Hidden War For Oil
By Carl Bloice
14 May, 2007
US bombing of Somalia took place while the World Social Forum was underway
in Kenya, three days before a large anti-war action in Washington on
27 January 2007.
Nunu Kidane, network coordinator
for Priority Africa Network (PAN), was present in Nairobi. After returning
home, she asked: how 'to explain the silence of the US peace movement
Writing in the San Francisco
community newspaper Bay View, Kidane suggested one valid reason: 'Perhaps
US-based organizations don't have the proper analytical framework to
understand the significance of the Horn of Africa region. Perhaps it
is because Somalia is largely seen as a country with no government and
in perpetual chaos; with "fundamental Islamic" forces, not
deserving of defense against the military attacks by US in search of
To that it may be added the
role of the major US media in the lead up to the invasion and the suffering
now taking place in the Horn of Africa.
'The carnage and suffering
in Somalia may be the worst in more than a decade - but you'd hardly
know it from your nightly news', wrote Andrew Cawthorne for Reuters
from Nairobi last week.
Amy Goodman's Democracy Now
recently examined the coverage of ABC, NBC and CBS on Somalia in the
evening newscasts since the invasion.
ABC and NBC had not mentioned
the war at all. CBS mentioned the war once, dedicating three whole sentences
to it. Despite the fact that there have been more casualties in this
war than in the recent fighting in Lebanon.
While the major US print
media have not completely ignored the conflict, their reporting is even
more shallow than prior to the invasion of Iraq.
As recently as last week,
Reuters was still maintaining that Ethiopian troops had invaded its
neighbour with the 'tacit' support of the United States.
At least The New York Times
has taken to describing it as 'covert American support'. Both characterisations
obscure the truth.
The attack on Somalia was
pre-planned. It would never have taken place without the approval of
the White House.
We now know that the Bush
administration gave the Ethiopian government the go ahead to ignore
its own imposed ban on weapons purchases from North Korea, in order
to gear up for the battle ahead. US military forces took part in the
'The US political and military
alliance with Ethiopia - which openly violated international law in
its aggression towards Somalia, is destabilizing the Horn region and
begins a new shift in the way the US plans to have permanent and active
military presence in Africa', wrote Kadane.
Planning for the invasion
actually began last summer when the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) took
control of the Somali government.
The US-Ethiopian version
of shock and awe was to swiftly bring about the desired regime change,
installing the Washington-favoured, government-in-exile of President
Only a few days after their
troops entered the country, Ethiopian officials said their forces lacked
the resources to stay in Somalia, and that they would be leaving soon.
At one point, the Ethiopian
prime minister Meles Zenawi declared - Bush-like - that the invaders'
mission had been successfully accomplished and that two-thirds of his
troops were returning home.
That turned out not to be
true. Three months later, the Ethiopians are still in Somalia committing
what numerous observers are calling horrendous war crimes.
'The obviously indiscriminate
use of heavy artillery in the capital has killed and wounded hundreds
of civilians, and forced over 200,000 more to flee for their lives',
Walter Lindner, German ambassador to Somalia, wrote to the country's
acting president last week.
Displaced persons are 'at
great risk of being subjected to looting, extortion and rape - including
by uniformed troops' at a various "checkpoints". Cholera -
endemic to the region during the rainy season - is beginning to cut
a swathe through the displaced', he continued. Adding that attempts
by international groups to offer assistance to the victims are being
obstructed by militias who are stealing supplies, demanding 'taxes',
and threatening relief workers.
On 3 April, Associated Press
reported that a senior European Union security official had sent an
email to the head of the EU delegation for Somalia warning that:
'Ethiopian and Somali military
forces there may have committed war crimes...donor countries could be
considered complicit if they do nothing to stop them. I need to advise
you that there are strong grounds to believe that the Ethiopian government
and the transitional federal government of Somalia and the African Union
(peacekeeping) Force Commander, possibly also including the African
Union Head of Mission and other African Union officials have, through
commission or omission, violated the Rome Statute of the International
In the meantime, the Bush
administration has worked hard to raise troops from nearby cooperative
states to take over the job. Promises were made, but with one exception,
In a telephone conversation
with Bush, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni promised to provide between
1,000-2,000 troops to protect Somalia's transitional government and
train its troops.
The Ugandans arrived. But
they are said to have been largely confined to their quarters, refraining
from taking part in the effort to crush the opposition.
Meanwhile, the 'transitional
government' and Ethiopian forces have been reported shelling civilian
areas in the capital from the government compound they are supposedly
None of the reporters on
the scene appear to have explored the question of why the other African
governments have failed to send troops. But I think the answer is obvious.
