SUMMARY OF DEVELOPMENTS IN
GREATER HORN OF AFRICA/GREATER LAKES REGIONS 1998/99
Zurich, April 27, 1999
Dehai neither endorses nor agrees with all
the contents of this article. But, it has some good information,
to the reader interested in the Eritrea-Ethiopia conflict, to warrant publishing
it on this web site.
Background to the current regional
situation and military conflict
The states of the Greater Horn Region (Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Sudan,
Somalia, Kenya) and of the Greater Lakes Region (Burundi, Congo, Tanzania,
Rwanda, Uganda) are linked in an intricate web of shifting alliances, ambivalent
co-operation, competition, conflict and warfare.
The outbreaks of the second Eritrean-Ethiopian war in May 1998 and of the
third Angolan Civil War and the Congo War in July 1998 have resulted in
substantial changes of the political contexts and alliances within the
wider regions as well as on an African level.
Spurred on by their renewed wars the main regional protagonists in the
Greater Horn and the Greater Lakes have established wider networks of shifting
alliances encompassing a substantial number of other African states and
thus making them effectively participants in the intra-regional conflicts
of the Greater Horn and the Greater Lakes regions.
States thus primarily involved are Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe from Southern
Africa, Congo-Brazzaville, Central African Republic and Chad from Central
Africa, and Libya as well as Egypt from Northern Africa.
Particularly Egypt although not part of the Greater Horn region, is a vital
player in its regional politics as it has a strategic interest in the Nile
Eritrea, Ethiopia and Uganda together with Rwanda and Congo formed the
group of what in 1997 certain media and political circles enthusiastically
termed the "new democracies" spearheading the "second liberation of Africa"
and being lead by a new generation of leaders.
Within this group only in Kenya people had a reasonable chance at least
to express their political wishes at the ballot box and functioned multi-party
parliamentary democracy in a limited way. In contrast to the imperfect
Kenyan democracy, Congo, Eritrea, Rwanda and Uganda were openly proclaimed
and Ethiopia a hidden one party state. Particularly the leaderships of
Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Congo did not have any understanding of
the meaning of civil society.
The leaderships of these "new democracies" were professing Marxists until
recently. A thorough analysis of their policies since coming to power clearly
demonstrates that basically they still want to implement an etatistic transformation
of their societies without calling it socialism.
Ironically America, in pursuit of its overall new African policy aiming
at establishing secure political positions in mineral rich African countries,
rolling back French influence, and forming strong regional front-line against
Islamic fundamentalism ruling in Sudan and trying to use it as a spring
board for wider regional penetration, became the most ardent international
supporter of the group of the "new democracies" led by hidden Marxists.
As part of its policies against Islamic fundamentalism, the USA and their
regional allies backed the Sudanese opposition united in the NDA.
Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya were each trying to play a regional hegemonial
role and as such competed with each other and followed regional strategies
conflicting with each other.
Each one of these states within this anti-Khartoum alliance was beset with
its own internal contradictions which also negatively reflect upon their
capacity to achieve the aspired to hegemonial role.
Similarly Rwanda, Uganda, and Congo also aimed at achieving regional hegemony
and thus competed with each other and followed regional strategies conflicting
with each other.
The competitive regional politics of the major players in the Greater Horn
and the Greater Lakes directed against each other, to a large degree were
conditioned by their internal contradictions and did not correspond to
the political interests of the USA in the region.
The internal and foreign policies of the political forces leading the states
in the Greater Horn and Greater Lakes were determined by what they consider
to be their mission for the respective country and her people.
Under the rule of these ideology driven political forces who were the self-appointed
interpreters of the national will and interest of the people in the respective
states, there was no open rational debate on the parameters of their internal
and foreign policies within their own societies as well as with external
Chances of the USA or the European Union to really influence these governments,
if they ever really had wished to do so, were limited. The alliance with
the USA was seen by them as a tactical alliance sought and used for internal
and regional purposes of their own. Basically, these governments were "counselling
The Eritrean-Ethiopian War: background,
course and impact
The outbreak of war between Ethiopia and Eritrea in early May 1998 has
introduced a major new destabilising element into regional and trans-regional
Even if the war ends in the near future and it should be noted that this
is not likely, its effects upon a regional level will be long-lasting and
primarily negative and destabilising.
In terms of regional politics no matter what the outcome of the Eritrean-Ethiopian
war will be, Eritrea and Ethiopia will be losers and the Islamistic government
of Sudan a major beneficiary.
A careful analysis of the developments leading to the open outbreak of
hostilities between Eritrea and Ethiopia in May 1998 reveals that Ethiopia
has the major responsibility for this conflict.
Contrary to public pronouncements since 1985, the TPLF has never really
accepted the idea of an independent Eritrean state.
Since 1985 it has variously tried to influence the Eritrean independence
war in such a way as to secure that Eritrea ultimately would remain within
For a number of reasons the TPLF was not able to achieve this goal, not
least because of its dependence upon the EPLF during the final drive for
Addis Abeba and for securing political power within Ethiopia in the two
years after taking over in Addis Abeba.
The EPLF in turn was dependent upon the TPLF led Transitional Government
(TG) for a rapid recognition of the referendum results in order to obtain
a rapid international recognition of Eritrean independence.
The Eritrean policy of the TPLF after May 1991 was based upon the long-term
strategy aiming to neutralise the regional impact of an independent Eritrean
state by pursuing a policy of ultimately linking Eritrea with Ethiopia
in a formalised economic union.
It was hoped that by formalising the economic relations between Eritrea
and Ethiopia into a currency union to be followed by an economic union
not only would constrain Eritrea to conduct her regional policies in line
with Ethiopian regional hegemonial intentions but also would finally result
in a form of political union between Eritrea and Ethiopia.
It is in pursuance of this strategy that the TPLF-led transitional government
initially granted Eritrea generous privileges in her economic relations
with Ethiopia which were perceived by the Ethiopian opposition as a sell-out
of Ethiopia to Eritrea.
The Eritrean government was fully aware of this TPLF strategy and intended
to exploit it to the maximum for economic benefits for Eritrea but to back
out as soon as the capacity of the Eritrean government to independently
pursue its economic and political strategies for developing Eritrea would
be imperilled by this form of co-operation.
Contrary to current Ethiopian propaganda, the string of border conflicts
Eritrea had/has with her neighbours did not start with Yemen, then proceed
with Djibouti and finally resulted in the war against Ethiopia but actually
started with the territorial issues between Ethiopia and Eritrea provoked
by the TPLF.
At the local level since 1991 the TPLF, in spite of its long-term strategy
for winning back Eritrea for Ethiopia, pursued a policy of territorial
extending Tigray administration into areas considered by Eritrea to be
The EPLF led Provisional Government of Eritrea did not openly protest these
territorial encroachments as it still needed the endorsement of the Ethiopian
TG for the outcome of the referendum but expressed its hopes to the TPLF
that these matters could be settled through amicable discussions.
After the proclamation of the formal independence of Eritrea the territorial
issues were repeatedly raised by the Eritrean government with both the
regional government of Tigray and the Ethiopian government but both were
It seems that in the first half of 1994 a joint border commission was created
involving representatives of the Eritrean Government and of the Tigray
The actions of the TPLF since the border issue was officially but not publicly
raised by the Eritrean Government clearly indicate that the TPLF was not
interested in a rapid settlement of the open border questions. One has
to assume that this was deliberate and reflected a tactic to keep the border
issues in reserve as instruments and bargaining mass in case the long-term
strategy of winning back Eritrea for Ethiopia by economic means failed.
