Sunday, December 7

Meles's Not So Excellent Adventure II

"Ethiopia announced Friday that is pulling its forces from Somalia by year's end, leaving the ravaged capital vulnerable to the Islamic militants who have seized nearly all of the country."

AP via Ethiomedia

We don't have the money to take the burden individually. The international community should provide funding.

Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia's dictator

It took Ethiopia two weeks in December 2006 and January 2007 to invade Somalia and crush fighters loyal to the Somali Islamic Courts Union. By contrast, it has taken two years for it to decide to withdraw, leaving the nastiest of the same Islamists in control of much of the country.

The Economist via Ethiomedia


The above referenced Economist article is to our collective mind characteristic of careless, ‘consult a cadre’ journalism run out to get a quick item for that next week’s edition. Actually it is a bit better than that but one would hope that absent press freedom or any other avenue for official questioning of policy in Ethiopia and given a government dedicated to churning out propaganda in the personal interests of its paramount leader, that the Economist especially would not abandon normal analysis in favor of a view of the ‘Horn of Africa According to Meles Inc’.

You see, although the article does refer to "the Ethiopians’ original aims, to shore up Meles Zenawi, their ruthless prime minister" - still according to the article one gets the impression that the noble Meles was let down by the African Union and Somalis themselves. The wisdom of intervening in Somalia to begin with is not an issue unless it is about America ‘egging’ on Meles to do in Somalia what he has actually been doing to Ethiopians for thirty four years.

The whole business of invasion and withdrawal to be was decided in secrecy by Ethiopia ’s dictator just like giving away land to Sudan. There was not the slightest hint of public debate on the matter and was based on contracts between ferenjis and Meles alone.

Ethiopian interests are not at issue at all. Ethiopia has all the institutions of civilized government but they exist to put a nice face on tyranny. There is a parliament, an election board, a supreme court, a commodities exchange etc. but all are a poor Potemkin façade with massive gaps for even the blindest observer to see the carnage behind.

Ethiopia is one of the most corrupt, oppressive, and overall vile governments on earth. Does that figure into the Economist analysis about its policies and purposes? Not really.

The decisions and interests of Meles himself are often attributed to Ethiopia as a whole. The article could have been a very unusually well written and slickly self deprecating press announcement from the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry – and in a sense it is. Have anyone's interests in the Ogaden been met? What does that mean in terms of Ethiopian vs. Melesian interests? How does the Economist know this if Western reporters and aid agencies are kept out of the Ogaden?

Because of their reports of killings and bombings of civilians ferenjis have not been allowed to see what is going on. Ethiopians don’t matter – what they witness is a non-issue unless it slips by the bonds of the killers. Even then statements from the killers’ spokesmen count for far more than the dead.

We are to believe that some piece of paper signed in Djibouti makes Somalia all better or at least a little bit better than it was or at least that it gives some rational promise for the future. The fact that the very same people who are to maintain the ‘glorious achievement’ in Djibouti are the very same Somali government officials that the Economist blames for bringing the earnest efforts of Ethiopia to naught is nonsensical.

Even if the agreement falls apart we are consoled with the fact that Ethiopian troops are a day’s drive from Mogadishu . So what? Indian soldiers are a few day’s drive from the Pakistani capital too and for that matter American troops are less than a day’s drive from the Canadian capital. The issue is the decision to invade or to stay or to leave. Waiting to see what happens as a result of some piece of paper signed by thoroughly unreliable actors somewhere is beyond naïve.

The Economist in all of its coverage worldwide has grown to complacent about its reputation for real journalism and analysis - of the past that is. Today it too often settles for a semi-sophomoric wisdom and coolness. Last year there was an article about how pre-historical artifacts discovered in a desert somewhere should make Africans get over there differences. Europe had a treasure trove of historical artifacts all around for all living memory and kept making more and more in which to forget their problems.

But it took two World Wars and over half a century of an American security umbrella to get Europeans to behave decently towards each other. Admittedly the state of Europe then and Africa now is a bit different - but you get the point. When discussing the rest of the world the Economist doesn’t go in for easy smug cutish comments.

Does the Economist know that even as Ethiopian troops drove into Somalia the Ethiopian government was already announcing that they were leaving. Ever since then reports from Ethiopian sources have been naught but a litany of lies. For example, does anyone know how many Ethiopians died in Somalia?

It could be ten thousand as easily as it could be eight hundred. How many soldiers defected? How many are crippled for life? Have families been informed? If the Ethiopian-Eritrean war is any indication no one will ever know the answers to any of these questions. For Meles, Ethiopian life whether on the streets of Mogadishu or in Ethiopia itself is a matter of personal power and money.

Look at the intervention in Somalia from the point of view of Meles.

One soldier with everything he needs to go into battle or occupation is cheap. His life or well being are not even at issue. All together the cost of one AK-47, boots, two changes of uniforms, bullets, rudimentary training, meager room and board, and poor to absent medical care is far less than $1,000.

