As Ethiopian troops withdraw from
Somalia, the Ethiopian government has released a statement saying its mission
in Somalia has been accomplished. It says Ethiopian forces, during their two
year occupation, have eliminated a clear and present danger. However, Ethiopia
leaves behind a country in turmoil and one of the world’s worst humanitarian
Washington University Professor David Shinn, a former US ambassador to
Ethiopia, spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about
whether Ethiopia can declare “mission accomplished.”
think this is…a practical decision by Ethiopia to end an intervention that has
not gone like they had hoped it would go from the beginning. And it’s making
the best of a difficult situation. In other words, you do what you have to do
to declare victory and leave. But in fact you leave behind far more questions
than you have answers to,” he says.
Ethiopia accomplish anything significant during its occupation? Shinn says, “At
the very beginning, it probably prevented or at least reduced some pretty
horrible killings and a situation of chaos in Mogadishu. You may recall that
the Islamic Courts (Union) pretty much evacuated the city very unexpectedly and
left it in the hands of elements of warlords and basically hooligans, who were
carrying out a lot of acts just against the general populace. Ethiopian troops
did go in those early days, reestablished order pretty quickly and very well
may have prevented some death and destruction,” he says.
the Ethiopians soon faced problems. “As soon as that was accomplished, the
situation started to deteriorate and has pretty much I think deteriorated ever
since simply because most Somalis find it untenable to have an Ethiopian
occupying force, particularly in Mogadishu,” Shinn says.
whether Ethiopia expected to be in Somalia for two years, the former ambassador
says, “I think initially they didn’t even expect to go into Mogadishu. They
certainly wanted to defeat the Islamic Courts militia, which they did fairly
quickly and handily. And I think their hope was they could do that and then
leave Somalia and somehow or other the Transitional Federal Government would
take control of the situation. Well, that never happened. The Ethiopians ended
up having to remain and when they were presented with the…unexpected
opportunity of walking unopposed into Mogadishu, they did so. But that also was
to some extent was their undoing because they simply became bogged down there.”
Transitional Federal Government now faces its militia opponents without
Ethiopian military assistance.
think the Transitional Federal Government is so weakened at this point and in
such disarray that it’s almost difficult to refer to it as any sort of
governing unit. I think that it is possible, with the departure of the
Ethiopians, that clan leaders, civil society representatives, moderate Somalis,
who just want a return to some sort of stability in the country, could
theoretically come together and agree upon some kind of new leadership, which
would involve a variety of different people…and agree to effectively put their
guns down and try and reconstitute some kind of viable regime. That’s a very
optimistic scenario and that is not the one most likely to happen, certainly
not in the short term. But it is possible,” he says.
says moderate Somalis may not be strong enough to take on the hard-line Shabaab
militia. He says al Shabaab is in the best position to take advantage of the Ethiopian
withdrawal because they are well armed and well organized.
he adds, “The departure of the Ethiopians does undercut the main argument of
the extremist al Shabaab group that the Ethiopians must go so that there can be
a Somali government. The Shabaab doesn’t really have much of an argument beyond
that,” he says.
Shinn also says that al Shabaab could
lose much of its support if it begins to mistreat average Somalis.