As Ethiopia continues its military advances in Somalia, observers are debating the wisdom of the strategy. For an analysis, VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua spoke with Dr. David Shinn of George Washington University, a former US ambassador to Ethiopia. Dr. Shinn gives his short-term and long-term views of the situation. He says he thinks Ethiopian forces may try to encircle the capital, Mogadishu.
“I strongly doubt they have any desire to go into Mogadishu and repeat the problems that earlier peacekeeping forces have had in a major, highly confined urban area. But perhaps just sit outside Mogadishu and try to in effect strangle the (Islamic) courts. What I’m perplexed at though is how this accomplishes that unless you’re there a very, very long time,” Shinn says.
As for the long term, the former ambassador says, “If you stay there, you open yourself to guerilla attack. And if you leave I guess you’re assuming that you reinstall those Somali elements, including the warlords, who were there before.”
Asked whether Ethiopia would prefer the clan leaders to the Islamic Courts, Shinn says, “I think from the standpoint of the Ethiopians they would probably answer that yes. At a minimum, that would put it back to a status quo situation, where no single entity is in charge. And I think they would see that as preferable to a unified Islamic Court structure, some of whom have espoused irredentist claims on Ethiopia. The warlords never did that.”
He says while that might benefit Ethiopia, it could have a negative effect on Somalia. “If you look at it from the standpoint of what is best for Somali security, putting aside Islamic Court ideology, then what the courts had installed in terms of security, at least in the greater Mogadishu area, I think most Somalis would say it’s far preferable. albeit disagreeing with some of the extreme positions of some of the courts,” he says.
He says some elements of the courts have done ”some outrageous things that I think were not popular with most Somalis. But they did establish security. And that was the overriding concern of Somalis.”