It is interesting to note that when Eritrea raised the issue of the Hanish
Islands with Yemen that it had been Ethiopia which actively encouraged
Eritrea to pursue this claim. The TPLF-led government of Ethiopia provided
the Eritrean government with maps and other materials meant to underpin
the Eritrean claim to these islands and also with military support for
the Eritrean occupation of most of the contested islands.
The minutes of the joint Eritrean-Ethiopian Economic Commission clearly
indicated that at least since 1995 the differences in the aims pursued
by the two sides were developing rapidly.
Ethiopia put pressure on Eritrea to sign a formal agreement regularising
and formalising the existing currency union, a demand, if implemented,
would have paved the way for the establishment of an economic union later.
Eritrea indicated her willingness to sign such an agreement provided that
for purposes of investment Ethiopia would not only treat Eritreans residing
within Ethiopia but also Eritrean investors from Eritrea as internal investors
not subject to the restrictions placed upon foreign investment in Ethiopia.
Thus, it appears that indeed Eritrea was willing to enter into a closer
economic relationships with Ethiopia provided it guaranteed her the chance
to become a major economic player within the economic union.
The Ethiopian side, however, consistently refused to formally grant Eritrean
citizens from Eritrea for investment purposes the same status as Ethiopian
nationals and from 1995 onwards even commenced to place growing restrictions
upon investments of Eritreans residing within Ethiopia who were carriers
of Ethiopian ID cards and passports.
The Ethiopian approach to press for an Eritrean-Ethiopian currency union
but to refuse to treat Eritrean investors on an equal footing with Ethiopian
investors appears to be paradoxical and contradictory in its aims. At a
closer look, however, this Ethiopian approach could be interpreted to have
been an expression of a strategy which wanted to align Eritrean economic
policies through the currency union to the Ethiopian economic policy of
Agricultural Development Led Industrialisation (ADLI) but to prevent Eritrean
capital from becoming a major investor within Ethiopia, the latter ostensibly
aiming at protecting the interests of the party economic empire and of
the nascent Tigray entrepreneurial class as well as at deflecting growing
criticism from the non-Tigray entrepreneurial sectors of Ethiopia against
the TPLF for allowing the Eritrean entrepreneurs too many economic privileges
within Ethiopia. In a sense, the TPLF wanted to tie Eritrea closer to Ethiopia
but was not willing to pay the economic price for it.
Given this contradiction, it is not surprising that finally Eritrea refused
to formalise the currency union, the return on this kind of commitment
offered by the Ethiopian side being too small to compensate in Eritrean
eyes the inevitable loss of autonomy of action in the economic field such
a union would entail.
Once the Eritrean side had decided to introduce the Naqfa, it was clear
to the TPLF policy makers that the currently pursued long-term strategy
to win back Eritrea for Ethiopia through economic integration had failed.
From subsequent actions, it became clear that the TPLF leadership had prepared
for that possibility and now commenced to implement an alternate strategy
of calculated conflict escalation containing two alternate scenarios both
designed to reduce the regional impact of an independent Eritrea.
According to the first scenario Eritrea, under the negative impact of the
Ethiopian economic counter-measures would rapidly give in to the Ethiopian
demands and sign the currency union under the conditions wanted by the
Ethiopian side and thus Eritrean-Ethiopian relationships would follow again
the long-term strategy applied before.
As part of these countermeasures Ethiopia matched the introduction of the
Naqfa by the introduction of the new Birr, thus nullifying Eritrean attempts
to retain some of the redeemed Birr as a reserve to finance further imports
from Ethiopia without having to resort to spending hard foreign currency.
The next step in the initiated economic confrontation with or even hidden
economic warfare against Eritrea consisted in demanding from Day One of
the use of the Naqfa as a sole legal tender within Eritrea that all bilateral
trade and financial transactions between Eritrea and Ethiopia were to be
conducted on dollar base through letters of credit (LC).
As the Ethiopian government was fully aware that the banking system and
trade and financial institutions of both countries were not prepared to
implement this policy, the subsequent near total breakdown of the bilateral
trade and financial transactions can only be interpreted as the result
the Ethiopian government actually wanted to achieve.
The slowness with which the minor concession of allowing in a limited way
cross-border trade between Eritrea and Ethiopia to be conducted in Birr
and Naqfa was actually implemented corroborates to supposition that Ethiopia
wanted to impose a non-declared economic blockade upon Eritrea.
The closure of the Ethiopian private Horn International Bank set up by
private Eritrea-Ethiopian capital (with the possible indirect involvement
of the PFDJ or the Eritrean state) in January 1998 aimed at denying Eritrean
traders and investors the opportunity of borrowing Birr in Ethiopia and
repaying them back in Eritrea in Naqfa to finance inputs from Ethiopia
without using hard currencies.
Clearly the Ethiopian economic counter-measures had a negative impact upon
the Eritrean economy and even the daily life of Eritreans as culturally
highly esteemed commodities from Ethiopia such as teff no longer were easily
Contrary to Ethiopian expectations, the Eritrean government blandly refused
to give in to this particular form of economic blackmail and sped up the
process of reorienting the Eritrean economy away from Ethiopia.
As from the TPLF point of view the strategy of economic counter-measures
had failed to produce the desired rapid results, the TPLF now proceeded
to fully implement the second scenario of its anti Eritrean strategy, a
scenario based upon the escalation of provocations using the open territorial
issues with the aim of provoking Eritrea into limited military actions
along the border in a way which would allow Ethiopia to brand Eritrea as
the aggressor and give Ethiopia the internationally needed justification
for entering into a major politico-military confrontation with Eritrea.
The benefits the TPLF hoped to reap with this strategy were dual. On the
one side, creating a situation where Eritrea would appear as the aggressor
would allow Ethiopia to vigorously pursue the long desired program of expanding
and re-arming the Ethiopian Armed Forces without running the risk of being
economically penalised by the donor community. On the other side, it was
calculated that in the course of this confrontation, Ethiopia would be
able to inflict upon Eritrea heavy political, economic, and if need be
also military damage which seriously would diminish the Eritrean capacity
for rapid economic development as well as conducting a regional policy
contrary to Ethiopian hegemonial interests.
The whole scenario was based on the assumption that it would be possible,
given known patterns of conflict behaviour of the Eritrean leadership and
particularly Isayas Afewerqi, to sooner of later provoke Eritrea into military
action against Ethiopian territorial encroachment.
Already while the preparations on both sides to introduce the new currencies
were accelerated already in July 1997 the TPLF also upped the ante in the
on-going territorial dispute. A larger body of Ethiopian military occupied
the Eritrean administered locality of Adi Murug in the Bada depression
of Dankalia and proceeded to dismantle its Eritrean administration.
Eritrea did not then make a public and international issue out of the Ethiopian
aggression but preferred to treat the matter secretly in bilateral communications
as Eritrea then still hoped to salvage some economic interests in the on-going
discussions on the currency issues. Both sides agreed to set up a new border
commission on the level of their respective governments to deal with the
border issue. However, the Ethiopian side continuously delayed meetings
of this commission and demonstrated a clear disinterest to rapidly and
conclusively put the border issue to rest.
As part of stepping up the territorial provocations Ethiopia in March 1998
commenced to expand the area in South-western Eritrea under Tigray administration
and to set down border markers along the new administrative perimeter.
Also, Eritrean citizens residing in the areas taken over by the Tigray
since 1991 were asked to renounce their Eritrean citizenship and to take
the Ethiopian one or else to leave the area as unwanted foreigners.
The course of the open conflict
As was calculated by the TPLF the Eritrean leadership reacted to these
provocations in the desired manner and due to its militaristic pattern
of behaviour and ingrained arrogance regarding Tigray apparently without
ever seriously reflecting on the possible long-term goals of the Ethiopian
or rather the Tigray side.