They would be called 'peacekeepers'
but would be called upon to inject themselves into a civil conflict
on the side of an unpopular puppet government, something they are loath
Three months ago, I wrote:
'If the unfolding events
in Iraq are any indication, what started out as a swift invasion and
occupation could turn out to be a long and widening war.'
That was an understatement.
At the time of writing, about 1,300 people are reported to have perished
in the fighting. Over 4,300 wounded, and nearly 400,000 have fled their
homes. Refugees trying to cross the Red Sea are reportedly drowning
off the Somali coast.
'There is a massive tragedy
unfolding in Mogadishu, but from the world's silence, you would think
it's Christmas', the head of a Mogadishu political think-tank told Cawthorne.
'Somalis, caught up in Mogadishu's worst violence for 16 years, are
painfully aware of their place on the global agenda.'
'Nobody cares about Somalia,
even if we die in our millions', Cawthorne was told by Abdirahman Ali,
a 29 year-old father-of-two, who works as a security guard in Mogadishu.
And, just as in Iraq, US
supported forces - the small army of the enthroned and very unpopular
government and the invaders - are caught up in a civil war, set in motion
by invasion and occupation.
Additional to the forces
loyal to the overthrown Islamist government, the regime in power is
opposed by the Hawiye, one of the country's largest clans.
A spokesman for the clan
recently called upon 'the Somali people, wherever it exists, to unity
in the fight against the Ethiopians. The war is not between Ethiopia
and our tribe, it is between Ethiopia and all Somali people', he said.
'For the major [world] leaders,
there is a tremendous embarrassment over Somalia', Michael Weinstein,
a US expert on Somalia at Purdue University told Reuters.
'They have committed themselves
to supporting the interim government - a government that has no broad
legitimacy, a failing government. This is the heart of the problem.
But Western leaders can't back out now, so of course they have 100%
no interest in bringing global attention to Somalia. There is no doubt
that Somalia has been shoved aside by major media outlets and global
leaders, and the Somali Diaspora is left crying in the wilderness.'
Last week, during what was
described as a lull in the fighting, Ethiopian soldiers were moving
from house to house in the capital Mogadishu, taking hundreds of men
away by the truckload to an uncertain fate.
Meanwhile, the traumatised
residents of the rubble strewn city were reported gathering up bodies,
many of them rotting, for burial.
'Most of the displaced civilians
are encamped on Mogadishu's outskirts, where the scenes are medieval',
reported The Economist last week.
On 26 April, Martin Fletcher
wrote in The (London) Times about five days he spent in Mogadishu, during
which he canvassed many ordinary Somalis:
'People lack water, food
and shelter. Cholera has broken out. The sick sometimes have to pay
rent even to sit in the shade of trees. Things will get worse with the
rains, which have started. Aid agencies say people will soon start dying
in large numbers. Some reckon Somalia is facing its biggest humanitarian
crisis, worse than in the early 1990s, when the state collapsed amid
famine and slaughter. Overwhelmingly, they loathed a government they
consider a puppet of the hated Ethiopians.'
Last week the Washington
Post reported that interviews it conducted in Ethiopia and testimony
given to diplomats and human rights groups 'paint a picture of a nation
that jails its citizens without reason or trial, and tortures many of
them - despite government claims to the contrary'.
The paper commented that
such cases are especially troubling because the US government, a key
Ethiopian ally, has acknowledged interrogating terrorism suspects in
Ethiopian prisons, where some detainees were sent after being arrested
in connection with Ethiopia's invasion of Somalia in December.
The following day the paper
reported: 'More than 200 FBI and CIA agents have set up camp in the
Sheraton Hotel here in Ethiopia's capital and have been interrogating
dozens of detainees -- including a US citizen picked up in Somalia and
held without charge and without attorneys in a secret prison somewhere
in this city, according to Ethiopian and U.S. officials who say the
interrogations are lawful.'
History will probably record
the Ethiopian government's decision to team up with the US administration
for regime change in Somalia as the height of folly. The country has
enough problems at home, brought into sharp relief on 24 April, when
forces of an ethnic-Somali separatist group, the Ogaden National Liberation
Front, raided an oil exploration facility, killing 74 people, including
nine employees of a Chinese oil company.
'As much as China's - and
indeed America's - ally Meles Zenawi, the Ethiopian prime minister,
might like to be on top of security across the Horn, he is not always
able to deliver. His army is the region's most powerful conventional
force. But under his rule, Ethiopia is fraying again around the edges',
said the Financial Times editorial on 26 April.
Armed separatist groups are
now changing tactics. Unable to match the army on the battlefield, the
Ogaden National Liberation Front has chosen the spectacular to draw
attention to its cause.
