Somalis balk at plans for Ethiopian troops

Thousands of Ethiopians will be deployed as part of an African Union peacekeeping mission, worrying many in Somalia.

Malkhadir Muhumed

African Union Peacekeeping troops have been present in Somalia since 2007 [EPA] /Aljazeera
African Union Peacekeeping troops have been present in Somalia since 2007 [EPA] /Aljazeera

(Aljazeera)Nairobi, Kenya – Many Somalis are alarmed at a recent decision to include Ethiopian troops in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), a peacekeeping force in the war-ravaged country.

Somali analysts opposing the decision have called it “a mistake”, a “political and military miscalculation” that has the potential to “change the body politic of Somalia”. After decades of bad feelings between Mogadishu and Addis Ababa, many Somalis see their western neighbour as a Christian arch-foe that should have no role in the affairs of a Muslim country.

Ali Mohamud Rage – a spokesman for al-Shabab, an armed anti-state group in Somalia – urged his countrymen to rise up against the Ethiopians to defend their country or “suffer regret when it’s too late”.

“The AMISOM shirt legitimates the spilling of the blood of the Somali people and the occupation of the Muslim land of Somalia and the elimination of their religion… We say: ‘Wake up from your slumber.'”

The addition of 4,395 Ethiopian troops will bring the total number of African peacekeeping forces in Somalia to 22,126. Most of the soldiers currently there come from Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Sierra Leone and Djibouti.

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud welcomed the African Union decision to have Ethiopians on board, saying they will add “energy” and boost efforts to defeat al-Shabab, whose stated aim is to topple his government and establish an Islamic state in its place. As a result of 22 years of civil war and chaos, Somalia lacks a strong and reliable army that can take on al-Shabab, making the presence of foreign peacekeepers in the country all the more necessary.
“One should positively look at the whole picture, especially those of us who are concerned about regional peace and security,” said Ibrahim Farah, a lecturer at the University of Nairobi.

But many others fear that history may repeat itself, and that the presence of Ethiopian forces may add to already existing anti-Ethiopian sentiments in Somalia, and energise anti-government groups. David Shinn, a former US ambassador to Ethiopia, told Voice of America that he thought the decision was “a mistake” and that Ethiopia’s involvement could be a “rallying cry” for al-Shabab. Read more…

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