Peace In Our Time

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that the Ethiopians, who have been fighting Islamists in Somalia, have given up.

MOGADISHU, Somalia — Ethiopian troops pulled out from crucial bases in Mogadishu on Tuesday, leaving a power vacuum that was quickly filled by Islamist fighters who seized their positions.
It appeared to be the end of two years of bloody Ethiopian intervention in this chaotic nation. Hundreds of cheering Somalis lined the streets to watch the dozens of Ethiopian military trucks rumbling out of Mogadishu, Somalia’s bullet-pocked capital.

While hundreds of Ethiopian troops still remained at various bases across the city, Ethiopian commanders promised that all troops would leave the country by Tuesday night.

“I am happy they finally left our neighborhood,” said Fadumo Mohammed Jimale, an 18-year-old whose family had been displaced by intense urban street fighting. “They killed my father.”

The Ethiopian troops stormed into Somalia in 2006 to oust an Islamist movement that briefly controlled much of the country and to help shore up Somalia’s weak transitional government.

It did not go as intended. The Ethiopian intervention set off a bitter guerrilla war, killing thousands of civilians and driving nearly one million people out of Mogadishu.

It was all worth it, though:

…[O]n Tuesday an Ethiopian commander bid the country farewell.

“We came to Somalia to help the transitional federal government,” said the commander, Col. Gabre Yohannes. “We paid blood and property for that reason. That effort meant that the young generation of Somalis will get peace.”

“Mission Accomplished”, you might say. I’m glad it’s all going to be OK over there now.

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  1. bob koepp says

    Malcolm – I wonder if the quote from Col Yohannes might not properly reflect his intended meaning. Perhaps what he intended was more along the lines of “… The effort , had it been successful, would have meant the young generation of Somalis would get peace.” No implicit triumphalism here.

    Posted January 15, 2009 at 4:23 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Well, Bob, if I misread him, I apologize to all, of course. I think the meaning I took was consistent with what he said, but, as you suggest, I suppose he might not have said what he meant to.

    Posted January 15, 2009 at 4:33 pm | Permalink
  3. bob koepp says

    Malcolm – Your reading is the “natural” one for most speakers of english, but I suspect english is not Yohannes’s first language — so I tried to see something other than obvious absurdity in his words.

    Posted January 15, 2009 at 8:11 pm | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    You are quite right to do so, Bob, and were I not always on the lookout to score a cheap point for the sake of a post I ought to have done the same.

    I wonder which of us is right! It is of course not unprecedented that the spokesmen of defeated armies make preposterous announcements. My favorite in recent years was Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf, AKA “Baghdad Bob”.

    Posted January 15, 2009 at 10:46 pm | Permalink
  5. yusuf says

    People are rejoicing on the streets as somalia has finally been liberated from a brutal eithopian invasion and occupation.

    The somali resistance lives on in the hearts of the youth who have seen their mothers raped and their fathers murdered by eithopian soldiers.

    But nothing unites somalis even the clans who hate each other more than an invader.

    Posted January 17, 2009 at 2:01 am | Permalink
  6. Malcolm says

    Welcome, Yusuf.

    I have no doubt that the Somalis will not miss the Ethiopians.

    So what will happen now?

    Posted January 17, 2009 at 2:05 am | Permalink
  7. Hannon says

    Yusuf writes:

    “But nothing unites somalis even the clans who hate each other more than an invader.”

    This notion brings to mind an idea that was shared with me many years ago by someone who had done quite a lot of NGO work in East Africa, including Somalia. His thought was that it is basically insane for outsiders to try to “organize” people who are naturally oriented by family-clan-tribe into Euro-style sovereignties. Arguably one of the most destructive efforts of the nascent UN was to arbitrarily carve up the globe into sections we call countries– the so-called southern or developing countries– based mainly on colonial precepts, especially those of the British. These boundaries, to many millions, are meaningless to irritating.

    I don’t see why people who arrange themselves in “non-orthodox” non-Western ways should not be allowed to carry on by their more traditional ways. Obviously there need to be some recognized boundaries and rules, but Western expectations and manipulations have failed and we should own up to that by allowing natural corrective pressures to run their course. Almost certainly this would involve some blood-letting but better victory and defeat than death by a thousand cuts, without any prospect for peace in sight.

    Sorry to ramble. I would like to hear Yusuf’s views on these matters especially.

    Posted January 24, 2009 at 1:21 am | Permalink
  8. Malcolm says

    Well, Hannon, we’ve seen some of that in Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, etc. The world is a different place now, and far more connected; I think it is unrealistic to imagine that things can proceed, in isolation, as they did a hundred or a thousand years ago. The sepsis can spread much more easily now from a failed state to the wider world.