The Eritrean side quite clearly evaluated the TPLF actions in the territorial
dispute only within the narrow framework of a border conflict. Whereas
in the past the economic interests of Eritrea within Ethiopia had led the
Eritrean leadership to exercise restraint in actions and publicly raising
the issues, with the breakdown of the economic relations between the two
countries it was felt that such restraint no longer was called for and
that in the face of the Tigray actions along the border determined Eritrean
counter -actions were the order of the day.
Thus the Eritrean action of May 6, 1998 was designed to tell the TPLF that
Eritrea no longer was willing to accept the territorial encroachments of
the Tigray and to force them no longer to procrastinate in settling the
border issue through bilateral negotiations.
Contrary to Eritrean expectations and their own behaviour in 1997 at Adi
Murug, the Tigray militia at Badume opened fire on the small contingent
of Eritrean forces sent to Badume to push the Eritrean claim to this area
and killed the high-ranking military and political leader entrusted with
Eritrean attempts to clarify the matter at the meeting of the Eritrean-Ethiopian
boundary commission on May 8,1998 were met with evasive tactics from the
Convinced that the Ethiopians were still unwilling to seriously settle
the border issue through negotiations and infuriated at the losses at Badume
during the previous actions the Eritrean side then ordered the much larger
military action of May 12, 1998.
In the eyes of the Eritrean leadership this action was still meant to force
the hands of the Ethiopians to sped up the discussion process on the settlement
of the border issue and never, as later the Ethiopian propaganda portrayed
it, to initiate a war of aggression aiming at forcing Ethiopia to concede
again to Eritrea the economic privileges she had enjoyed in Ethiopia until
the break-down of the currency union.
As clear indication that the TPLF wanted the Eritreans to come back with
larger military forces to Badume and thus create the desired impression
of an Eritrean aggression on peaceful Ethiopia is the fact that after May
8, 1998, the Ethiopian government did not undertake any action to strengthen
Ethiopian military presence in the Badume area in an attempt to deter Eritrean
military actions the Ethiopian side had to expect given their knowledge
of Eritrean behavioural patterns.
Information from within the Ethiopian Parliament that the statement of
May 13, 1998 of the Council of Ministers that Eritrea had started a war
of aggression, had already been drafted in the days before May 12, 1998
by the ruling bodies of the TPLF/EPRDF, is yet another indication that
the Ethiopian side had prepared a trap at Badume into which the Eritrean
side dutifully and true to form walked into.
The rapid reaction of Ethiopia of labelling the escalation of the border
conflict as major Eritrean aggression caught the Eritrean diplomacy totally
unaware and secured the Ethiopian side vital advantages in its drive to
secure international support against Eritrea.
A crucial diplomatic victory the TPLF achieved when with the help of a
long-time highly placed TPLF supporter within the National Security Council
of the USA it succeeded to have inserted into a joint US-American-Rwandan
proposal for the settlement of the conflict the demand that in the Badume
area the status quo ante prior to May 6, 1998 had to be established before
any process of international arbirtration of the border litigation could
be initiated. The subsequent adoption of the demand as a cornerstone of
any conflict resolution by the OAU and later the UN Security Council effectively
cemented the diplomatic victory the Ethiopian side had achieved over Eritrea
and secured Ethiopia vital international political, economic and military
support in her confrontation with Eritrea.
It is to be assumed that the TPLF did not really expect that the international
disapproval of the Eritrean action at Badume would force the Eritrean side
to back down and withdraw its troops and thus secure for Ethiopia a major
political victory over Eritrea. It is further to be assumed that for that
eventuality other actions had been planned to keep the conflict with Eritrea
going as it was needed to achieve the long-term Ethiopian aims regarding
Eritrea, re-armament of Ethiopia and Ethiopian hegemonial designs within
Yet again true to form the Eritrean side not only rejected the US-American-Rwandan
proposal as unacceptable but appeared to have opted for a strategy of exerting
counter-pressure on Ethiopia to go into negotiations on the border issue
without a prior Eritrean withdrawal from Badume by occupying the Irob areas
around Alitena in the east which Eritrea considered to be Eritrean but
which had been administered from Meqele probably since the 1950s.
The Eritrean upping of the territorial ante appears to have caught the
Ethiopian side by surprise. Its attempts to counter the Eritrean move into
Alitena area by a counter offensive from Zalambesa were rapidly squashed
by an Eritrean offensive against Zalambesa and its subsequent occupation
by Eritrean forces.
When Ethiopian attempts to retake Zalambesa resulted in further heavy military
and territorial losses the Ethiopian government, in an attempt to bring
relief to the embattled Ethiopian troops south of Zalambesa, initiated
the air-war by bombing the military section of Asmara airport.
The accidental bombing of a school in Meqele during the Eritrean counter
air-attack on the same day which left a high number of dead among the schoolchildren
gave the Ethiopian side an unexpected and invaluable major propaganda tool
and helped it to obscure both nationally and internationally the fact that
Ethiopia had initiated the air war.
The military superiority at Zalambesa caused the Ethiopia leadership to
initiate military engagements at Bure near Assab and again in the West
in an attempt to deflect Eritrean pressure at Zalambesa.
As these engagements did not result in any Ethiopian advantage, the TPLF
realised that it had underestimated the Eritrean military preparedness
and in an attempt to gain time to speed up its own military preparations
and to increase international political pressure upon Eritrea, Ethiopia
agreed to an USA brokered moratorium on air-strikes and an undeclared cease-fire
in the three areas of military confrontation.
After the end of open hostilities the TPLF leadership using its control
over the Ethiopian state initiated a series of measures destined to strengthen
the Ethiopian political, economic and military potential in the on-going
conflict with Eritrea with the clear aim of creating the necessary base
for remaining victorious if a renewed military confrontation were needed
to achieve the long-term goals of its conflict strategy against Eritrea.
A supreme war council was set up which tellingly only comprised high leaders
of the TPLF and not even the Defence Minister Tefera Walwa from the EPRDF-member
organisation ANDM (Amhara).
In order to deflect the attention of the Ethiopian public from the military
setbacks and from undertaking a closer scrutiny of the whole chain of events
leading up to the military confrontation, the TPLF unleashed within Ethiopia
a vigorous anti-Eritrean hate campaign a through the administration and
state controlled media against Eritrean government and administration as
well as the Eritreans living within Ethiopia.
With the justification of the need to fight against the Eritrean fifth
column within Ethiopia, a process of large-scale arbitrary arrests, property
confiscation and expulsion of Ethiopian citizens of Eritrean origin and
Eritrean residents within Ethiopia was initiated in the course of which
until today close to 60.000 persons were deported to Eritrea with an unknown
number of others fleeing from Ethiopia into third countries. This means
that already close to half of the persons of Eritrean origin living in
Ethiopia have been forced to leave the country they considered to be their
To deflect domestic and international attention from the deportations,
the Ethiopian government initiated a vicious campaign of accusing Eritrea
of Ethiopiophobia and of mishandling, torturing and expelling Ethiopian
residents from Eritrea in numbers suspiciously always closely matching
the numbers of Eritreans deported from Ethiopia.
It is to stress that to date there is no proof whatsoever that there exists
a policy of the Eritrean government to deport Ethiopian residents from
Eritrea in a manner comparable to the Ethiopian actions against Eritreans
Undeniably, a large number of Ethiopians living and working in Eritrea
have left Eritrea but most did so because they lost their jobs or out of
fear of anticipated Eritrean reprisals against the Ethiopian community
and not due to any organised campaign from the side of the Eritrean authorities.
