Galkayo, the capital of the Mudug Region, Somalia, yesterday afternoon, was shocked by violent protests sparked by hundreds of Somali parents, whose sons have disappeared since they went to Eritrea for military training. Somali Parents have asked to Mogadishu government to find their children. Parents said they were unable to contact their children and their whereabouts remain unknown since clashes between rebel forces and the Ethiopian army began in the northern Tigray region in late 2020 Protesters erected barricades along Galkayo centre and main streets. The police used tear gas and live ammunition to disperse them. Although no injuries were reported, police arrested several protesters. To report the news is the ‘Crisis24‘ website followed by the confirmation of the Turkish press agency ‘Anadolou’.
The sad story of the young Somali soldiers refers to the decision taken by the main perpetrators of the conflict in Tigray, (Eritrean dictator, Isaias Afewerki, and Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ali Ahmed) to use 2,500 regular soldiers of Somalia as cannon fodder against TPLF denfese lines . These boys, present in Eritrea for military training, were transported to the border with Ethiopia a week before the attack on Tigray (which took place on November 3, 2020). The Somali contingent was forced to enter in Tigray on 4 November together with the divisions of the Eritrean DefenseForces which would have assumed operational command over the Somali officers.
While the governments of Addis Ababa and Asmara remain closed in an embarrassing silence, the Somali government, after the first denials, is now in trouble due to public revelations made by Abdisalan Yusuf Guled, former deputy head of the National Intelligence and Security Agency-NISA. Guled said over 370 Somali soldiers died in the conflict in Tigray. The immediate denial of the Mogadishu authorities made the people of Galkayomore angry. “A former secret service chief can’t be wrong. We want answers. We want to know where our children are”, the representative of the parents told the national media.
From his part, Guled told the Somali newspaper Hiiran News that he had received news of the involvement in Tigray of Somali soldiers in training in Eritrea, directly from Ethiopian commanders of the federal army. Guled’s clarification is in response to the statement by the Minister of Information Osman Abukar Dubbe made on state TV that no Somali soldiers were involved in the conflict in Ethiopia. The denial of evidence is an obligation of the government of Mogadishu as it cannot admit that 2,500 of its soldiers have been used by two foreign countries for a war in which Somalia is not in the least involved as a state entity. According to the testimonies of some Somali deserters who took refuge in Sudan, the victims would be much more than those indicated by Guled. Of the 2,500 young Somali soldiers, only 500 survived.
Somalia’s involvement in the conflict in Tigray does not stop at this sad episode. Peter Kirechu, an expert journalist from the Horn of Africa, explain that Somalia has already suffered collateral damage with the withdrawal of the majority of the Ethiopian contingent fighting the Al-Shabaab terrorists. Withdrawal ordered by the Ethiopian Prime Minister to increase the effects of the invasion force in Tigray. The Ethiopian contingent in Somalia also underwent a purge of about 300 Tigrinya soldiers for fear of desertions or riots.
The departure of Ethiopian troops injects further uncertainty into Somalia’s already precarious security situation, which struggles to hold the federal elections that were scheduled for this month, as the long insurrection by the violent extremist group al-Shabab continues. The situation is further complicated by escalating tensions between the federal government, based in Mogadishu, and the semi-autonomous regional states of Somalia, a stalemate that bears similarities to Ethiopia’s conflict between the federal government and Tigray. Both Abiy and his Somali counterpart, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed – more commonly known by his nickname, Farmajo – have sought to centralize executive authority within their respective federal governments despite sustained and increasingly violent opposition from powerful rivals.
Ethiopian troops in Somalia have always been a decisive factor in the defense of the Somali government. It was they in 2006 who put an end to the government of the Islamic Courts that had managed to incorporate or defeat the various Warlords who had raged after the fall of the dictator Siad Barre (1991) that controlled the country managing to defeat the international military contingent sent to stabilize Somalia, including US marines. The Ethiopian intervention, decided by the TPLF at an explicit American request, failed to stabilize Somalia and resulted in the birth of Al-Shabaab (the youth wing of the Islamic Courts) who recaptured much of the territory.
