Why Ogaden War CSC 1986 SUBJECT AREA History EXECUTIVE SUMMARY TITLE: WHY OGADEN WAR As the sun rose in the Horn of Africa, on July 23rd. 1977 at 0600hrs, [the rumbling of] the tanks and the straight legged Somalias' Army crossed the international boundary of Ethiopia into the Ogaden Province without any resistance. Events in the Ogaden had been brewing for months, when all of a sudden the Somalia leader Said Barre officially committed units of his regular army to the struggle to enhance their ambition of the "Greater Somalia." The origins of the existing conflicts of the frontiers in 'the Horn of Africa can be traced as far as the European scramble for Africa terrotories, which erupted like a plaque in the nineteenth centuries. The British, French, and Italian interests mingled competitively in and around the Horn of Africa. This resulted in a demarcation of the Horn with unidentable boundaries on the ground. The existing national boundaries were drawn with no regard to geographical and enthnographical considerations. The Soviet foreign policy in the Horn of Africa in 1977 must rank as the greatest piece of political oppportunism in post-war history. Within months, the Russians switched from backing Somalia to backing Ethiopia and hence rose the interests of the United States in the Horn where they had diplomatic relationships with the Ethiopian government prior to the fall of Emperor Haile Sellassie, the "Rising Lion of Ethiopia". The economical chaos and political instability of Mengistu Dergue who took over the government in the bloodiest coup in September, 1974 encouraged Somalia to intensify the subversion activities in the Region and hence the Ogaden War in 1977. WHY OGADEN WAR? OUTLINE Thesis Statement: The Ogaden War was a direct result of Somalia's attempt to obtain Ethiopia's Ogaden Province, through subversion and direct aggression, which ultimately focused the attention of both the Soviet Union and the United States towards the Horn of Africa. I. INTRODUCTION A. Prelude to war B. Geographical setting C. Countries comprising the Horn of Africa II. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND A. Scramble for the Horn of Africa by the European nations B. Conflicting interests in the Horn of Africa by the European nations prior to independence C. Demarcation of the Regions in the Horn of Africa countries D. Creation of Ogaden Region conflicts III. REVOLUTIONARY GOVERNMENTS IN THE HORN OF AFRICA A. Roots of the conflict and the coup de etat creating the Military governments B. Influence of the Soviet Union and the United States in the Horn of Africa C. Why Ogaden War IV. EVENTS OF THE OGADEN WAR A. Insurgents Movements in the Ogaden Region B. Somalia's support of subersion and invasion of Ethiopia by Somalia C. Counter attack by the Ethiopians with the support of Soviets and Cubans against the Somalia's invasion WHY OGADEN WAR "Little did we guess that what has been called the century of the common men would witness as its outstanding feature more men killing each other with greater facilities than any other five centuries together in the history of the world." Winston Churchill, 1945. The twentieth century has been marked by an escalating of the efficient killing of common men by one another in war. It is equally true that in this century the evolution of "Peoples Revolution". "Classic Insurgence" and the more recent "Low Intensity Conflict" has never before captured the attention of so many, for so long, and with so little practical effect. The unfolding political and human crisis in the Horn of Africa during this century attracted the attention of the world. The intriguing conflicts which have been smoldering for a long period in the Horn of Africa erupted as Somalia invaded Ethiopia's Ogaden Province through subversion and direct aggression in an unique war in Africa which has practical impact in the continent since World War II. In January, 1976, the Ethiopian government distributed to Heads of States who were attending the Organization of Africa Unity (OAU) meeting in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia's Capital), a thirty nine page memorandum entitled "War Clouds in the Horn of Africa".1 The document's purpose was to alert African governments to the growing tension between Ethiopia and Somalia. The memorandum documented a number of border incidents between the two countries and concluded that Somalia "has made a decision to go to war against Ethiopia immediately."2 As an area without obvious physical boundaries, the Horn of Africa is somewhat difficult to define precisely. In present and in past times, this has contributed to long standing conflicts. Politically and internationally the Horn is the area comprised of four states: The Somalia Republic along the east coast of the Indian Ocean; Djibouti, an enclave at the southern end of the Red Sea; Ethiopia in the center; and Sudan which stretches deep into the Sahara desert. (See map 1). Ethnically, the Horn is defined as the territory inhabited by a Somalia-speaking population.3 Geographically, this is perceived as the Ethiopian Ogaden, the Kenyan North Eastern Province (formerly known as North Frontier District - NFD), and part of the Republic of Djibouti. (See map 1). The conflicts of the existing frontiers on the Horn of Africa can be traced as far back as the European scramble for Africa territories in the early nineteenth century. The boundary between the then Italian Somalialand and Ethiopia, although defined by the treaties of 1897 and 1908 between King Menelik and the Italians, remained undemarcated on the grounds.4 Although these treaties were mutually agreed upon, the Italians were unhappy perhaps because of the defeat by the Ethiopians when they tried to conquer Ethiopia in the battle of Adawa in 1896. By the 1920's, the colonial authorities in Italian Somalialand were conducting covert military probes farther inland of Ogaden region beyond