One has to assume that the shocking tales of Eritrean atrocities committed
against Ethiopians driven out from Eritrea as told by Ethiopians arriving
from Eritrea within Ethiopia are the result of a well orchestrated indoctrination
campaign of the Ethiopian authorities in which the returnees willingly
participate in their desire to receive economic support.
This is not to deny that in a number of cases the stories told would be
true and that Ethiopians in a limited number did suffer at the hands of
overzealous and callous officials and inflamed civilian individuals.
A desired effect of these deportations also is to permanently destroy the
Eritrean capital sector within the Ethiopian economy to the benefit of
mainly Amhara and Tigray entrepreneurs who thus get rid of a quite successful
As part of the mounting anti-Eritrean campaign the Ethiopian government
began to accuse the Eritrean side to have entered into an alliance with
the OLF, the ONLF, and the fundamentalist Somali Al-Ittihad and to have
applied to membership in the Arab League. The developing closer ties between
Eritrea and Libya (see below) were widely trumped as proof of the terrorist
nature of the Eritrean state.
In the first months after the outbreak of the conflict there was no proof
for a tangible Eritrean support of OLF, ONLF and Al-Ittihad. However, as
the relationship with Libya grew stronger and the need to follow a strategy
of encouraging other enemies of Ethiopia more imperative, Eritrea in deed
seems to have intensified her relations with these three organisations
including shipments of arms to all of them provided by Libya.
In the months after the undeclared cease-fire, Ethiopia boosted the numerical
strength of her army to now more than 350.000 by calling up a major part
of the regional reserve armies created since 1995, re-enlisting the demobalised
EPRDF veterans and conducting conscription by quota thinly camouflaged
as voluntary enlistment.
Parallel to that, until now, Ethiopia probably spent more than 300 million
US $ to upgrade the armament of her military forces including the acquisition
of a huge arsenal of heavy artillery, rocket launchers, tanks, ATC and
To finance these military purchases Ethiopia drew heavily upon her hard
currency resources accumulated during the past years, depleting them to
such an extent that the remaining reserves only were enough to finance
two months of imports.
To finance the costs of maintaining a huge and ever growing army in the
field, the Ethiopian government initiated a vigorous campaign to solicit
funds from the Ethiopian public using a wide array of coercive measures
to enhance the willingness of the individuals to contribute to the war
It was part of the government strategy to astronomically inflate the number
of war displaced Ethiopians and to solicit the private contributions to
the war under the guise of helping the displaced compatriots.
As part of the overall strategy to finance the war efforts, within two
months after the outbreak of hostilities in May 1998, the Ethiopian government
registered most of the close to 200 NGOs whose cases had been pending since
months or even years and invited them to participate in the rehabilitation
of the war displaced and to step up their development programs in the other
parts of Ethiopia.
Parallel to that, the Ethiopian government initiated a campaign to convince
the international donors that Ethiopia actually wants peace and was capable
of continuing her development activities if she were provided with the
necessary funds. This strategy proved quite effective, as Ethiopia proudly
declared in January 1999 to have received pledges for new funds totalling
3.7 billion Birr after May 12,1998.
One has to assume that part of this generous funding was given under the
misguided impression on the side of donors skilfully nurtured by the Ethiopian
side that generous external help would be met with Ethiopian restraint
in initiating new military actions.
It is to be stressed that the Eritrean government equally stepped up the
recruitment of Eritrean citizens into the armed forces and the re-equipment
of these through large-scale acquisition of modern weaponry.
The Eritrean opportunities to acquire modern arms in the needed quantities
were seriously circumscribed by the limited funds in hard currency.
To overcome these constraints the Eritrean government initiated a vigorous
fund raising campaign among her nationals residing abroad. As usual also
with fund-raising drives for development purposes, open extortion was applied
in those admittedly this time comparatively rare cases where Eritreans
abroad were unwilling to pay.
One result of these financial constraints upon the Eritrean capacity to
upgrade their military potential was the need to accept the Libyan offer
to provide the needed funds and also part of the looked for weaponry although
until then Eritrea had maintained a prudent distance from Libya.
In her diplomatic activities, conducted as in past years with a high degree
of arrogance and self-righteousness, Eritrea consistently failed to make
the international community properly understand her position and the fact
the territorial aggression with military means had actually been initiated
by Ethiopia already in July 1997 with the action at Adi Murug.
Diplomatically the Ethiopian side was more successful than Eritrea as it
consistently succeeded in having the demand for Eritrean withdrawal to
positions held before May 6,1998 inserted into all international proposals
for settling the conflict.
The Eritrean refusal of this demand provided the Ethiopian side with gleefully
used additional arguments for depicting Eritrea as a warmonger whose refusal
to listen to the voice of the international community would force 'peaceful'Ethiopia
to seek redress of her justified grievances by force of arms under invocations
of the legitimate right of self-defence.
One has to assume that the Eritrean refusal of the withdrawal was mainly
conditioned by the fear that Ethiopia, once having achieved the Eritrean
withdrawal would again procrastinate in the final settlement of the border
issue and rather look for renewed possibilities to exercise pressure on
Eritrea to concede to the concessions wanted by Ethiopia. However, to a
non negligible degree this refusal also appears to have been due to sheer
intransigence nurtured by arrogance and feelings of superiority which did
not allow the Eritrean government to implicitly admit by a withdrawal of
having committed a mistake by walking into the trap set by the Tigray and
having failed to look for a non-militaristic way of countering the TPLF
designs regarding Eritrea.
Eritrea clearly felt the international pressure for withdrawal and despite
an attitude of arrogant aloofness concerning the international mediation
attempts, the Eritrean leadership restrained from totally rejecting the
international proposals demanding an Eritrean retreat and tried to follow
a strategy of diplomatic filibustering by demanding again and again explanations
on various points of the proposal set forward.
After carefully assessing her own military preparations and the international
situation and possible in the full knowledge that on these days US-American
satellite surveillance was centred on Iraq leaving a gap concerning the
Horn of Africa, Ethiopia on February 5,1999 falsely accused Eritrea of
having broken the moratorium on air-strikes by bombing Adigrat and on February
6, 1999 to have initiated ground-fighting on the Badume front.
Both accusations are patently false, the French air surveillance from Djibouti
clearly stated that actually there was no aeroplane activity over North-eastern
Tigray on February 5, 1999 and similarly all available information from
the war theatre indicate that the Ethiopian army initiated the fighting
at the Badume front intself.
After a few days of fighting at Badume with victory for neither side, the
Ethiopian army followed the same pattern as in the fighting of last year
by initiating military engagements at new fronts in an attempt of forcing
the Eritrean side to redeployment manoeuvres weakening their capacity to
resist Etiopian attacks.
This strategy paid off when the Ethiopians on February 23, 1999 shifted
the main military engagement back to the Badume front and there succeeded
through the combination of incessant infantry mass attacks supported by
intensive heavy artillery fire, tanks and the airforce to achieve at one
point a break-through of the Eritrean defence lines.
Faced with the threat of an Ethiopian pincer movement encircling the Eritrean
troops and thus possibly loosing a major part of the Eritrean army in the
ensuing pocket situation the Eritrean leadership immediately ordered a
The Ethiopian troops hesitated two days to move forward into the evacuated
positions being afraid of being lured into a trap set by the Eritrean troops.
Contrary to later public pronouncements the main fighting at Badume was
over two days prior to the full-mouthed Ethiopian announcements of having
achieved a resounding victory at Badume and put out of action a substantial
part of the Eritrean army.
One has to stress that the Ethiopian army did achieve a significant victory
over the Eritrean army at Badume, however, it was considerably less resounding
than the Ethiopian side claims.
