Ethiopia Bombs Somalia Border Towns

Ethiopian fighter jets are reported bombing
Somali border towns in what some fear could be the start of a proxy war that
could further destabilize the Horn of Africa.
(Updated December 25, 1:05 p.m. — According to the New York Times the Ethiopian Air Force has bombed the airport in Mogadishu and Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, explained on television that the country “had no choice” but go to war against Somalia to protect its national sovereignty.The Time’s Jeffrey Gettleman writes the attack is “a major escalation that could turn Somalia’s internal crisis into a violent religious conflict that engulfs the entire Horn of Africa.”)


(cursor over map)

The Christmas eve news that Ethiopian fighter planes have bombed Somali border towns cast a shadow over the Christmas hope for peace. It also reminded me that this troubled region remains an unstable and inhospitable place. This isn’t new, but the fact that the world seems to forget it and in doing so silently tolerates the suffering of millions of people in this tough region is an ongoing frustration.

The bombing runs today reminded me of a personal experience, now twenty years past. I was standing on the shores of Lake Tana in northern Ethiopia with a cinematographer, sound engineer and gaffer as a Soviet-made MIG swooped over us flying so low we could see the pilot’s face. It came out of nowhere, so fast that had we been a target of its bombs we could never have escaped.
Its wings bristled with a cluster of missles. It was headed for the Eritrean border and beyond where Soviet pilots flying under the command of the Ethiopian Air Force were bombing Asmara. It was a sobering, frightening moment.

I realized how totally helpless we were out in the open with no early warning. We were sitting ducks on an inland sea.

Now bombs are falling again. This time it’s Somalis who are being blown away. But the protagonists are the same–Ethiopia and Eritrea. At least, that’s what some experts who know this region are starting to claim. A proxy war between Eritrea and Ethiopia may be starting using the conflict in Somalia between the Islamic Court militia and the Somali government whose power and reach is limited.

At first glance this war seems a long way from the U.S. but as Jared Diamond reminds us in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, “…we are tightly and irreversibly connected to overseas countries…political instability anywhere in the world now affects us, our trade routes, and our overseas markets and suppliers.”(p. 518-19)

Setting aside the considerable suffering in the humanitarian crisis (in a good year 7 million Ethiopians don’t have sufficient food), it doesn’t take much imagination to see the importance of the Red Sea shipping lanes that access Sudan, Israel, Egypt, Eritrea, Djoubti, Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, southward into the Indian Ocean, lanes that carry Middle East oil to refineries around the world, and automobiles and weapons to Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia. Somali pirates already operate in the region. There is instability on land and sea.

Instability now threatens the heart of Africa. A cauldron of potentially uncontrollable war is boiling over starting at Eritrea in the east, continuing westward through Sudan, Chad and Niger, then to the Central Africa Republic, northern Uganda, Ethiopia and Somalia. Ending the genocide at Darfur, disarming the insurgency in northern Uganda, cooling the conflict in Somalia and preventing open war between Ethiopia and Eritrea cannot be put on the backburner today. Too many lives are at risk. Dangerous conditions are growing on both sides of the Red Sea.

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