A used AK and uniforms with the holes stitched up make this even cheaper. At those prices a division is worth less than $10 million including upkeep for more than a year or so. Maintenance costs are far less – indeed from the Melesian point of view a soldier who is not used up in a reasonable amount of time is a depreciating asset.

Who pays for this?

Ethiopians are being squeezed every second of their lives for money to send up the chain of criminal relations that define the Ethiopian economy. They help to pay for the system that abuses them and they have no choice. They own no land and are indeed serfs of the government which owns all of the land, controls who farms it, and manages or owns every system of distribution, export, and import. They are in debt bondage to the government for fertilizer and taxes.

Their lives and positions depend more on the whims of local government / party / business cadres and the weather. Even improvements to the land raise the threat that it will be taken away and given to an official’s relative or cadre loyal to Meles. This system naturally produces mainly blood, sweat, and tears – but in a nation of tens of millions, wringing even a few dollars from each one every year adds up.

The government and the party aristocracy that define it make their real money from ferenjis who are so moved by the suffering that they throw cash at it. Never mind the system is designed to produce ‘poor, nasty, brutish, and short lives’ - ferenjis make careers of never criticizing the local dictator in favor of begging and very occasionally threatening him to treat his own people decently when it absolutely must be done to avoid embarassment.

The lion’s share of every one of billions of dollars, euros, and yen in aid gets into the hands of a vast network of identical and often the same people who make up government / party /business consultants, officials, companies, and agencies – and the money largely stays there. That is all of the money that comes into Ethiopia in the name of the Ethiopian people but into the pockets and foreign accounts of the revolutionary aristocracy.

The aid money flowing in meets only slightly decreased amounts going out into numbered accounts, shell companies, and real estate in the US and Europe. Actually per capita foreign investment into Ethiopia is less than that into Somalia . This is clear to anyone who gets past the ridiculous news items about the fabled commodities exchange, a few flower farms on stolen land, bumper crops, the coming rivals for Silicon Valley on Bole Road , and the ones about how Ethiopia will be a middle income nation in a few years.

However, to the bright lads all over the Western media and even now at the Economist none of this is at issue. How about the fact that Ethiopia , one of the poorest and least productive nations on earth, took upon itself the burden of invading and occupying a neighboring country which has known nothing but anarchy and every increasing eagerness for civil war for generations.

Somalia is a country where the only national monument still standing is of the centuries old Gragn, the failed but almost successful destroyer of Ethiopia whose deprivations were unrivalled by the Italian Fascists and only rivaled in recent history by Mengistu and Meles.

The whole Somali national mission for most of the time since independence has been the dismemberment and destruction of Ethiopia . The one thing Somalis have consistently hated more than Ethiopia is other Somalis – but the hatred for Ethiopia is an abiding and patient one and never forgotten. The poor achievements of successive national unity governments whose basic aim was hurting Ethiopia could not conceal and actually inspired basic clan hatreds that led to almost two decades of bitter bloody internecine warfare.

The US went into Iraq and after more than five years appears to be finishing with American interests met - not as expected but met nevertheless. That took an investment of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars a year along with domestic discontent and international criticism. But … the US has a functioning and vibrant democracy where the will of voters can change policy. The US has a fourteen trillion dollar a year economy – the Iraqi adventure was winnable and eventually won.

Now consider again Ethiopia going into Somalia . Not only are government salaries and pensions in Ethiopia paid for by foreign aid but even pencils and bullets are also paid for by aid. Meles is one of the richest men on earth not only because of his actual assets but also because his relationship with Ethiopia and Ethiopians is one of ownership.

When American, British, or Israelis troops have to deal with civilian casualties there are investigations and the world hears cries of condemnation from every corner. Each has an interest and a basic sense of humanity that see them get the job done as cleanly as possible – there are consequences to be dealt with for politicians and warriors in democratic societies.

However, when insurgents or terrorists shoot and blow people up by the thousands there are only routine comments – after all nothing more is expected of them than to be barbaric. When the soldiers of Meles leveled sections of Mogadishu - well that was just business as usual for Africans and did not matter – after all Meles routinely treated Ethiopians even worse in the Anuak regions and nobody minded.

So Meles learned he could act with impunity in Somalia as he had always done in Ethiopia – no one dared question him.

How about this – remember the reaction when American bodies were dragged by cheering crowds through Somali streets how strong the reaction was? How about the Ethiopian bodies that got the same treatment? Ethiopians love their sons and fathers as much as Americans do but they weren’t allowed to even hear about it or see it and if they did - what could they do about it anyway?

Meles never had a dream of paying for his adventure in Somalia from Ethiopia ’s resources or even of spending a cent of his fortune or of seeking anyone's consent. Because of his social contract with ferenjis he had every expectation that ferenji taxpayers would foot the bill. The Bush Administration agreed openly and the rest of the ferenji world did privately.