Badume clearly was a disaster and a shock for the Eritrean army which until
then had operated under the assumption that the TPLF-led Ethiopian armed
forces still were inferior to the Eritrean army in terms of leadership
skills, strategy, and fighting as well as fire power.
Badume also proved that the re-application of the successful EPLF-strategy
of the liberation war of depleting and finally defeating numerically superior
enemy forces along fortified frontlines now to the Badume lowland areas
was a fatal mistake.
The Ethiopian side after Badume committed the reciprocal mistake by assuming
that the tactic successfully applied at Badume also would successfully
work again at other fronts.
The battle at the Tsorona front initiated by the Ethiopian forces in mid-March
ended in a severe defeat for the Ethiopian side as the terrain was more
favourable to the Eritrean defence strategy and as the Ertrean side also
had drawn certain lessons from the Badume defeat. Even though, in view
of the massive Ethiopian onslaught, at Tsorona it was a close call for
the Eritreans as the Ethiopians were very close to achieve a similar point
break-through as at Badume.
After the lost battle of Tsorona the Ethiopian forces shifted their attack
to the Mereb front opposite of Shambuko possibly in an attempt to forestall
an expected Eritrean attack from the north across the river towards Badume
from the rear. After nearly ten days of heavy fighting the direct military
engagement at this front ended with the Ethiopian side boisterously claiming
of having successfully foiled an Eritrean attempt to recapture Badume with
great losses for the Eritreans, a claim unconfirmed by independent sources.
Since then there seems to have been a lull in the ground-fighting but in
mid-April Ethiopia carried out a series of aerial attacks against alleged
military targets deep inside Eritrea. According to Eritrean sources these
attacks wre mainly directed at civilian targets.
It appears that after close to two months of heavy ground-fighting both
sides are in need of replenishing their depleted ground forces and arsenals
before new major military engagements could be undertaken. There are reports
that both sides are engaged in acquiring additional military equipment
and arms and have stepped up the recruitment to their armed forces.
Reliable data on the number of dead, wounded and captured soldiers on both
sides are not available. The Ethiopian claims regarding the losses inflicted
upon the Ertirean forces are as unconvincing and impossible as the claims
put forward by the TPLF regarding Ethiopian losses in its fight against
the Derg army. The Ertirean statements regarding Ethiopian losses appear
to be more reasonable. Undoubtedly, the latest rounds of fighting have
taken a heavy human toll on both sides. It is estimated that the Eritrean
losses could be as high as 8.000 dead whereas the Ethiopian losses are
estimated to be as high as 25.000.
The huge Ethipian losses not only reflect the basic fact that the force
attacking fortified positions always suffer higher casualties than the
defending one but also is a gruesome testimony to the Ethiopian strategy
of callously using human waves of badly trained and poorly protected non-Tigray
raw recruits to clear the way for the more seasoned and mainly Tigray troops.
The comparatively high Eritrean losses appear to have mainly been the result
of intensive Ethiopian artillery and tank fire as well of the use of the
To date the Ethiopian side has not stated the number of Eritrean prisoners
of war due to the latest fighting in its hand nor has it allowed the ICRC
access to them.
The defeat suffered at Badume impelled the Eritrean leadership to immediately
proclaim its acceptance of the OAU-framework proposals for settling the
Eritrean-Ethiopian conflict, even before the Ethiopian side had officially
announced its victory.
The Eritrean acceptance of these proposals has to be seen as a tactical
move to minimise the military implications of the defeat at Badume and
as an attempt to use these proposals which call for the demilitarisation
of the contested areas as a non-military tool to get the Ethiopian army
again out of Badume.
The acceptance of these proposals also indicated that after the military
reverse suffered at Badume and the heavy losses there incurred, the Eritrean
leadership now evaluated the risks associated with the acceptance of the
OAU framework proposals as less threatening than the continuation of the
The Ethiopian side immediately accused Eritrea of not being serious in
her acceptance of the OAU framework proposals and stated that these proposals
were meant to prevent the war but that now as Eritrean obstinacy had forced
Ethiopia to seek her legitimate rights by force of arms they no longer
could be fully applied.
When the Ethiopian government realised that this positions was not well
received at the international level it changed tack and now declared again
its full adherence to the OAU framework proposal, which, however, the Ethiopian
side now claimed demanded as a precondition to any discussions on even
a cease fire, the unconditional withdrawal of Eritrean forces from all
occupied Ethiopian territories along the total length of the 1000km border
between the two countries leaving wide open to interpretation what exactly
the Ethiopian sides now considered as occupied territories.
Parallel to these demands the Ethiopian government through its media launched
a series of articles written by government offices under pen names in which
as preconditions for a peaceful settlement of the conflict not only the
unconditional Eritrean withdrawal from all occupied Ethiopian territories
was listed but also that Eritrea accepts the war guilt, and agrees to pay
reparations for the war damages in Ethiopia and ultimately it was openly
stated that only a change of government in administration would bring a
lasting solution to this conflict.
As part of the implementation of the latter war aim Ethiopia stepped up
its support for Eritrean opposition forces willing to cooperate with Ethiopia
against the government in Asmera. The 11-organisation coalition formed
in March 1999 in Khartoum and led for the next six months by Abdalla Idris
was given wide publicity and particularly the shadowy Red Sea Afar Liberation
Front and Gash Setit Liberation Front were given not only publicity in
the governmental media but also promised full Ethiopian support.
There are indications that the Ethiopian government is facilitation the
attempts of these forces to recruit among Eritrean internees at Bilate
camp and Eritrean POWs or even undertaking such recruitment by itself with
the aim of setting up armed wings of these forces which then can be used
against the Eritrean government forces.
Possibly the Ethiopian strategy for the next phase contains as elements:
Eritreanisation of the war, creating a pretext for Ethiopian military actions
in support of Eritrean regional liberation movements, using the issue of
Eritrean reparation for war damages as a pretext for occupying Assab, installing
a weak new administration in Asmera run by the present Eritrean opposition
As an outright military annexation of Eritrean would not be internationally
acceptable, the ultimate aim of the TPLF Eritrean conflict strategy appears
to be to reduce first Eritrea to the level of a severely weakened client
state not posing a threat to Ethiopian hegemonial ambitions and ulitmately
to have the intended new administration in Asmera sign the necessary agreements
leading to a re-integration of Eritrea into Ethiopia.
The restating of the Ethiopian war aims through this media campaign clearly
indicates that the TPLF is not interested in an early end to the war and
reinforces the analysis that for the TPLF this conflict never was about
pieces of land but rather over hegemony in the Horn and reintegration of
Eritrea into the political orbit of Ethiopia.
Faced with these restated and now openly proclaimed Ethiopian war aims
the Eritrean government now appears for the first time to fully realise
that this conflict has been skilfully masterminded by the TPLF and aims
at ultimately reversing the results of the 30 years war of independence.
Consequently what has started for the Eritreans as a limited action to
reclaim territories they considered to be theirs and unlawfully occupied
by Ethiopia indeed has now assumed not only for the Eritrean leadership
but for the majority of the population at large the character of a war
for national survival.
It appears that the Eritrean leadership is confident that the internal
opposition to the Ethiopian government will rapidly increase and will very
soon alleviate Ethiopian military pressure upon Eritrea.
Consequently, one should not expect that the Eritrean side will give in
easily to the Ethiopian demands and one should not exclude the possibility
that Eritrea is preparing a major military answer to the Ethiopian victory
at Badume possibly aiming at Adigrat or even Meqele.
