What grand mischief is Meles Zenawi up to now?

Saturday March 17 2012



On Thursday last week, Ethiopia carried out a military attack against Eritrea. 

The missile and ground army attacks targeted what Ethiopian government spokesperson Shimeles Kemal told reporters were “military posts inside Eritrea in which subversive and anti-peace elements were trained.”

Ramid, Gelahbe and Gimbi, 16 kilometres inside south eastern Eritrea, were hit. 

By subversive and anti-peace elements, Ethiopia was referring to the Afar Revolutionary Democratic Union Front (ARDUF) rebels who abducted Western tourists in Ethiopia last year.

Five European tourists were later killed later in an exchange of fire with Ethiopian troops. 

According to good sources, news of the attacks sent Kenyan, Ugandan, and Burundian officials overseeing these countries’ peacekeeping operations in Somalia into a spin.

Ethiopia, Kenya and the UN have accused Eritrea of backing the Al-Shabaab militants in Somalia.

However, there are also a significant number of diplomats who think the progress that the African Union peacekeepers have made there has been possible partly because either Eritrea has cut back its support for the militants, or its role was initially exaggerated.

In any event, the fear is that should Eritrea decide to fight a proxy war with Ethiopia in Somalia, then the conflict there could flare up dramatically.

Ethiopia must have thought of that, so why did it still go ahead?

Unusually, Ethiopia, which sent its troops into Somalia shortly after Kenya did so in October last year and within weeks helped capture the strategically important city of Baidoa, is in a rush to withdraw.

It has put the Amisom participating countries on notice that it will be out of Somalia by April 30.

Indeed, Burundi, Kenya, and Uganda have already allocated among themselves security responsibilities for the areas Ethiopia will vacate.

This suggests Ethiopia has been planning to strike Eritrea for a while now, and wanted its troops out of Somalia to avoid having to fight on two fronts.

Eritrea will probably find itself in a fix about how to respond to Ethiopia.

A UN report and resolution has already condemned it for backing militants in Somalia.

The country’s strongman, Isaias Afewerki is quite sick, struggling with a liver disease in a battle his enemies say he is about to lose.

If he hits back, especially in Somalia, there will be pressure, and possibly even action, by the region and other international players to end his rule.

If he doesn’t, with his illness already weakening his hand, the very proud Eritreans could oust him in a coup.

Or, better for the region, moderates who want Eritrea to end its near-pariah status could rally and get rid of him.

It can’t be easy to be Afewerki right now.

In Khartoum, President Omar al-Bashir must also be watching developments with trepidation.

Last week Sudan, which remains locked in all sorts of quarrels with the breakaway and newly independent South Sudan, grumbled that it had been isolated in the regional body Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad).

Afewerki is the one leader in the neighbourhood who still has time for Bashir.

Should he be deposed or his regime wobble, Bashir will become even lonelier. Ethiopia’s Big Man Meles Zenawi could be up to some grand mischief.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is Nation Media Group’s executive editor for Africa & Digital Media. E-mail: [email protected] Twitter: @cobbo3