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Neglected conflicts, counterbalanced (?) by more hopeful thoughts

With North Korea’s announcement of a nuclear test – and the accompanying seismic event on the Korean peninsula, it seems somewhat unrealistic to ask people to tear their attention away from everyone’s favorite dictator/filmmaker. But that’s one of my jobs here, pointing out the conflicts that might not make the nightly news.

There’s a fascinating and ominous development in Somalia: the advance of troops from Baidoa – the stronghold of the “government” of Somalia – to Bur Haqaba, a town on the road to Mogadishu – the stronghold of the Union of Islamic Courts. Government troops – allegedly backed by Ethiopian forces (the forces that Ethiopia strenuously denied sending into Somalia) – took the town without a fight, which has been the norm in Somalia over the past year, as UIC has expanded control and the provisional government has contracted.

But the advance of government and Ethiopian troops has more dangerous implications: Sheikh Sharif Ahmed of the UIC in Mogadishu has declared, “Starting from today, we have declared jihad against Ethiopia. Somalis in and outside the country are obliged to defend their country and their religion. You should be ready for an order and execute it as you will be told.” This declaration, in turn, is likely to ratchet up rhetoric from Ethiopia, which already warns that the Islamists – who’ve been a surprisingly stabilizing influence in towns formerly dominated by warlords – are Al-Qaeda supporters and the forward guard of a jihad against Christians in east Africa. Whether the declaration of “jihad” will involve UIC troops crossing into Ethiopian territory, or whether it signifies an intention to retake Bur Haqaba and to take Baidoa is unclear. What is clear is that the situation is unstable and changing quickly.

Unstable, but not changing very quickly is the situation in Darfur. UN commissioner of Human Rights Louise Arbour is demanding investigations into massacres in the Buram area of southern Sudan which depopulated villages housing 10,000 people of “African” origin by 300 – 1000 ethnic Arab militia troops. Early reports of the massacres suggested dozens killed – new reports suggest that death tolls were closer to “several hundreds” of civilians, as well as thousands displaced. In a conflict that’s caused over 2 million people to flee and has killed 200,000, this is hardly a remarkable event, just evidence that the situation absolutely hasn’t gone away, despite ceasefires, declarations of genocide and lots of negotiation within the UN about whether 20,000 troops would constitute “loss of soverignity” for Sudan.

Further south on the Sudan/Uganda border, the Lord’s Resistance Army has told the Ugandan government that they’ll keep fighting unless charges are dropped against Joseph Kony and other leaders by the International Criminal Court in the Hague, something the Ugandan government likely can’t deliver. To the west, as The Salon reminds us, fighting still continues in eastern Congo, while we wait for the next round of presidential elections. In the meantime, as the lower house of Parliament has been elected, the political dividing lines become more pronounced as parties affiliated with Kabila position themselves as members of the government, and parties close to Bemba position themselves as the opposition. As TheMalau writes,

Does it mean Congo now deserves the first “D” in its English acronym? No. But it is interesting to start seeing party politics at play, just like you see it in other countries that are known as democratic. The games of political alliances has started.

It sometimes seems like international encounter is always politics and conflict. But Georgia Popplewell, one of the two amazing managing editors behind Global Voices, had a great reminder that this is not always the case, with a rememberance of her first year with the project that’s a hyperlinked journey around the world through the GV team. Thanks for being with us, Georgia, and for the reminder that reading about the rest of the world is, at best, about meeting friends, not just threats and tragedy.

3 thoughts on “Neglected conflicts, counterbalanced (?) by more hopeful thoughts”

  1. It is unfortunate that Ethiopia is playing a destabilizing role in the somalia. No matter how you look at the equation, it looks like the majority of the people of somalia will continue to suffer from more war and anarchy.
    The UIC is too large extent a by product or reaction to anarachy that has existed in Somalia for such a long time. They seem to have grassroot support because the alternative is anarchy and parasitic warlords.

    Ethiopia has a large population and is a regional heavyweight in east africa similiar to Nigeria in the
    west africa- but Nigeria is playing a productive role in West africa i.e Liberia and peaceful resolution of conflict with Cameroon.

    Until Ethiopia starts playing that kind of role, the Somalia situation will continue to escalate or get worse. I hope not!

  2. That’s interesting that you noticed that alleged quiet little invasion of Somalia by Ethiopian forces; most people around the world have ignored news out of this failed East African state except for the occaisional drought & famine photo special and reports about threats from Islamic extemists who are based there. My take on the alleged 200 Ethiopian troops advancing on Mogadishu is that many people simply don’t care anymore as they are tired of the decades long conflicts in this region. On the other hand, if Ethiopia were to really “invade” Somalia wouldn’t they be sending in a lot more soldiers and military hardware than that described in the BBC News article? Has anyone else other than this BBC reporter been able to confirm this invasion by Ethiopia?

    In addition to the great job our mutual friend The Malau has been doing over at the Salon, I would highly recommend (to your readers) the excellent writing and reporting on the DR Congo by U.S.-based independent journalist Mvemba Phezo Dizolele at the Eye on Africa blog. Here is the link to his blog:

    Lastly, GVO’s very own contributing editor Jennifer Brea has been doing a great job in providing roundups from French-language blog authors writing about the DRC and other Central African nations.

  3. Thanks for the pointers, BRE – those are good leads. Regarding Ethiopian presence in Somalia – it’s been quite widely reported, both by Somali press and by international reporters for AP, Reuters, BBC, all who say they’ve spoken to people on the ground who confirm dozens of Ethiopian military vehicles and accompanying troops within Somalia. Whether this constitutes an “invasion” or an attempt to help the provisional government protect Baidoa is less clear, but there are multiple reports of Ethiopian presence.

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