The domestic impact of the war and
other internal developments in Ethiopia
Within Ethiopia the war has deeply altered the political, economic and
The massive deportation of Eritreans which after a lull in February was
resumed in March 1999 and the on-going hidden confiscation of Eritrean
properties and enterprises deprives Ethiopia of a class of successful and
energetic citizens who considerably contributed to the development of the
private and public economic sector.
The hate engendered by the vicious anti-Eritrean campaign will leave deep
scars between the people of the two countries which will take a long time
to heal even if there were an end to the immediate conflict in the near
The war with Eritrea and the officially sanctioned anti-Eritrean campaign
has given legitimacy to the deep-seated anti-Eritrean resentment of the
Amharic public which now can be openly proclaimed.
The nationalist and pan-Ethiopian political discourse of the Government
with its stress on the intrinsic national unity of all Ethiopian peoples
also works in favour of the Amharic pan-Ethiopian circles and the political
ideology of Ethiopianism and reinforces the unwillingness and even incapability
of the Amhara elite to reconcile to the concept of a multinational Ethiopian
state and society based upon the equality of its constituent peoples.
The military victory at Badume which was blown up out of all proportions
by the official propaganda has tremendously boosted Ethiopian nationalistic
feeling and reinforced the Ethiopian feelings of superiority.
The attitude that Ethiopia is second to none in the world is openly expressed
and any critique however timid it might be from international bodies or
individual countries of the Ethiopian position and conduct of the conflict
is answered by a near pathological reaction of feeling unjustly treated
and slighted and of outright rejection.
Because of the call of the UN Security Council and the USA on the international
community to stop the sale of arms to both sides both are now the objects
of a governmentally orchestrated campaign depicting them as the enemies
In the case of the USA this campaign is very ironic in a sense as it had
exactly been the pro-Ethiopian position of the USA representatives in the
early USA/Rwandan mediation efforts which enabled the Ethiopians to have
the demand for Eritrean withdrawal to positions held prior to May 6, 1998
inserted into all peace proposals.
In the light of the incredibly heightened national pride and chauvinism
in wide sectors of the Ethiopian urban public, the outside world should
be prepared for possible outbursts of outright xenophobia in case of growing
external criticism of the Ethiopian position and conduct of the war.
The full support given by the Amhara opposition to the war has increased
its legitimacy in the eyes of the public at large and has made it more
difficult for the TPLF to control this sector of the opposition.
The Amhara opposition fully supports the war and openly pushes for it not
only out of its political ideology but also because it was it as the best
chance to have the Eritreans and the Tigray weaken each other and thus
to prepare the way for a major re-alignment of forces within Ethiopia in
favour of the Amhara.
For the opposition to the TPLF from the non-Oromo South the situation is
different. It also supports the war efforts out of its pan-Ethiopian orientation
but it does not benefit from this in the same way as the Amhara opposition.
Rather its position vis-`-vis both the Tigray and Amhara has been substantially
weakened as it now feels it can not openly criticise the government for
its undemocratic conduct lest it be accused of unpatriotic conduct.
In substance most Oromo disagree with the position taken by the OLF in
the early days of the conflict that this war is not theirs and not to their
benefit but they do not possess any legal organisation within the country
which could take up this sentiment and try to translate it into appropriate
As the first indications of the extent of the Ethiopian losses in the north
were spreading southwards, subdued murmurs were heard in Addis Abeba and
elsewhere that the TPLF is using the raw recruits of the Amhara, Oromo
and from the South as cannon fodder to breach the Eritrean positions and
that the seasoned TPLF troops are only put into action to deal the final
blow to the weakened Eritrean positions. There is a growing feeling of
'we die and the Tigray win.'
Already among the Oromo there is an undercurrent of growing resentment
to the recruitment drives among civil servants and students. A growing
number of young men try to escape to Kenya and Somalia, an unknown number
of them joining the ranks of the OLF.
It is to be assumed that with a renewed intensification of the ground fighting
and the ensuing new major losses of non-Tigray recruits, the resentment
against the recruitment and the war could achieve proportions of political
importance and even danger for the TPLF conduct of the war. However, there
does not seem to be any political organisation on the scene which could
meaningfully capitalise on such a resentment and turn it into a concerted
drive for peace unless the APDO or/and SEPDC change the current political
stand towards the war.
Partly exactly in order to prevent resistance to recruitment from assuming
wider proportions, the Ethiopian leadership tries to control the information
on the losses by keeping the army in the north in isolation, not allowing
the army members to write back home and limiting access of foreign journalists
to the main war theatre.
It is to be assumed that the OLF, ONLF, and AL-Ittihad will use the preoccupation
of the Ethiopian army in the north and the renewed external support of
Libya and Eritrea to increase the political and military pressure on Ethiopia
from the east and the south.
After the hard-line faction of the OLF had marginalised the moderate wing
of its leadership at the congress held in April 1998 in Mogadishu and taken
full control of the organisation, it intensified its co-operation with
the hard-line faction of the ONLF and Al-Ittihad, reorganised its bases
in Somalia and Kenya and stepped up its recruitment of new fighters.
Already in January 1999 the OLF conducted a series of successful raids
against small Ethiopian garrisons in the Boraran from sanctuaries across
the Kenyan border.
In April 1999 the OLF concluded a politico-military alliance with the United
Oromo Peoples Liberation (UOPL), a small Oromo liberation front led by
Wako Guto, the veteran of the Bale uprising of the 1960s, which in the
years since 1992 had increasingly acquired an Islamistic colouring.
In April 1999 the Ethiopian army felt compelled to react to the increased
pressure of Al-Ittihad by yet again occupying towns within the Gedo province
of Somalia in an attempt to deny to Al-Ittihad the use of this area as
a springboard for operations inside Ethiopia.
Also the ONLF appears to have stepped up its activities within the Ogaden
as testified by the kidnapping of foreign aid-workers in April 1999.
It is difficult and premature to forecast if and when the operations of
these forces would have such an impact upon the Ethiopian military capacity
to seriously curtail its potential for the war in the north.
In 1998, the TPLF continued and even sped up its policy of authoritarian
formation of the Ethiopian political landscape and society in order not
only to prepare the ground to again be able to fully control the general
elections scheduled to take place in mid 2000 but also to be able to better
control any possible negative reactions to the war and mounting Ethiopian
After having merged the 'democratically restructured' local parties in
Beni Shangul-Gumuz into a single regional party firmly under the control
of the EPRDF already in 1997, in 1998 the same process was carried through
in Gambela and in the Somali State of Ethiopia and only in Afar State the
intended merger of the various parties was not yet successfully concluded.
In all cases, the rationale given for the merger and the creation of a
one-party-system at regional level was to remove the obstacles the existence
of different parties posed for the development of the respective regions.
Also the formation of new mass organisations for women, youth, and peasants
in various regions of Ethiopia has been sped up in the past year.
In order to dispel growing doubts within the donor community as to its
democratic credentials partly fuelled by these activities and to retain
its good will so essential for financing the war and to secure international
support for the Ethiopian position, the Ethiopian government has proceeded
to superficially create the impression of being willing to conduct the
general elections scheduled for 2000 in a more democratic manner. It has
ordered the National Election Board to instruct the regional governments
that the APDO (Amhara) and the SEPDC (South) are legally registered parties
and that their operations in the regions is not to be obstacled.
The true intentions of the government, however, were revealed in circulars
sent out by high officials of the government and the party to the regional
EPRDF-offices exhorting them to undertake the necessary preparations to
prevent the oppositions forces from successfully operating there.
Thus, in an effort to cut the grass under the feet of the SEPDC in Gedeo
the local EPRDF-member party initiated a drive to force the population
to inscribe en masse as party members or sympathisers or to officially
declare themselves to be politically neutral.
