Ethiopia: Trapped


June 26, 2009: Shades of Nigeria? The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) has been threatening to attack oil exploration and production companies operating in Ethiopia's Ogaden region. The region is a predominantly ethnic Somali area. The ONLF attacked a Chinese oil operation in 2007 and killed over 70 people. Since early spring 2009 the ONLF's threats to attack petroleum operations have increased. A recent ONLF accusation claimed that oil companies had cleared 1600 square kilometers in the Ogaden, destroying vegetation and forcing people off the land. Ethiopia's and Nigeria's political, topographical, and historical situations differ, but rebel outfits in Nigeria attack oil facilities in the Niger delta to inflict economic damage on the government and to get international headlines. The ONLF's limited attacks have certainly gotten media attention. Ethiopia knows oil and gas deposits are a national economic asset, which is one reason it has deployed troops and police to the region to protect exploration crews and drilling operations. The stage is set for another "guerrilla oil war" in Africa.

June 25, 2009: In a turnabout, the Ethiopian government said that it had "not ruled out" deploying troops in Somalia. The government, however, cautioned that Ethiopia would not act alone, saying that other nations would have to be involved in a "response" to the Islamist militias who are battling Somalia's Transitional National Government (TNG --also called the Transitional Federal Government). The Ethiopian government called for an "international mandate," which suggests a UN mandate or perhaps a request from the African Union and European Union. The African Union is seeking more peacekeeping forces for Somalia. The AU has around 4,300 soldiers in Somalia, which is an inadequate force. The key quote from the Ethiopian prime minister: ""We do not want to find ourselves in a situation where a so-called Ethiopian horse would be trying to take the chestnut out of the fire on behalf of everybody else...and this horse being whipped by every idiot and his grandmother.""

June 21, 2009: The Ethiopian government said that it would not send troops to the aid of the Somali government. Somalia's government has requested military support. Ethiopia came to the aid of Somalia's TNG and attacked Islamist militias in Somalia in December 2006.

June 18, 2009: The confrontation between Eritrea and Ethiopia over the border area around the town of Badme continues to be the most likely cause of renewed conventional war between the two nations. In many respects Ethiopia's war against the ONLF, Eritrea's battles with Djibouti, and the on-going civil war in Somalia are "shadow wars" (proxy wars) between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The Algiers Peace Agreement and the Ethiopia-Eritrea Border Commission (EEBC) were supposed to resolve the border dispute. The EEBC ruled in favor of Eritrea and despite a mutual commitment to binding arbitration, Ethiopia refused to accept the border demarcation commission's ruling. The peace agreement did lead to the release of prisoners and return of displaced persons. But giving up Badme is seen, by Ethiopias leaders, as political dynamite inside Ethiopia.

June 15, 2009: Eritrea is suffering from water shortages. Southern Eritrea is particularly hard hit, as wells are going dry or turning salty. Drought is the cause. The country also faces a "food crisis," as crop losses mount from lack of rain. A UN source estimates that up to two million Eritreans face "hunger and malnourishment." Eritrea has a population of around 3.7 million, so that is half of the country. The government is concerned about the cities. Lack of water and food become a huge political problem (like, a reason to demonstrate and even revolt). Eritrea's radical government has got itself in a political bind with the UN and many food aid NGOs, the agencies that could help mitigate the looming food crisis. Eritrea has accused the UN of favoring Ethiopia (in the Eritrea-Ethiopia confrontation) and sees most NGOs as representatives of an "international community" that is anti-Eritrea.

June 14, 2009: Somalia accused Eritrea of providing weapons and support to Islamist militias operating in Somalia. The Somali statement said that Eritrea provides "the majority of the weapons" used by the Islamists. The Somalis contend Eritrea's long-range target is Ethiopia. Training and supplying the Islamist militias gives Eritrea an operational base for training guerrillas to operate against Ethiopia.



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