By Amanuel Biedemariam
On May 20, 2009 US Senate Committee on Foreign Relation conducted a hearing regarding the Situation in Somalia on a setting and process that resembled a courtroom. The case could likely be termed as, The State against the State of Eritrea. The process seemed eerily familiar and déjà vu to the previous administration. The victim is the New Transitional Government (TNG) in Somalia. Eritrea is the accused and predetermined-guilty-party to crimes committed in Somalia, and awaits sentencing by a panel of Senators.
While the hearing appeared to be a knee jerk reaction to the fast developing situation in Somalia, it is coordinated and timed to coincide with the new-furious campaign being waged against Eritrea. It is not a coincidence that IGAD called for sanctions and blockade against Eritrea the same day the hearing was being conducted at the US Capitol. Better yet, the AU repeated the same calls, and condemned Eritrea giving Eritreans an early Independence-Day-gift, a day ahead of the main celebration was to be held!
The Senate panel led by Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin held identical hearings during the Bush Presidency. The principal actors are different as a result of the election, but the messages and the types of witnesses come from similar backgrounds; which means there is no infusion of new information. So the process seems to have continued with the Assistant Secretary Carson acting as the chief prosecutor, while Shannon Scribner from OXFAM and Dr. Ken Menkhaus sat as expert witnesses. Assistant Secretary Carson’s “testimony” can be summed up as follows: US can attain her strategic objectives with TNG/TFG led by Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. And for undetermined strategic positioning Mr. Carson decided to make Eritrea the principal defendant as an accomplice to all the mayhem that is taking place in Somalia. In other words, it is predetermined that Eritrea will be the Whipping-Boy!
However, this assertion undermines the truth and fails to answer fundamental questions. It is also a sad commentary to see a Senate panel conducting a hearing on a setting that can be considered lackadaisical. How is it possible to conduct a hearing about an issue of great magnitude which affects the lives of millions in this manner and in a process that took less than two hours? Why did Senator Russ Feingold fail to have a comprehensive and serious hearing that involved all the stake holders? Why did he conduct the hearing for a policy in the process of being formulated and in a manner that fails to educate the general public in a balanced fashion? Who are the principal actors? What is the intended role of the US and its track record? What is the desired outcome? Why is the US repeating the same process over and over? Why the inconsistencies? Why is the US supporting a leader US and Ethiopian forces dethroned and captured as a terrorist? Senator Feingold knows the actors and the issues very well, but why did he limit the process?
The US supported and financed Ethiopian soldiers to invade Somalia. Ethiopian left Mogadishu in disgrace and in defeat. Ethiopia failed to achieve any measurable success. There is no single functioning standing institution Ethiopia built. And if security is a measuring stick, Ethiopia widened the conflict and made it borderless. Because, in violation of international laws Ethiopian soldiers entered Somalia and occupied a country that harbored historic enmity claiming security concerns and invitation from the previous transitional government, TFG.
Ethiopia received all the diplomatic cover it needed from the US. It was a regular act to see Dr. Janday Frazer defend Meles Zenawi and Ethiopian authorities from their crimes. Dr. Frazer established the Somali Contact Group. She used IGAD and AU to give legitimacy for her policies. She used the UNSC and UN as tools to achieve outlined objectives. Her failed policies created hell on earth while she avoided taking responsibility by blaming others.
Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson seems to have embraced the same approach and actors to deal with the issues in the Horn of Africa. Mr. Carson stated the National Security Council (NSC) is formulating a comprehensive strategy in this regard. It involves the State Department, Department of Defense, USAID, the Intelligence Community, EU, AU, IGAD, the “Contact Group” and many others. The question here is, if policy is being formulated, why the rush for the hearing? Why legitimize a failed process that went through many TFG/TNG leadership changes in a span of two years? Why not wait to develop a comprehensive, coherent, transparent and reasonable policy?
What is missing? Change! Change we can believe in! President Obama was elected to bring change. Change in policies, approach and fundamental change in the way this country relates to other countries. President Obama said we will listen, engage and we will not dictate. What Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson did contradicts all that. Mr. Carson has not listened to Eritrea, engaged Eritrea and did not explore how Eritrea can play a positive role. To the contrary he is building unnecessary wall with the people of Eritrea during a spirited independence celebration moments.
The question then becomes, is the new Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Johnnie Carson rolling-on to failed Bush policies? Is he falling on the traps set by the most undiplomatic diplomat, Dr. Janday Frazer who contributed mightily to the unnecessary bloodshed in Somalia? What is the US policy seeking to achieve? Is it stability? The pattern doesn’t seem to indicate that to be the focus; in fact, the opposite could be argued successfully. Why? Because, for the simple fact that the US is supporting Ethiopia, a historic enemy of the Somalis to invade their country Somalia repeatedly!
As Dr. Ken Menkhaus testified, there is a great deal of suspicion and mistrust to US policies in the region. That mistrust will not let up until the US changes her approach. The US needs to give the people in the region a respite they need, seek and deserve. For decades foreign interventions have created a great deal of damage to the people in the region and they are beginning to fight it successfully. The more outsiders try to influence the final outcome the more resistance they will help create thus diminishing US influence in the region as it appears to be the case.
Considering the current economic hardships in the US and other equally pressing and overlapping issues, it is easy to conclude that President Obama will not have the time he needs to explore his policy options thoroughly. It will be at least another year for the President to evaluate the policy options and come up with a comprehensive approach. The president needs to address the continent in a new and meaningful manner with the same vigor he is addressing Moslems around the globe. We need to have faith in a President that came to power seeking to make a meaningful change.
The concern: too many players with interests that want to see the continuation of the statues quo overtaking the process to the point of no return. The US has unparalleled clout and uncontested ability to use regional and international organizations to advance agendas at will with impunity. Organizations like The African Union and IGAD are the tools at the disposal of US leaders to manipulate agendas. That is the process by which US agents legitimize and internationalize decisions they seek.
That means there must be a concerted effort by interested parties to stop the failed Bush and Frazer policies from regenerating. Because if the virus takes over; by the time the President takes over the issue all he can do is try to kill the virus. That will be a huge setback to the region’s hope-for-change! The people in the region understand it is a FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT TO LIVE IN PEACE and they will seek and work to achieve it! So it is up to the people representing the people in the Horn to make sure those who are responsible, like Senator Feingold, to be held to account for their actions and decisions.
And it is my sincere hope and wishes to see Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson do well for the people of the Horn and to establish a legacy of stature by charting a new way in the direction of legitimate peace with balanced, equal and a fair approach.
(The writer can be reached at [email protected])