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Ethiopia Successful in Preventing Al-Shabab's Attacks

  • Marthe van der Wolf

FILE - A general view shows part of the capital Addis Ababa at night, Ethiopia, May 17, 2015.

FILE - A general view shows part of the capital Addis Ababa at night, Ethiopia, May 17, 2015.

Over the past five years, Kenya, Uganda, Djibouti and the self-declared republic of Somaliland have all been attacked by Somalia-based Al-Shabab militants.

Ethiopia, which invaded Somalia in 2006 to fight Al-Shabab, has since evaded a large-scale attack.

According to Tewolde Mulugeta of Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the country's secret to preventing attacks is public involvement.

“We know what lack of peace means, so the importance is well understood by our people," he said. "They don’t want anybody to distract that. Whenever they are going to come across any anti-peace element, any anti-peace force, terrorist force, they are going to expose them, they are going to fight them head on.”

While it isn't clear how many prospective attacks Ethiopian security forces have prevented, one bomb did exploded inside a central Addis Ababa house in 2013. Police believe the attackers were preparing it for a large football match taking place that day.

Strong security forces

Although Ethiopia’s military is considered among the strongest in the region, independent security expert Sunday Okello says Ethiopian security forces are strong because Al-Shabab is just one of several threats to the country.

“Ethiopia knows its threats to security, and you can't sleep and kind of forget that there is a threat coming from Eritrea, that there is a threat coming from Somalia, there is a threat coming from maybe South Sudan," he said. "And from that effect, Ethiopia has managed to build its security network very strongly.”

Question about why neighboring countries such as Kenya, however, remain unanswered.

Al-Shabab's highest profile attack — the September 2013 slaughter of 67 civilians in Nairobi's Westgate shopping mall — will be remembered this week, just months after an April attack claim 148 students at Kenya's Garissa University.

One reason for al-Shabab's frequently succesful attacks in Kenya is due to it's Kenyan affliate, Al-Hijra.

“Besides this, the movement of the Al-Shabab group, particularly in the coastal area, it is an open ground for them to incubate and to organize their attack in Kenya," said Abebe Muluneh, director of the Security Sector Program at the East African bloc IGAD. "Apart from this, there is also high level of corruption with the security institution there.”

Ethiopian forces continue to fight al-Shabab in Somalia, working in conjunction with African Union troops. The AU troops have made significant gains but the militant group remains one of the biggest security threats to the East African region.

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