Economically the war has had a major economic and social impact so far
mainly in Tigray where substantial numbers of people have been displaced
and normal economic activities and development projects severely hampered
in all border areas.
In the rest of Ethiopia the war has not yet significantly negatively affected
economic activities and development projects. The high level of contributions
demanded from the Ethiopian citizens, however, could result in a perceptible
lowering of the consumption capacities particularly of the salaried sector
of the population from which such contributions can be enforced more easily
than from the peasantry.
Given the high level of unemployment particularly among the younger sector
of the population, the stepped up recruitment into the army will not have
a major negative impact upon the labour market for long time to come but
serious social and political repercussions are a distinct possibility.
The domestic impact of the war and
other internal developments within Eritrea
Compared to Ethiopia the impact of the war on the Eritrean society and
economy was more jarring and tends to become outright devastating if the
war continues even only at its present level of human, financial and material
With the limited population base of Eritrea the mobilisation of close to
one fifth of the adult population into the army, production and social
services are seriously affected over the whole territory and might even
collapse if the war situation continues for a longer period.
The huge financial and material burden of maintaining a huge army in the
field and to provide it with the weaponry needed to successfully oppose
the Ethiopian army rapidly depletes public as well as private funds.
The financial burdens of a major conventional war with Ethiopia forces
the Eritrean government to increase the pressure upon the Eritrean diaspora
to generously come forward with financial contributions.
As a result of its limited manpower base the Eritrean army has started
to call up for service also young Eritreans living in the Diaspora, the
legal base for its action being provided by the fact that most Eritreans
living outside the country still are Eritrean citizens and as such subject
to the National Service and military conscription irrespective of the fact
that many of them also do have the nationality of another state.
There are indications that Eritrean citizens living abroad and unwilling
to pay the demanded contributions or to follow the call up for service
in the army are threatened by zelotic members of the local consulates not
only with social ostracism but also with reprisals against family members
still living in Eritrea.
With mounting material hardships and human losses the support given by
the population at large to the Eritrean government and the conduct of the
war might be subjected to growing stresses and be given with mounting reluctance.
The long-term impact of the traumatising effect of mounting human losses
on small population which had already suffered traumatic losses during
the liberation war at present can only be guessed at. It is to be assumed
that ultimately this will dramatically reinforce the tendency of Eritrean
families to try to send out their children into countries considered to
It also should be considered a distinct possibility that fissures created
within the national unity of the Eritreans by the failure of the Eritrean
government to properly address the national question within Eritrea and
its subjection of the interests of the smaller nationalities after independence
to the Tigrinya dominated perception of national unity could develop under
the continuing impact of the war into open cracks offering opportunities
to the Ethiopian side to exploit legitimate grievances of those group for
its own ends.
The emergence of ethnoregional liberation fronts claiming to represent
the Eritrean Kunama and Afar and co-operating with the Ethiopian side should
not be taken lightly and simply shrugged off as creation of the Tigray
and a few disgruntled elements from the groups.
The opportunistic siding with Ethiopia of the various factions of the former
EFL and the ELF-PLF has deepened the already existing political cleavages
within the Eritrean diaspora and possibly even within the country between
supporters of those groups and the majority of the population supporting
if not the government party as such but still the war effort and has resulted
to all practical purposes in the self-emasculation of the external opposition.
The imperatives of mobilising the whole nation for the war efforts have
reinforced the centralisation and authoritarian character of the Eritrean
regime. Even if the war will end soon, and does not result in a change
in government, this and the total moral and political demise of the external
opposition will have the long-lasting effect of postponing the democratisation
of politics and society in Eritrea possibly for another decade.
The second Congo Civil War and its
regional and trans-regional impact.
The outbreak of the second Congo war reflected intra-Congolese political
dynamics as well as extra-Congolese interests and interferences.
The initial hegemonial role of Congolese (Banyamulenge) and Rwandan Tutsi
within the Kabila regime established after the overthrow of Mobutu and
the military alliance with Uganda, Ethiopia and Eritrea which was translated
into a major political influence with the new regime clashed with the political
interest of non-Tutsi political forces both within and outside the Kabila
The growing internal weakness of the Kabila regime prevented it from implementing
the task of keeping armed anti-Tutsi and Ugandan opposition movements operating
in and from Eastern Congo under control assigned to it by its regional
allies Rwanda and Uganda.
Since early 1998 both Rwanda and Uganda were becoming more and more critical
of the Kabila regime and started to openly think of political alternatives
The non-Tutsi elements within the embattled Kabila regime perceived a growing
danger that the expanding internal Congolese opposition to its arbitrary
rule and the increasing irritation of its Congolese and Rwandan Tutsi and
Ugandan allies with its incapacity to protect their interests could result
in a recasting of political coalitions between Congolese and external forces
posing a deadly threat to its survival.
Beginning in March 1998, in an attempt to preserve power and regain political
credibility within Congo by casting himself into the new role of defending
the interest of genuine Congolese against Tutsi hegemonial aspirations
and external inferences into Congolese affairs, Kabila began to distance
himself from and in late July 1998 finally openly broke with his Congolese
and Rwandan Tutsi allies and his external allies and their backers Uganda,
Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Albeit for different reasons, the governments of Uganda and Rwanda were
not willing to simply accept this reversal of alliances and loss of influence
in Congo as well as the renewed threat to the political as well as physical
survival of the Congolese Tutsi and of a major resurgence of Hutu and Ugandan
armed opposition operating from Congo against Rwanda and Uganda.
Already prior to the open break of Kabila and his political supporters
with the Tutsi of his regime, Rwanda and Uganda encouraged the Congolese
Tutsi to enter into a coalitions with other political and military Congolese
forces still being deeply dissatisfied with the Kabila regime in spite
of the growing political marginalisation of its Tutsi wing, which ultimately
coalesced into the Congolese Rally for Democracy (CRD/RCD) headed by Ernest
Wamba dia Wamba.
Both countries encouraged their intra-Congo allies to mount as rapidly
as possible and before then Kabila regime could re-stabilise itself an
armed insurrection with the aim to topple the Kabila regime and to bring
to power a new political alliance again encompassing the Congolese Tutsi,
protecting the interests of Rwanda and Uganda in Congo as well as the presence
of the Congolese Tutsi within the country.
TO achieve the aims both Uganda and Rwanda directly and massively and Burundi
indirectly and modestly intervened militarily on the sides of the insurgent
alliance which rapidly took control of a broad swathe of territory in Eastern
Congo and also mounted a serious military threat to Kinshasa by occupying
strategic military positions in Western Congo.
In the face of the rapid onslaught of the armed insurgents and their external
allies the regime scored an unexpected success in rallying substantial
sections of the Congolese against the insurgents by skilfully casting these
as totally being under the control of Congolese, Rwandan and Ugandan Tutsi/Hima
who wanted to rule Congo.
Equally unexpected for the insurgents and their external backers was the
military support the Kabila regime received on a major scale from Zimbabwe
and Angola and to a limited degree from Namibia, Congo-Brazzaville, Sudan
and lately also Chad as well as the logistical support from Mozambique,
the financial support from Gabon and the political support from Kenya.
On a wider plane the military intervention of the Zimbabwean army in Congo
was a reflection of the intense political and economic competition of the
Mugabe regime with South Africa in the wider region in general, and in
more concrete interest terms it was initiated to protect present and hoped
for future economic interests of major members of the Zimbabwean regime
in Congo. Zimbabwe played a role to win Angola and Namibia for intervention
Angola agreed to support the Kabila regime out of fear that the Congolese
rebels would support UNITA and thus strengthen its position in the renewed
Angolan civil war.
