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Bush Does Somali: The War on Terror Hits Africa
by Counterpunch (reposted)
Saturday Dec 30th, 2006 9:56 AM

"The president is not going to allow Somalia to become a safe haven for terrorists."

US spokesperson, May 2006
Once again the Horn of Africa is being drawn into a global power game likely to increase the suffering of its peoples. Ethiopia's attack on Somalia, backed by a nod from George W Bush, is the clearest sign yet that the region in high on the US's agenda in its all-consuming "war on terror".

But Ethiopia and Somalia aren't new to global power politics. For decades brutal dictators have received massive support to play the pawns of the US, and previously also the Soviet Union.

Cold War

Throughout the Cold War Ethiopia and Somalia were used as proxies, receiving billions of dollars worth of weapons while famines and wars raged throughout the region. US support of Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia from the Second World War until 1974, ensured US access to the vitally important spy base at Kagnew, while next door the Soviet's backed Siad Barre's 'Marxist' regime in Somalia.

On the back of US aid, Ethiopia developed one of the largest armies in Africa, which it used to devastate Eritrean society in an attempt to maintain control of the region. As Haile Selassie's policies became increasingly unpopular, most especially when he ignored the famine of the early 1970s (as 100,000 peasants were known to have died, one of his Minister's is quoted as saying "If we could save the peasants only by confessing our failure to the world, it is better that they die"), this very army overthrew his rule, and Major Mengistu quickly took control of the ruling military committee, known as the Derg.

Ultimately, Mengistu preferred a relationship with the Soviets, more in line with his proclaimed ideology and thought more likely to provide the weapons he needed to keep himself in power. Seeing Ethiopia as a far more important prize than Somalia, the Soviet Union did indeed outbid the US, sending $9 billion in military hardware before Mengistu was ousted in 1991. Soviet aid allowed Mengistu to unleash a terror on political opponents, as well as many ordinary civilians, and increased the war drive against the Eritrean People's Liberation Front, massacring thousands of civilians in Eritrea. Despite some embarrassment, Soviet support even continued throughout the famine of the mid-80s, which killed at least 1 million people, as Mengistu spent $55million celebrating the anniversary of his revolution.


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