living.
7. The Darfur civil war in Sudan has run since 2003.
8. Sudan has faced an insurrection in the northeast of the country that at times was fierce enough to block shipping access at the port of Sawakin.
It boils down to this. Africa is full of countries that don’t make any sense. Colonial powers drew lines, as they did in Somalia, that had nothing whatsoever to do with how people identified themselves. Single tribes—like the Somalis—were split up among multiple countries, while in other colonies, like the Congo, people who had no contact with one another and had entirely different cultures were lumped together and expected to suddenly feel a part of the new colony, a sense of nationality.
It didn’t work, not surprisingly. Few African countries harbor no secessionist or autonomy movements, and the fear is that once the door is opened to their success—either through military or political action—the flood will be unstoppable. This is why the African Union specifically states that territorial integrity is paramount, and why even though good sense dictates otherwise the AU is encouraging South Sudanese to vote against independence in 2012. If we encourage the South Sudanese, goes the theory, what’s to stop every other country from splitting apart?
Domino theories in geopolitics seem to be more bluster than fact, but the point holds. In the case of Ethiopia—indeed, of most large countries in Africa—there is a larger dimension. If Ethiopia strikes a diplomatic deal to allow the Somalis in Ogaden to go free, the Oromo and Afar and Tigray and others will surely wish to follow. If Ethiopia allows the Somalis to attack and overrun the Ogaden, Sudan and Eritrea will no doubt strike next, and the Oromo (the largest tribe in Ethiopia) will step up their separatist guerrilla war. Apparent weakness begets further attacks.
From a philosophical point of view, there’s no reason the Somalis of Ethiopia and Kenya shouldn’t be in Somalia. But from a practical point of view, it would be that much worse to see the rest of Africa descend into warfare as every little separatist element seeks to achieve its own independence.
So into this land of un-countries with all their ethnic grudges, the United States has come to wage peace. The U.S. seems to work fairly well despite having a wide range of different ethnic groups. Theoretically if we can just show the way around here, economic development and peace will follow. That’s what CJTF-HOA is all about.