Namibia joined into the Congo fray in order to protect its economic interests
in Angola which it saw threatened by a strengthening of UNITA and the therefrom
resulting spectre of another extended period of civil war in Angola and
to build up political favours with Zimbabwe which it sees as a strong potential
ally in its simmering water and territorial conflict with Botswana.
Congo-Brazzaville sided with the Kabila regime as an extension of its total
loyalty to the Angolan regime whose troops put and since then kept the
regime of Sassou Nguessou in power to the Angolan allies.
Sudan backed the Kabila regime as yet another means of hitting back at
the Ugandan regime for giving support to the SPLA/SPLM and to regain the
opportunities to use North-eastern Congo as a transit area for militarily
hitting at the SPLA/SPLM in Western Equatoria from the back.
Chad finally entered with own troops into the Congolese civil wars in October
1998 for reasons no one has yet properly figured out but possibly reflecting
a not so discrete French interest in strengthening Kabila against the Congolese
opposition and their external allies.
Burundi appeared to have initially discreetly and in a limited supported
militarily the Congolese anti-Kabila rebellion but later to have backed
out so as not to jeopardise her drive for having the sanctions against
her lifted which was finally done at the end of 1998.
Tanzania exhibited an increasing unease over growing Tutsi influence in
the wider region but her desire to keep the relations with Rwanda and Burundi
below the level of open confrontations caused her to maintain an attitude
of positive neutrality for the Kabila regime but also to hastily withdraw
soldiers and policemen it had sent to Congo for training.
Gabon developed to be one of the main financial backers of the Kabila regime
with possible French backing/funding.
Mozambique logistically helped the Kabila regime by facilitating the transit
of Chinese arms for the Kabila regime through Beira to Zimbabwe and thence
Kenya's President Arap Moi politically supported the Kabila regime out
of a deep-seated rivalry with and mistrust for Museveni of Uganda and Kagame
of Rwanda and any cause supported by them.
Both the unexpected internal and external support for the embattled Kabila
regime decisively contributed to thwart the planned and perceived impending
rapid military victory for the insurgents and their external backers. With
the defeat of the insurgents western based offensive against Kinshasa in
the second half of August 1998 their strategy of a swift military backed
political change in Congo had failed and a political and military war of
attrition of unpredictable length and outcome set in.
As a result of substantial, but not decisive military successes of the
insurgents and their external allies a rift developed between Uganda and
Rwanda over the best strategy to enlarge the political base of the anti-Kabila
Uganda's interest in Congo was mainly motivated by her desire to deny armed
Ugandan opposition forces such as ADF the use of North-eastern Congo as
a rear base and sanctuary and as such she could live with any regime in
Congo supporting this interest.
As a reflection of this position the Ugandan government favoured as broad
a political coalition as possible including even members and armed groups
of the former Mobutu regime and implicitly accused Rwanda to be too fixated
on the protection of the Congolese Tutsi and her struggle against the Hutu
insurgents in Northwest Rwanda and Kivu to pay proper attention to long-term
coalition building of her Congolese allies.
The differing interests and perceptions of Rwanda and Uganda also found
its reflection with their Congolese allies and in October 1998 the pro-Uganda
factions within the RCD split and formed the Congolese Liberation Movement
(CLM/MLC) headed by Jean-Pierre Bemba).
As a result of this split Uganda and her Congolese allies of the CLM more
concentrated on gaining territory in North-eastern Congo where they fought
the Kabila forces and their Sudanese and Chadian backers whereas the Rwandan
forces and their Congolese allies of the RCD confronted the Kabila forces
and their Zimbabwean and Angolan allies in Central and South-eastern Congo.
Eritrea had been a close ally of both Uganda and Rwanda since the Uganda/Rwanda
backed anti-Mobutu rebellion using Kabila and his Democratic Peoples' Alliance
(DPA/ADP) as a spear-head had been conceived and executed but in this growing
rift between Rwanda and Uganda concerning Congolese affairs she sided with
Uganda as a reflection of her deep annoyance with what was perceived to
be Rwandan support for Ethiopia in her conflict with Eritrea.
In spite of the rift between Uganda and Rwanda and the split within the
Congolese insurgents both factions of the anti-Kabila rebellion were confident
that ultimately the rebellion would topple the Kabila regime while simultaneously
with the passing of the months the conviction Kabila regime and her allies
to win out over the rebellion was rather strengthened than weakened.
The confidence of both sides of the civil war of being able to achieve
a decisive victory as well as the conflicting interests of the external
backers of both sides ultimately condemned each and everyone of the many
attempts by regional, continental or even transcontinental organisations
of states to arrange a formal cessation of hostilities and to establish
a process for the political resolution of the Congo war to failure.
As the war in Congo ground on, the Zimbabwean involvement in it began to
develop into a major internal political issue and with rising costs and
growing number of casualties more and more Zimbabweans doubted the political
wisdom of getting involved at all or of continuing to be involved.
The growing pressure on the Zimbabwean regime from its home opposition
to end Zimbabwean involvement in the Congo civil war reinforced the conviction
on the side of Rwanda and her Congolese allies of being able to win the
war, particularly after a Zimbabwean withdrawal which was anticipated for
the near future.
The major Rwandan/RCD victory over Zimbabwean/Kabila forces in Eastern
Kasai in mid-March 1999 reinforced this conviction and made this faction
of the Congolese civil war even more intransigent in their attitudes towards
political negotiations to end the war.
Particularly the Rwandan intransigence in this respect is boosted by a
growing perception among the Rwandan military leadership that the Tutsi
control of Kivu had actually allowed the Rwandan army to stabilise at least
the situation in the Rwandan Northwest, and to prevent the Hutu insurgency
from spreading further into the country In its perception, Rwandan withdrawal
from Kivu within the foreseeable future would nullify these successes and
again expose the Rwandan regime and its Tutsi base to the attacks of the
Hutu insurgency from Congo.
In contrast to the Rwandan/RCD confidence the Ugandan regime, under pressure
from its own insurgents (ADF, LRA, WNLF, etc.) and mounting international
doubt relating to its democratic credentials, economic policies, involvement
in the wide-spread corruption, willingness and capacity to settle the armed
insurrections by political solutions, and involvement in Congo, appears
to have begun to reassess its Congolese policy.
A first result of this reassessment appears to be the Libyan sponsored
agreement signed between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo on
April 19, 1999 in the Libyan town of Sirte at the occasion of a meeting
of the Libyan inspired Union of Sahara and Sahel States according to which
Uganda agreed to withdraw her troops from Congo.
The involvement of Eritrean and Libyan observer troops announced by Kabila
to monitor the withdrawal of and to replace the Ugandan troops in North-eastern
Congo marks a shift of Eritrean involvement in Congo reflecting both her
new found alliance with Libya and her old-standing one with Uganda.
As both LMC and RCD as well as Rwanda have not been party to this agreement
its long-term viability remains doubtful.
However, both LMC and RCD as well as the Kabila government have agreed
to participate in talks on possibilities for a peaceful solution to the
Congolese war hosted by the Communita dia Santa Egidio in Rome.
Given the crucial role of the Congolese and Rwandan Tutsi in the Congolese
civil war, a durable solution going beyond temporary brinkmanship will
only be possible if the legitimate interests of the Congolese Tutsi within
Congo are safeguarded and the Tutsi-Hutu conflict in Rwanda and Burundi
if not resolved but then at least a credible process for its resolution
Given the Tutsi state of mind with its dangerous mix of extreme chauvinism
and acute fear for their survival within the wider region the perspectives
for such a solution currently are dim at best.
T H E E N D T H E E N D T H E E N D