December 25, 2006
Merry Christmas – it's war
So we are at war. We are no longer "technically" at war, or swapping challenges and insults, or officially providing training support to somebody else's army. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi appeared on television last night to say "to defend the attack from the Union of Islamic Courts, we are forced to go into war today".
From a facile point of view in Addis Ababa, nothing seems to have changed. Today seems very much like yesterday. Perhaps it is a bit quieter. Perhaps everyone is a bit more sullen on the streets. Things have been getting a bit quieter for a while now. There have been all sorts of rumours of round-ups and so on going on – so far totally unsubstantiated. But the rumours have been enough.
Somalia's Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) has reportedly made a few threats about striking Addis Ababa. I don't know anyone who is seriously expecting to see suicide bombers in Meskel Square. But again, the threats have their impact. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs here issued a typically defiant reaction to the UIC statement saying if extremists within the Islamic Courts could attack Addis Ababa then they would have done so by now.
Perhaps they were trying to boost the spirit of Addis Ababans – to reassure them that everything was under control. It had the opposite effect on me. The statement reminded me of the old English football chant "Come and have a go if you think you're hard enough" You can just imagine a radicalised young Somali guy listening to his radio somewhere in Mogadishu saying "All right then…"
Most of the reporting up to now has understandably been focused on the battlefront, on the tanks and Migs and ground artillery pounding away around four key towns - and most recently Mogadishu airport - inside Somalia.
But we shouldn't forget the scattered families living either side of the border. I don't know much about Somalia. But I've spent quite a bit of time on the Ethiopian side of the border in the country's Somali region. There have been lots of reasons for journalists to visit Somali region over the past 18 months. Last year, there were devastating floods. At the beginning of this year, there was a devastating drought. Over the last two months there has been yet another devastating flood.
There has been severe acute malnutrition, measles, "acute watery diarrhoea", washed-way homes, shut-down schools, you name it... And now there is a potentially devastating war. The people of Gode, Denan, Kelafo, Warder and so on are hundreds of kilometres away from the fighting. But the bullets and bombs aren't the real problem.
There are only five vital trade roads connecting Somali region to the Red Sea via Somalia. Three of those roads – including an incredibly important one from Mogadishu through to Gode – are along the war-torn border. When those get closed - perhaps they already are - life will start to get really grim again in Somali region. Also most of the population are pastoralists - people who move around with their herds. When the military moves in in force, people stop moving.
The photos, by the way, are of the Christmas decorations at the Sheraton hotel here in Addis Ababa. Entire families have been coming out to gawp at the armies of climbing Santas and the bizarre saxophone orchestra of Father Christmases cut off at the waist. It is doubly bizarre because Ethiopian Orthodox Christians don't celebrate Christmas until early January.
Posted by aheavens at December 25, 2006 12:35 PM