After all, the prevailing point of view from Brussels to Washington is that “ Africa will always be a mess, especially those Ethiopians and Somalis, so why expect things like actual development and democracy when it is better to just try and keep them out of the headlines and too much trouble? Better to just keep them from killing each other in front of CNN crews and Embassy staff at the very least and possibly hurt Al Quaeda in the bargain.”

As we noted above Ethiopian lives don’t matter to Meles and there is no internal accountability or debate over those lives and policy so he can do what he wants as long as foreign partners are in place. It is ridiculous to speak of Ethiopian interests and Ethiopian policy. This is and has been all about the personal interests, finances, and power of Meles Zenawi.

It is not in the interest of civilized peoples anywhere to have Islamists, particularly of the Islamic Courts Union variety, ruling Somalia . Of course they are bad news for everyone, especially Somalis. However, to consider for a moment that Meles’s Ethiopia could pull off the miracle of putting Somalia together again (or for the first time really) is ridiculous beyond words.

To consider that a disunited (by government policy), oppressed, bitterly poor Ethiopia would have her interests served by the soldiers of Meles treating Somalis just like they did Ethiopians is plain dumb.

To repeat the point just in case it has not been made yet – this is all about Meles. For the adventure in Somalia Meles was expecting:
--to get a whole lot of extra money above and beyond the usual poverty and engineered famines
-- to cover the costs of the war and then some;
-- Washington would be even more uncritical of him and his bloodletting in Ethiopia ;
-- there would be a whole lot more acceptance and tacit support for his actions of every kind from Europe too.

Meles got much of what he wanted but apparently not enough. That is why he is leaving Somalia or why he says he is leaving. Both countries could have kept bleeding for another generation with Ethiopian soldiers neck deep in Somali and Ethiopian blood but Meles would not have cared as long as he got paid for it and got rewarded with respect from the West.

That is why he is raising the issue of pulling out. He constantly threatened it before saying Ethiopia could not pay for it all as though he were on a Civilizing Mission for all the Western World. He constantly threatened to leave for the past two years. A few thousand African Union soldiers joined to hang around the airport and other relatively safe places while Ethiopians did the fighting and bleeding.

Does anyone out there, expect that the African Union will find anyone stupid enough to replace his soldiers with those of Ethiopia? Of course no one who was unwilling to get in with tens of thousands of Ethiopians in place will be willing to go in now when only a piece of paper in Djibouti backing them up.

So the question then becomes: is Meles even planning to leave this time since the amity or the replacements that leaving is conditioned on won’t ever happen? As usual Meles is playing a game for his own interests with the lives of millions and the interests of billions.

There is a new administration on the way to Washington that may change some of the social contract between ferenjis and Meles. Note that we use the word MAY in this context – there is no particular reason, only hope, to think that American policy of defending Melesian rights over Ethiopia will change now.

Defending Meles has always been an enthusiastic bipartisan business in Washington – this depite the presence of a band of bipartisan Congressman and Senators who ask that Ethiopians have rights.

Either way Meles is trying to shape the behavior of the incoming Obama administration even as the transition is just getting underway by demanding to be noticed. Basically Meles is warning the incoming President and the best & brightest crew around him that they had better notice his usefulness to American interests now or they would regret it when he invited trouble for American interests later.

If Bush had come through with all the cash Meles felt he deserved and dreamed of and if the West had given him the adulation he craves with appropriate guarantees there would never have been a word about withdrawal. As it is Bush and the whole West gave him almost everything he could have wanted from an all season hunting license on Ethiopians to nice invitations to G-8 summits.

If he was assured Obama was at least as much on board with Melesian rule as Bush there would also be no talk of withdrawal either. Meles figures he can jerk Obama around a bit just as he did Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, Tony Blair, etc. Remember that as you read this you really have no idea what Meles will do.

After all he owns Ethiopia and will do what seems right for himself at any given moment. The whole invasion and occupation of Somali has harmed Ethiopian interests. The Islamists in Somalia would have been far less harmful in the short and long run than a government definitely hostile to Ethiopians while being given new respect and new support to abuse them in their own name.

The dictator in Addis goes to bed every night terrified that free Ethiopians will find him without his entourage of thugs or access to any one of his many fortunes. There is no such thing as Ethiopian policy there is only Meles policy.

After all if you can’t afford to deal with the consequences you shouldn’t have foreign adventures - war in particular. America and some others can afford it – Ethiopia can’t in any way so the whole business was doomed from the beginning and even if it goes on, it serves only Meles.

Whatever happens – we told you so two years ago. Not that we always want to be right about something like this - but thematic predictions are always easy when dealing with folks like Meles, the clan leaders in Somalia, and the Islamists – they can all always be trusted, and only trusted in the end, to be their horrific selves.


Here are some links to our other posts on this subject: Technically At War, Meles's Not So Excellent Adventure, Our Man in Africa and Collateral Damage.

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