I.Background and Context
TheHorn of Africafor decades have been plagued with violence, war, famine and genocide, located in one of the most strategic locations in the world, the Horn of Africa has become the world’s most violent and politically unstable region. Since late 1800’s due to the strategic importance of the region, the Horn of Africa has witnessed foreign intervention of many forms and have been the center of proxy wars, first between European colonizers such as: Britain, France, and Italy, and in the 1960’s and 1970’s between the superpowers - i.e. the United States and the Soviet Union. Historically two countries have played a fundamental role in the region, Somalia and Ethiopia, however after the fall of the Siad Bare regime in Somalia in 1991; Ethiopia was left as the hegemonic regional superpower.
Ethiopia is one of the largest countries in Africa, with the second largest population of people with an estimated population of 90 million in 2011, and it is the most important and most strategic actor in the Horn of Africa today. Ethiopia is one of the few nations in Africa who have never been colonized by European imperial powers during the scramble for Africa in the late 1800‘s. Nevertheless, Ethiopia has never had a peaceful or democratic transition of power and is one of the poorest countries in the world. Lack of human rights, political instability and arm conflict has played a fundamental role in the lack of political, social, and economic development in the country. The current regime led by Meles Zanawi took over power by an overthrow of the communist Derg regime led by Mengistu Haile Mariam. Meles Zanawi, former leader of the Tigre Peoples Liberation Front took over power in 1991 and stayed in power ever since.
The TPLF dominated Ethiopian regime, has total political and economic control over the entire country today, currently there are several armed conflicts taking place within the country, most notably by the Ogaden National Liberation Front in the Ogaden or Somali State of Eastern Ethiopia and the Oromo Liberation Front fighting in the Oromia state of Ethiopia. The current situation in the Ogaden is by far the worst crisis taking place in the Horn of Africa today, after the ONLF attack on a Chinese run oil field in 2007, the Ethiopian regime has adopted a campaign of collective punishment, many human rights organizations such as: Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Genocide Watch have raised serious concerns after the Ethiopian governments expulsion of all humanitarian organizations working in the Ogaden such as the Red Cross, Save the Children, and Doctors Without Borders. In addition, the Ethiopian government has imposed an economic, media and humanitarian blockade on the region, therefore, many human rights observers are calling the crisis in the Ogaden “genocide.”
The United States has a fundamental strategic interest in the political stability of the greater Horn of Africa, the spread of human rights and democracy, the War on Terror and Islamic radicalization in the region is utmost important to U.S. policy in the Horn of Africa. This region is facing the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, and a war with Al-Qaeda linked militant groups i.e. Al-Shaabab and Somali piracy in the Indian Ocean. The Ogaden region of Ethiopia is entirely populated by ethnic Somalis, the instability and the oppression of the Somali people in the Ogaden might invite Islamic extremist from Somalia and other regions and further complicate matters in the regional perspective. Human rights is also detrimental to U.S. interest, the United States condemns genocide and crimes against humanity taking place in any part of the world, and the U.S. is concerned about the dire humanitarian crisis taking place in the Ogaden.
The political stability in Ethiopia is essential in implementing U.S. foreign policy in the Horn of Africa. The deteriorating crisis taking place in the Ogaden undermines the political and military interest of the United States by discouraging the political relationship between the United States and the Ethiopian regime. The United States international reputation of condemning and standing against crimes against humanity and genocide will be at stake if the Meles Zanawi regime does not seize all hostilities against the civilian population of Ogaden and bring an end to the Ogaden crisis.
One option for the United States would be to overlook the humanitarian crisis and the crimes against humanity taking place in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia and leave the situation as status quo. The lack of effective U.S. response will be detrimental to the stability of Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa in general. Moreover, the marginalization of the Somali people in Ethiopia may very well become radicalized and invite Islamic extremist to the region. The crisis in the Ogaden may very well spread to other parts of Ethiopia and peaceful parts of Somalia i.e. Somaliland and Puntland, and perhaps the situation in the Ogaden may escalate and become a full blown genocide where the lives of millions of people are at stake.
Second option for the United States would be to remove dictator Meles Zanawi from power and impose a regime change on Ethiopia by supporting legitimate political opposition groups such as, Oromo Liberation Front, Ogaden National Liberation front and Ginbot 7 and support or build a coalition of opposition groups within Ethiopia to form a new national democratic government. This option will be very difficult to implement and may take time to impose, furthermore, the removal of Meles Zanawi regime may also further destabilize the Horn of Africa region, and may create a hostile environment in Ethiopia where opposition groups may not unite due to political and ideological differences.
Lastly, the United States has the option to pressure the Ethiopian regime to immediately stop their human rights violations in the region, dismantle the government sponsored militias known as “Liyuu Bolis” who are committing gross human rights violations, agree to a cease fire and open humanitarian access to the Ogaden for U.N human rights observers and international humanitarian organizations. If they do not comply, the U.S. alongside the international community should openly condemn the human rights violations and impose economic and political sanctions on the Meles Zanawi regime. Beforehand the United States should provide economic incentives to the Meles Zanawi regime to halt all violence in the Ogaden by increasing long-term economic aid and humanitarian assistance. The U.S. should also engage the Ogaden National Liberation Front and pressure both the ONLF and the Ethiopian regime to come to the negotiating table to establish a peace agreement monitored by the international community, such as the U.N. and international Non-governmental Organizations. This option will allow the United States to play a more significant role and promote stability and peace in the region and also end the crisis in the Ogaden.
The United States government must hold the Meles Zanawi regime accountable for its actions in the Ogaden, for the stability in the Ogaden is a fundamental U.S. interest in the Horn of Africa. The Horn of Africa region is a violent and politically unstable part of the world; it is a region where Al Qaeda and Islamic extremist have taken a strong hold. The crisis in the Ogaden and the crimes against human rights continues to worsen and is fundamentally undermining U.S. efforts in Somalia and the greater Horn of Africa. The U.S. State Department must take note that the anti-terrorism efforts in the Horn of Africa are constantly being undermined by the Ethiopian regime by committing gross human rights violations in the Ogaden region which is the heart of the Horn of Africa.
First and foremost, the United States must recognize and condemn the actions of the Meles Zanawi regime in Ethiopia and more specifically in the Ogaden, Second the U.S. should pressure the regime to halt all hostilities against vulnerable civilian populations and lift the economic, media, and humanitarian blockade. The U.S. should also pressure the international community to intervene in the Ogaden crisis by sending human rights observers and humanitarian organizations to the region. Furthermore, the United States alongside the international community must implement security in the Ogaden, the only way for security to be established is if Ethiopia and the ONLF agree to seize all hostilities and agree to a seize fire. After security is established in the region, finally, the U.S. should pressure both the Ogaden National Liberation Front and the Ethiopian Government to open dialog and start multi-lateral negotiations to settle their political disputes peacefully with the engagement of the international community and regional actors.