    Posted January 24, 2009 at 5:17 pm | Permalink
  9. Hannon says

    How did the country or regional designations of the places you cite prevent– or exacerbate– the terrible violence that has occurred there? I’m not advocating isolation, far from it. I am suggesting that Western expectations of “nation states” are not viable everywhere, even though we have treated them as if they are for many decades. By not allowing people their differences in self-rule and instead insisting that they join the “world community” in standards of trade, sovereignty and infrastructure, civil rights, etc., we have created more harm than good. Hundreds of millions of people have no standard of living improvement as a result of our manipulations and little hope for a better future. More of the same, or a more integrated globalization, are not solutions.

    Posted January 24, 2009 at 10:22 pm | Permalink
  10. Malcolm says

    Hannon, if you aren’t advocating isolation, then what are you advocating?

    The world left the Hutu and the Tutsi to settle their differences as they saw fit; the result was mass murder. The world indeed paid scant heed as Afghanistan fell under the sway of the Taliban, and as the nation-state of Yugoslavia broke along ancient fault lines. As we speak the slaughter continues in Darfur, the Congo, etc., and Zimbabwe is writhing in self-inflicted, mortal agony, having cast off the chains of Western influence and colonial rule. Do you think they are better off? Where is their “standard of living improvement” going to come from, if not participation in trade and commerce?

    So what’s your point, exactly? Do you have some specific advice for the civilized world, or just a general disapproval of the West and its “manipulations”?

    Posted January 24, 2009 at 10:51 pm | Permalink
  11. Hannon says


    I don’t regard letting people on some regional basis “sort their own problems” to be a form of isolationism. Not jumping in to help does not constitute isolationism. You make it sound like a punishment or something we should feel guilty for not doing.

    What most do gooding Westerners fail to realize in these cases is that there is an ancient history of retaliatory strikes and counter-strikes, good low-level examples being found among tribes in Amazonia and New Guinea. But no one cares about them because the carnage is low volume. All of a sudden it is morally criminal for us *not* to care when it comes to Congo and Rwanda? Isn’t it really a matter of degree– what about El Salvador, Guatemala or Bangladesh? Same principle, same overall problem and probably the same pressures of population and ancient rivalries. These are behaviors that have repeated over thousands of years. I’m sure the fighting has been gruesome in the past on some occasions, but now with vastly bigger populations, and maybe a larger perceived threat as a result, plus manic news coverage, have we convinced ourselves that we have a duty to intervene and rescue people from their own madness?

    Isolationism means not giving a damn what happens to a population or country. Consciously helping by careful acts of omission or commission is a different matter. The only thing that has changed is the ostensibly altruistic attitude of the West, based mainly on our economic prosperity, which translates into the ability to provide material and technical help. It may sound cynical for me to say “manipulation” but that is what I believe much of our aid amounts to. The Americans countering the Soviet aid to their client states, etc. Beyond the Cold War, look at the results of many billions of $$ in aid to dozens of countries spent on health, agriculture and other economic subsidies. What has this resulted in? *Many millions more people living under the exact conditions they were before the 1960s*. Some have better access to food and medicine or clean water but this does not a civilization make. They are now dependent on us for the survival of millions more than the land can naturally carry or has ever carried before. Somalis and Ethiopians and denizens of the Sahel understood that periodic drought could bring death, as terrible as it is for us to accept as any sort of anticipated natural cycle. They did accept it because they knew it was part of the ecology they were adapted to and could not escape. So have our remedies made life better for these folks? Are they better able to build their communities and agricultural systems so as to support their burgeoning populations? The short answer is no.

    Their “standard of living improvement” will have to come from within their own cultures; these are problems these people have faced since long before European colonialism. Is this an attitude of isolationism? I don’t think so. As a small example of a potential liability we have thrust upon poor countries in “good faith” consider manioc (cassava), a neotropical root crop that has become an extremely important starch source for parts of tropical Africa. A wilting virus or some such plague has devastated the plant in Africa in recent years, depriving those people of much needed calories. Solution? Replacement varieties, breeding, substitute crops, etc., all activities that require at least some sophisticated outside assistance. Think of the Irish potato famine as the result of “helpful” people tinkering with a system relying more on faith than knowledge.

    I look at the reality of sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Latin America and see a type of endemic inertia that cannot be remedied from the outside. We have our wars and other ups and downs and they have theirs; we can and do issue help to all parts of the world out of humanity and I fully support such measures. But I am afraid that too many of us are laboring under the illusion that we are *saving* the developing world and that it is our obligation to see that someday they will be happy and prosperous just like us. It is this latter half of the argument that I reject.

    Posted January 25, 2009 at 12:45 am | Permalink
  12. Hannon says

    Apologies for mixing and matching peacetime assistance and military intervention. I tend to see these as two sides of the same interventionist coin.

    Posted January 25, 2009 at 1:37 am | Permalink