The Ethiopian–Somali conflict is a territorial and political dispute between the territories of present-day Ethiopia and Somalia. Lasting from the late 1940s, when the West Somali region was handed over to Ethiopia by the British, into the present day, the tensions culminated in three wars and numerous military clashes alongside the borders. However, because of the Somali Civil War and the lack of a functioning Somali central government since 1991, Ethiopia enjoys the upper hand militarily and economically.
During the 16th century, Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi (Ahmad Gurey or Gragn) led a Conquest of Abyssinia (Futuh al-Habash), which brought three-quarters of the Christian polity under the power of the Muslim Adal Sultanate. With an army mainly composed of Somalis, Al-Ghazi's forces and their Ottoman allies came close to extinguishing the ancient Ethiopian kingdom. However, the Ethiopians managed to secure the assistance of Cristóvão da Gama's Portuguese troops and maintain their domain's autonomy. Both polities in the process exhausted their resources and manpower, which resulted in the contraction of both powers and changed regional dynamics for centuries to come. Many historians trace the origins of hostility between Somalia and Ethiopia to this war. Some scholars also argue that this conflict proved, through their use on both sides, the value of firearms such as the matchlock musket, cannons and the arquebus over traditional weapons.
In the 19th century, the Ethiopian King Menelik II invaded the Somali-inhabited West Somali region. The move directly contributed to the birth of a major Somali anti-colonial campaign led by Sayyid Mohammed Abdullah Hassan's Dervish State. Hassan's polity eventually collapsed a quarter of a century later in 1920, following heavy British aerial bombardment.
In 1948, under pressure from their World War II allies and to the dismay of the Somalis, the British "returned" the Haud (an important Somali grazing area that was presumably protected by British treaties with the Somalis in 1884 and 1886) and the Somali Galbeed to Ethiopia, based on a treaty they signed in 1897 in which the British ceded Somali territory to the Ethiopian Emperor Menelik in exchange for his help against raids by Somali clans. Britain included the proviso that the Somali residents would retain their autonomy, but Ethiopia immediately claimed sovereignty over the area. This prompted an unsuccessful bid by Britain in 1956 to buy back the Somali lands it had turned over. Disgruntlement with the 1948 decision led to repeated attempts by Somali parties to re-unite the ceded West Somali region with the other Somali territories in Greater Somalia. Clashes over the disputed region include:
- 1964 1964 Ethiopian-Somali Border War
- 1977-1978 West Somali War
- 1982 August Border Clash
- 1998-2000 Cross-border warfare during the chaotic warlord-led era.
History of Ethiopian intervention (1996-2003)
The first incursion by Ethiopian troops after the fall of the central Somali government took place in August 1996. In March 1999, Ethiopian troops reportedly raided the Somali border town of Balanballe in pursuit of members of the Al-Ittihad Al-Islamiya group which has been fighting to unite Ethiopia’s eastern West Somali region with Somalia. Later, in April 1999 two Somali leaders, Ali Mahdi and Hussein Aideed, said in an official protest to the United Nations Security Council, that heavily armed Ethiopian troops entered the towns of Beledhawo and Doollow on Friday, April 9, 1999. They further alleged that the Ethiopian troops had taken over the local administration and detained officials in the towns. In May 1999, Ethiopian soldiers, with the help of a pro-Ethiopian Somali faction occupied the town of Luuq in southwestern Somalia, close to the borders with Ethiopia and Kenya. In late June 1999, Ethiopian soldiers, supported by armoured vehicles launched an attack from Luuq that resulted in the capture of Garba Harre in the Gedo region, which was previously controlled by the Somali National Front led by Hussein Aideed. The attack was apparently aimed at flushing out Ethiopian rebels based in Somalia.
After the formation of the Transitional National Government (TNG) of Somalia in August 2000, Ethiopia at first did not recognize the interim government and reportedly continued its raids against Al-Ittihad and supporting various warlord factions, which led to very strained relations between the Ethiopian government and the interim Somali government, characterized by accusations, denials and counter-accusations on both sides.
In January 2001, Somalia’s TNG Prime Minister, Ali Khalif Galaydh, strongly accused Ethiopia of arming factions opposed to the government, occupying Somali districts and increasing its military presence in the country. He later claimed that Ethiopian soldiers had occupied towns in Somalia’s southwestern region, and had detained and intimidated its nationals; the Ethiopian government denied these charges.
Ethiopia has supported and is alleged to have supported a number of different Somali factions at one time or another. Among these are the Somali Reconstruction and Restoration Council (SRRC), Muse Sudi Yalahow, General Mohammed Said Hirsi Morgan (allied to the Somali Patriotic Movement or SPM), Hassan Mohamed Nur Shatigudud and his Rahanwein Resistance Army (RRA) and Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed (former President of Puntland and current Somali TNG President). A number of Somali warlord factions have also held meetings and formed loose alliances in Ethiopia.
