Horn of Africa
The jihadist group al-Shabab is facing a local clan-based rebellion in central Somalia—one the embattled Mogadishu government hopes might spread throughout its zones of control. As resistance to the insurgent group has grown, lawmakers and clan elders have been backing the self-organized militia in pitched battles against al-Shabab. The militia—known as Ma'awisley, a reference to the traditional sarong worn in Somalia's rural areas—is strongest in Middle Shabelle, Hiran and Galmudug regions of Hirshabelle and Central states. (TNH, VOA)
More than a month after renewed clashes broke out in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region, there are few signs of de-escalation. A new air-strike hit Tigray's capital of Mekelle on Sept. 23, while the region's ruling party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), accused Eritrea of launching a full-scale offensive in support of the Ethiopian government. There are reports that Eritrea (which has a historical enmity against the TPLF) is mobilizing army reservists, with notices handed out in Asmara, the capital. The return to combat came after a five-month truce that saw back-channel meetings between Mekelle and Addis Ababa but no formal talks. The risk that fresh fighting poses to civilians was underscored by UN investigators, who submitted their first report on the two-year conflict. The investigators accused Ethiopia's government of war crimes in Tigray, and of using starvation as a counterinsurgency tool. Tigrayan forces were also accused of serious human rights abuses.
A large-scale incursion by the Somali jihadist group al-Shabab into eastern Ethiopia has been defeated. The government claims to have killed more than 800 militants in heavy fighting that began at the end of July. The attempt to open a new front in Ethiopia was not only a military defeat for al-Shabab, but also a political failure. Although some of al-Shabab's leaders are from the area, ideologically the Somali region of Ethiopia is known for its religious tolerance. Local community and religious leaders rallied to oppose the group, and have pledged to resist future infiltration.
More than 200 civilians were killed June 18 at the village of Tole Kebele in the West Wollega zone of Ethiopia's Oromia regional state. The massacre, which targeted members of the Amhara ethnicity, is being blamed by authorities on the rebel Oromo Liberation Army (OLA). Amhara militias in the region have been cooperating with the official security forces in counterinsurgency operations against the OLA, resulting in reprisal attacks on villages. However, OLA commander Kumsa Dirriba denies that his forces carry out attacks on civilians, claiming that the national army is "solely responsible" for the killings of Amhara civilians in Oromia. Whatever the truth of the matter may be, the dynamic is spreading into neighboring Gambella regional state, which has seen heavy fighting in recent days between the army and joint rebel forces of the OLA and Gambella Liberation Front (GLF), with dozens of civilians among the slain. (Addis Standard, NYT, BBC News, Ethiopia Insight, Ethiopia Insight)
The Pentagon announced May 16 that a "small, persistent US military presence" of around 500 troops is to return to Somalia, to assist ongoing operations against the Shabaab insurgents. Media commentators widely portrayed this as a policy reversal, with some incorrectly stating that Present Trump "brought the troops home" from Somalia in 2020. However, the Pentagon press release implicitly acknowledges that the so-called "withdrawal" had been largely a fiction: "This decision was based on a request from [Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III] and included advice from senior commanders and, of course, concern for the safety of our troops who have incurred additional risk by deploying in and out of Somalia on an episodic basis for the past 16 months."
In Episode 122 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg examines the ongoing conflict in Somalia in light of both climate change and Great Power politics. Despite a pseudo-withdrawal of US forces, the Pentagon continues drone strikes against the Shaabab insurgents—as the Horn of Africa faces it worst drought in a generation, with millions on the brink of extreme hunger and possible starvation. A paradox of the situation is that "government-controlled" Somalia (the southern third of the country) is not controlled by any government, but wracked by insurgency. In contrast, the unrecognized de facto independent state of Somaliland in the north is a bastion of comparative stability and even social progress. Reports of Russian designs on Somaliland as a potential site for a naval base threaten to draw it into the imperial contest for control of the strategic Horn. Progressives in the West can demand international recognition for an independent and non-aligned Somaliland. We can also loan solidarity to the Sufi resistance now fighting both the Shaabab and the "recognized" Mogadishu quasi-government. Most importantly, we can support the secular and pro-democratic voices of civil society that are standing up for human rights and basic freedoms at great risk to themselves, and in spite of everything. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.
Security threats are preventing aid groups from bringing relief supplies into Ethiopia's northern Tigray region, even as the government has declared a unilateral truce following 17 months of conflict with forces aligned to the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF). In a statement on March 24, federal authorities promised to facilitate aid access into Tigray, having imposed a months-long blockade that has left a population of six million people bereft of basic health supplies and facing extreme food shortages.
Ethiopia's parliament voted on Feb. 15 for an early end to a six-month state of emergency, with the government citing its improved military position. The measure—introduced as Tigrayan rebel forces threatened Addis Ababa in November—gave the government power to detain citizens without charge, and thousands of Tigrayan civilians were rounded up. Tigrayan forces have since withdrawn to their stronghold in the country's north. Before doing so, they committed atrocities, including gang rapes, in the contested Amhara region, according to a report by Amnesty International. Government forces and their Eritrean allies are also accused of widespread abuses. Both sides are under international pressure to find a political solution to the war—with the release of detainees held under the state of emergency seen as an important step to dialogue. But fighting continues in Tigray and Afar, and the humanitarian situation remains dire. Medical supplies this month reached Tigray for the first time since July 2021—but there is no fuel for distribution of these critical supplies. The last time the government allowed in fuel for humanitarian operations was in August.