Obama Less Likely to Solve East African Tension

Either biding on race-solidarity or falling in the spell of the change rhetoric, hope on Obama’s coming administration has picked up to see some new policies to improve the situation in Somalia. With the problem being a production of Bush’s obsession in relating the possibility of an Islamic Government in Somalia as a safe haven for terrorism, people of Somalia hoped Obama will turn the page on possibilities of diplomatic approaches. Ethiopians on the other hand, who don’t like the idea of their country in allying with USA in this case, thought that Obama will give a cold shoulder to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who himself is committing atrocious human right violations in Somalia and his country as well.

But as events roll up, we see these hopes on Obama dwindling. Meles Zenawi himself shared his thoughts recently with his parliament that Barack Obama’s policy wouldn’t be different from Bush’s own and that the two nations’ ties ‘won’t see significant changes’. For the smart dictator to foresee such a thing, he must have his predication on solid grounds.

When US backed the war two years ago using the Ethiopian force to remove the Islamic government that was embraced by the people of Somalia, it was with Bush’s speculation that the Islamic government has ties with Taliban and it was as a part of the infamous direction of ‘war on terror’. Actually, at the time, the Islamic government that controlled Mogadishu for around six months by pushing out the so-called Transition Federal Government was demonstrating a hope for peace and stability in the country. This, however, was interrupted when Ethiopia unleashed her troops into Somalia with a lame excuse that the Islamist Government had declared Jihad on Ethiopia. At the time, we heard the UN and the US condemning this act as unacceptable and urging the Ethiopian troops to back up. The truth lately surfaced that it was actually the US that stood behind this arrogant invasion.

After two years of war, the forced invasion of the country didn’t stabilize the region, but has rather flamed more radical groups and darkened the future of Somalia even more. Resulting one of the worst humanitarian crisis in Africa, the war not only has cost many their lives and displaced millions, but also placed unrest that would take years of generations to solve. The pirate problem that has bloomed recently projecting the lawlessness that threatens international business endeavours in the area is also a direct consequence of this miscalculation.  Of course, we would not get answers if we ask what the African Union tried to do in the middle of all this disaster, except sending the failed ‘peace keeping’ troops from Uganda and Burundi.

Currently the Bush administration is making sure that the Ethiopian force will stay in Somalia until Obama takes office. Even though Obama, as declared in his website, will find a strategy to stabilize Somalia, there are no clear indication how he can achieve that. The notion that Obama will not be different from his predecessor regarding Somalia is, however, indicated in the kind of people he is choosing for certain positions. Hilary Clinton as the Secretary of State for example would have to play a big role in the issue. Since Hilary’s experience in foreign policy was justified in relation to her experience as the First Lady, we would have to suspect that her view on the area would be limited to what she learned from her husband’s policies. Her experience as a senator also demonstrated that she backed up the so called war on terror during the Bush administration. The retention of Robert Gates as Defence Secretary also says a lot to us that we wouldn’t see much of a change when it comes to US foreign policy.

May be in direct relation to the matter at hand, the other reason why Obama’s intent for East Africa peace is questioned is because of his choice of personnel for the US Ambassador to the United Nations. The nominee for the position, Susan Rice is a black woman whom Times hailed as the best pick for the work. The truth is Rice has been a supporter of US’s current policy on Somalia. It is expected that she will suggest to the President-Elect to continue the war weather by keeping Ethiopia as US ally or replacing it with UN force as Bush’s administration is planning to do before leaving the seat. We can understand Rice’s passion for Militaristic driven ‘solutions’, since her recommendation to solve the problem in Darfur is also using military force. She proudly declared that is the only way to ‘solve’ the Darfur problem, even if for US to do so would be against international law.

Rice’s past doesn’t also exhibit much of her dedication to help fellow black Africans. Under Clinton’s time, Rice worked as the National Security Council Director of African Affairs and she also supported Clinton’s policy in preventing UN intervention during the Rwandan Genocide. This fact makes us question her supporters, who are claiming her as a strong ‘Africanist’.

Even though Obama kept on saying that he is open to diplomacy, his choice of short-sighted people like Rice is making the probability of him promoting stability for the East African chaos lesser and lesser. If he continues the war he is inheriting from the Bush legacy, he will consequently lose the willingness of the Islamic world  in general and Somalia’s people in particular to view America with a fresh look.

Just few days ago, Somalia’s President Abdullahi Yusuf resigned following the declaration of his Ethiopian ally’s soon withdrawal. He must have become tired of ‘leading’ his country from hotel rooms. This should somehow throw new lights on the situation in the area, but predicting how the future will unfold for people of Somalia based on this is unthinkable.

Yohana Otite

Yohana Otite is the co-founder of BornBlack and writers on issues that revolve around the intersection of race, gender and class. Yohana also manages the Hamilton DiverseCity onBoard program at Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion.

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