Reports in early January, 2002 indicated that around 300 Ethiopian soldiers were deployed in Garowe (capital of Puntland) with other Ethiopian troops reportedly moving into the neighbouring Bay region and around Baidoa. The Ethiopian government denied these reports and accused the interim government of spreading "malicious lies" about Ethiopia’s policy towards Somalia.
Ethiopian soldiers again attacked and temporarily captured the border town of Beledhawo on Wednesday, May 15, 2002 with the help of the SRRC after the town had been captured by a rival militia. During the raid, the commander of the rival militia, Colonel Abdirizak Issak Bihi, was captured by the Ethiopian forces and taken across the border to Ethiopia. After the raid, control of the town was turned over to the SRRC. Earlier in May, Colonel Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed had retaken control of Puntland by ousting his rival Jama Ali Jama with the aid of the Ethiopian army.
In February 2003, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, admitted that Ethiopian troops were occasionally sent into Somalia to battle the militant Islamist group, Al-Ittihad and stated that the group was linked to Al-Qaeda. He also claimed that Ethiopia’s government had lists of Al-Ittihad members who were, at the time, in the Transitional National Government and parliament of Somalia; a claim that TNG President Abdiqasim Salad Hassan has consistently denied. President Hassan has in turn, accused Ethiopia of destabilizing Somalia, interfering daily in Somali affairs and violating the arms embargo on Somalia by supplying weapons to warlords opposed to the Transitional Government at the time; Ethiopia denied these charges.
Although an attempt was made to improve relations between Ethiopia and the TNG in June 2001, relations only really improved in 2004 when Abdullahi Yusuf became the TNG President. Then Ethiopia reversed its position and began to support the interim government, especially against various Islamist militias in Somalia, most recently the Islamic Courts Union.
Ethiopian involvement in Somalia gained widespread public attention when Ethiopian troops moved into Somali territory on July 20, 2006. Somalia's interim government was then resisting advances by the Islamic Courts Union forces north to the last unoccupied city of Baidoa.
A Somali Islamist leader has ordered a "jihad" to drive out Ethiopian troops, after they entered the country to protect the weak interim government, however, Sharia courts in Ethiopia condemned the ICU's declaration of holy war. Meles Zenawi has agreed to withdraw Ethiopian forces at arrival of the African Union. Ethiopia has been a long-term ally of President Abdullahi Yusuf and in the 1990s helped him defeat an Islamist militia led by Mr Aweys.
Later reports indicate that Ethiopian soldiers have occupied Bardaale, 60 kilometers 40 miles west of Baidoa, the day after the ICU seized control of Kismayo on September 21. The Ethiopians withdrew their last troops on January 17[when?].
- Saheed A. Adejumobi, The History of Ethiopia, (Greenwood Press: 2006), p.178
- Encyclopædia Britannica, inc, Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 1, (Encyclopædia Britannica: 2005), p.163
- John L. Esposito, editor, The Oxford History of Islam, (Oxford University Press: 2000), p. 501
- David D. Laitin and Said S. Samatar, Somalia: Nation in Search of a State (Boulder: Westview Press, 1987).
- Cambridge illustrated atlas, warfare: Renaissance to revolution, 1492-1792 By Jeremy Black pg 9
- Federal Research Division, Somalia: A Country Study, (Kessinger Publishing, LLC: 2004), p. 38
- Laitin, p. 73
- Zolberg, Aristide R., et al., Escape from Violence: Conflict and the Refugee Crisis in the Developing World, (Oxford University Press: 1992), p. 106
- Somalia, 1980-1996 ACIG
- Ethiopian-Somalian Border Clash 1982 OnWar.com
- Ethiopia Middle East Desk
- Ethiopian troops in Somalia border raid (BBC)
- Somalis unite against Ethiopia (BBC)
- Ethiopia 'captures' Somali town (BBC)
- Somalia accuses Ethiopia (BBC)
- Ethiopia and Somalia in diplomatic row (BBC)
- Analysis: Somalia's powerbrokers (BBC)
- Somalia again accuses Ethiopia (BBC)
- Somali warlords form unity council (BBC)
- Ethiopian troops 'deploy' in Somalia (BBC)
- Ethiopian troops 'in Somalia' (BBC)
- Ethiopia admits Somali forays (BBC)
- Somali leader lambasts Ethiopia (BBC)
- Somalia mends fences with Ethiopia (BBC)
- Ethiopian Herald. "Dire Dawa Supreme Council, Sharia Court condemn fundamentalists"[dead link]
- "Ethiopian incursion is a declaration of war - Somali Islamic official" (Sudan Tribune)