Only recently, a separatist
group in the north tried something similar, by kidnapping a group of
British diplomats. Both horrific events can be attributed partly to
fallout from Ethiopia's messy intervention in neighboring Somalia.
Initial battles last December
were decisively in Ethiopia's favour. But like the Americans in Iraq,
the Ethiopians in Somalia were ill prepared for the aftermath. A growing
insurgency has delayed the withdrawal of their troops, exposing the
government to attacks at home. It has also inflamed tension among ethnic
Somalis in Ethiopia. And ironically, the Chinese workers killed near
Ethiopia's border with Somalia may have been victims more of Washington's
policy in the region than of Beijing's.
The US has actively backed
Meles Zenawi's Somali adventure. In doing so it has undermined multilateral
efforts to bring about peace. 'There are two main questions that Colonel
Yusuf's and Ethiopia's Western backers should now ask themselves', said
The (London) Guardian 26 April 26.
First, what was gained by
encouraging the Ethiopian army to topple the Islamic Courts? The US
allowed Ethiopia to arm itself with North Korean weapons and also participated
in the turkey shoot by using gunships against suspected insurgents hiding
in villages near the Kenyan border.
Second, Washington was convinced
that the Islamic Courts were sheltering foreign terror suspects: 'But
how many did they get and what price have Somalis paid?'
'America can be more heavily
criticised for subordinating Somali interests to its own desire to catch
a handful of al-Qaeda men who may (or may not)have been hiding in Mogadishu',
said The Economist.
Chatham House, a British
think tank of the independent Royal Institute of International Affairs,
'None has been caught, many
innocents have died in air strikes, and anti-American feeling has deepened.
Western, especially European, diplomats watching Somalia from Nairobi,
the capital of Kenya to the south, have sounded the alarm. Their governments
have done little.
In an uncomfortably familiar
pattern, genuine multilateral concern to support the reconstruction
and rehabilitation of Somalia has been hijacked by unilateral actions
of other international actors - especially Ethiopia and the United States
following their own foreign policy agendas.'
Actually, there is no more
reason to believe the Bush administration promoted this war, in clear
violation of international law and the UN Charter, 'to catch a handful
of al-Qaeda men', than that the invasion of Iraq was to eliminate weapons
of mass destruction. What has unfolded over the past three months flows
from much larger strategic calculations in Washington.
The invasion and occupation
of Somalia coincided with the Pentagon's now operational plan to build
a new 'Africa Command' to deal with what the Christian Science Monitor
dubbed 'strife, oil, and Al Qaeda'.
When I first visited this
subject shortly after the invasion, I quoted 10 per cent as the figure
which is the proportion of our country's petroleum from Africa; and
noted that some experts were saying the US would need to up that to
25 per cent by 2010. Wrong again.
Last week came the news that
the US now imports more oil from Africa than from the Middle East; with
Nigeria, Angola and Algeria providing nearly one-fifth of it - more
than from Saudi Arabia.
The rulers in Addis Ababa
claim the invasion was a pre-emptive attack on a threatening Somalia.
The Bush administration says giving a wink and a nod to the attack was
merely a chance to capture a few terrorist holed up in Somalia. But
for most of the media and diplomatic observers outside the US, this
was another strategic move to secure positioning in a region where there
is a lot of oil.
On file are plans - put on
hold amid continuing conflicts - for nearly two-thirds of Somalia's
oil fields to be allocated to the US oil companies Conoco, Amoco, Chevron
It was recently reported
that the US-backed prime minister of Somalia has proposed enactment
of a new oil law to encourage the return of foreign oil companies to
Salim Lone, spokesperson
for the UN mission in Iraq in 2003, now a columnist for The Daily Nation
in Kenya, recently told Democracy Now:
'The prime minister's attempt
to lure Western oil companies is on a par with his crying wolf about
al-Qaeda at every turn. Every time you interview a Somalia official,
the first thing you hear is al-Qaeda and terrorists. They're using that.
No one believes it. No one believes it at all, because all independent
reports say the contrary.'
I spoke with Kidane last
week and she conceded that the situation in Somalia might seem complex
to many in the peace and social justice movements.
However, she said, it is
impossible to overlook the parallel with the situation in the Iraq:
'It's aggression, that is undeniable, and the same language is being
used to justify it.'
Kidane is spot on to insist
that the movements for peace and justice in the US - and elsewhere -
must take up the issue. The unlawful US- Ethiopian invasion and occupation
of that country and the accompanying human suffering and human rights
abuses constitute a new - and still mostly hidden - war, which is in
many ways is similar to that in Iraq. And, waged for the same reason.
Carl Bloice is
a writer based in San Francisco. He is a member of the National Coordinating
Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism.
He is on the editorial board of Black Commentator where a version of
this article was originally published on 2 May 2007.
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