Ethiopia: Shadow Wars


August 12, 2009:  The US has designated a special diplomatic envoy to deal with Eritrea. The envoy's primary mission is to urge Eritrea to quit supporting Islamist rebels in Somalia, but the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict is part of the portfolio. A US diplomatic team met with Eritrean representatives in Libya several weeks ago. That is something of a small victory since Eritrea has been saying it really has little to say to anyone who supports Ethiopia and the Somalia Transitional National Government (the name of Somalia's rump federal government). Eritrea is at odds with the UN, too, since it argues that the UN Secretariat favors Ethiopia in disputes.

August 8, 2009: After a visit by the US Secretary of State, Kenya expelled an Eritrean diplomat for what Kenya said were "security reasons." Kenya is very concerned about Islamist rebels from Somalia crossing the Kenya-Somalia border and seeking haven in refugee camps located within Kenya.

August 4, 2009: Eritrea issued a statement saying that it has not provided weapons to the Somali al Shabaab Islamist movement. Eritrea "rejected" calls for UN sanctions to punish Eritrea for supporting Islamist rebels. Eritrea then demanded sanctions against Ethiopia.

July 29, 2009: The US said that unless Eritrea quits "undermining security" in Somalia it will face UN political and economic sanctions. Calling for sanctions or threatening sanctions is one thing, actually implementing them is a lot tougher. Eritrea has proved to be resistant to sanctions. The country has a "mobilized population" that during the war with Ethiopia accepted deprivation as part of the struggle. Many Eritreans still think they are in a "cold War" with Ethiopia. In many respects, Ethiopia and Eritrea are fighting a "proxy war" in Somalia. Sanctioning specific Eritrean trading companies has been discussed but it may not be a fruitful option since many are small, niche corporations that will just go out of business. The government is the target and sanctioning individual government officials is a possibility.

July 16, 2009: The food crisis in Ethiopia's Ogaden desert region is getting worse. International aid agencies estimate that in parts of the Ogaden from 15 to 21 percent of the population already suffers from malnutrition. Water shortages and "unsafe water" (contaminated water) increase the possibility of famine followed by disease. The rainy season this year (March to May) wasn't very rainy, which is why the dry season (July to September) is proving to be so difficult. Parts of the Grand Sahel are at best marginal in terms of agricultural production and when the rains fail either the people move to good pastures, receive food and medical aid from outside sources, or they perish.



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