Ethiopian troops were instrumental in the war against Al-Shabaab carried out by the African military contiguous AMISOM financed by the US and the European Union. Before the withdrawal last November, Ethiopia had nearly 4,000 troops assigned to the United Nations Mission in Somalia, or AMISOM, which targeted al-Shabab, and another 4,000 troops in support of a separate bilateral security agreement between governments. Somali and Ethiopian.
Farmajo is running for a second term in a presidential election scheduled for next month but is likely to be delayed. If her re-election candidacy were successful – not a certain prospect – her political survival would be affected by the outcome of the ongoing Ethiopian conflict in Tigray. The TPLF claimed yesterday that it had won an important victory near Dima, killing about 1,500 federal and Eritrean soldiers. Addis Ababa and Asmara avoid any comment.
According to our diplomatic sources, the TPLF is attempting to strengthen historical ties with various member states of the Somali federation in anticipation of preventing the government of Mogadishu from direct large-scale military involvement in Tigray. They also report that the course of the war against the TPLF is very negative for the federal army. As a result, the Prime Minister is allegedly attempting to rally a regional force to be able to defeat the Tigrinya resistance.
A protracted war in Tigray (all clues point to it) will strain Ethiopia’s military resources and raise the prospect of further withdrawals from the Somalia mission. A definitive defeat of the TPLF, on the other hand, would encourage Abiy’s centralization campaign, an achievement that would resonate in Somalia and strengthen Farmajo’s agenda. Farmajo’s efforts to marginalize his political opponents have been strengthened precisely by Ethiopia’s military presence. An extremely important support as Farmajo is committed to countering Kenya’s territorial aims linked to offshore oil fields in Somali territorial waters. Nairobi’s influence is manifested through the “rebel” region of Jabaland. A thorn to the side of the Somali federal government of similar gravity than Tigray in Ethiopia.
In March 2020 Farmajo unsuccessfully attempted to intervene to prevent the re-election of Ahmed Madobe, a key political opponent who is president of Somalia’s southernmost regional state, Jubaland. Again, Farmajo leveraged Ethiopia’s military presence and political support in an attempt to unseat a holder and expand the federal government’s mandate to the detriment of Kenya. This effort sparked violent clashes between federal troops and Jubaland’s forces and attracted both Kenya and Ethiopia, two countries that contributed troops in the AMISOM mission who are on opposite sides of the dispute in Jubaland.
Kenya has long supported Madobe’s jubaland administration, a former al-Shabab ally who is now opposing the terrorist group. Madobe led the 2012 military campaign that ousted al-Shabab from Kismayo, the region’s capital, and has enjoyed military and political support from Kenya ever since. Madobe also has historical ties to the former TPLF-led government in Addis Ababa, dating back to Ethiopia’s military campaign against Islamic extremists in southern Somalia during the 2000s.
Al-Shabaab was pushed back from the cities of Jubaland but still maintains a presence in rural areas of the state. Kenya, which in the past has suffered deadly attacks by al-Shabab, considers Jubaland – and therefore Madobe – an essential security buffer on the northeastern border with Somalia. Abiy, on the other hand, is suspicious of Madobe’s historical ties to the TPLF, as well as other Ethiopian groups that oppose Abiy’s agenda.
These tensions jeopardize AMISOM’s already troubled campaign against Al-Shabab, which has taken a hit due to the sudden withdrawal of US troops ordered by President Donald Trump last month. National interests have long guided countries’ decisions on participation in the AMISOM mission, but the rift between Kenya and Ethiopia – and each country’s divergent support for rival national factions within Somalia – fundamentally weakens the AMISOM mission. These tensions may not result in direct confrontation, but they create un further wedge that the resurgent al-Shabab can exploit to further its military and political goals.
The conflict in Tigray only exacerbates these demanding rifts. A sustained guerrilla insurrection in Tigray is likely to strain Ethiopia’s military resources and raise the prospect of further withdrawals from the mission in Somalia. A definitive defeat of the TPLF, on the other hand, would encourage Abiy’scentralization campaign, an achievement that would resonate in Somalia and strengthen Farmajo’s agenda.
The indirect instability over Somalia created by the conflict in northern Ethiopia could end if there are future prospects for an agreement between the federal government and the TPLF. This scenario, in addition to ending the senseless war and avoiding the risk of balkanization of the country of the Queen of Shaba, could also provide a valid model for easing tensions between federal government and regional states in Somalia.
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