the agreed boundary. In 1935, the Italian Army had 40,000 Somalia troops. After a careful orchestrated border incident, the Italians and Somalia Army marched into and occupied the highlands of the Ogaden region. The Italians went from victory to victory. British Somalialand was next on their agenda. During August 1940, Italy sent entire divisions supported by tanks and artillery against a mixed handful of lightly armed defenders in the area. After seven days of bitter combat, British survivors were evacuated to Aden through the port of Berbers. For the first time, the great majority of Somalis were united within a single political enterprise. Only Djibouti and the Northern Frontier District of Kenya were excluded. After seven months of defeat, the British made a come back and blasted their way back into Somalia. They rolled up the Italian Army all the way to the farthest extremities of Ethiopia. Haile Sellassie, the ageless personification of imperial dignity, triumphantly returned to Ethiopia from exile. However, events in the Ogaden took on another dimensions. Haile Sellassie began a relentless campaign for the consolidation of personal power and expansion of the Ethiopian State. He proclaimed, "I have come to restore the independence of my country including Eritrea and Southern Somalia whose people will henceforth dwell under the shade of the Ethiopian flag."5 In a later memorandum to the United Nations, his government proclaimed that prior to the race of the European powers to divide up the Continent of Africa, Ethiopia included an extensive coast line along the Red Sea and Indian Ocean.6 The British, having betrayed the Somalis for reasons of enhancing power, wealth, and influence, had yet another precedent for doing it again. They immediately recognized the throne of Haile Sellassie. In a statement on fragmentation of Somalia nation to the House of Commons in early 1941 Anthony Eden, a mediator on Ethiopia-Somalia problem, had the following to say: "His Majesty Government would welcome the reappearance of an Ethiopian State and recognize the claim of Emperor Haile Sallassie to the throne... His Majesty's Government reaffirm that they have themselves no territorial in Abyssinia (Ethiopia). "7 During 1942, the Emperor continued the fight to restore full sovereighty of Ethiopia in pursance to regain the pre-war boundary between Ethiopia and the British Protectorate. An agreement was then approved granting the British temporary administrative authority in the Ogaden Region. The Emperor pressed on with his ambitions to regain total control over the region. Finally in 1948, the British withdraw but retaining residual rights of supervision over Somali clans pasturing in the region. This marked the Ogaden Region as part of Ethiopia. Somalia nationalism raced unsucessfully to catch up with the irretrievable flow of events. Its leading institution, the Somalia Youth Club (SYC) was formed in Mogadishu (Somalia's capital) with thirteen members, including several prominent religious leaders representing all of the main clan groups. They were united by a desire to transcend clan rivalries and to forge a political nation which would embodied the Islamic values. Events moved more erratically in the British Somalialand in 1955 as the SYC grew stronger in their demands over the right of trans- border grazing lands in the Ogaden region. Conflict evolved around the issue of who should be regarded as an Ethiopian subject in the region. Somalis in the protectorate had apparently clung to the hope of ultimate diplomatic action to recreate a unified Somalia or at least to strengthen the safeguards of cross border migration. Since there were no positive response from the British, the Somalis immediately staged mass demonstrations throughout the protectorate demanding recovery of the lost land, and for the first time, demanded the right to become independent. The failure by the British to resolve the transborder grazing lands doomed their prestige and hence the authority of protectorate administration. The unequivocal loss of the grazing lands destroyed the three pillars of colonial bluff: it created an issue transcending clan lines, it directly affected the lives of individual Somalis, and it revealed the emptiness of the protector's promises.9 The British were left with two options, either fight or leave. In Kenya, they had fought for awhile Somalia as being poor as the day they had arrived. Therefore, they decided to leave. On 26 June 1960, the British Somalialand became an independent state. Four days later, the Italian Somalialand achieved its independent, and the two were united by a hastly concluded treaty. The accords established a unitary republic with northern and southern regions. On the flag of the new state there was a five pointed star. The British had organized and trained the leaders of the Somalia SYC to realize the dream of greater Somalia. Consequently, generation of Somalis are being borne with the conception of greater Somalia claiming parts of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti. The Republic of Somalia with muit-party politics had a potential to lure the Western influence. However, her obsession with greater Somalia proved an obstacle considering her neighboring countries were also subjects of Western influence. Failing to lure a consolidated support from the West, especially its former colonial masters. Somalia condemned Great Britain for not handing over to her the Northern Frontier Region of Kenya. In March 1962, she broke off diplomatic relationship with Britain. It must be remembered that British first floated and nurtured the idea of "Greater Somalia". The relationship even got worse when Prime Minister Mohammed Ibrahim Egal made a public statement to the effect that "Reclaiming our land and their people..." was in fact in accordance with Somali proverb of "Stand with one leg ready for war and the other ready for peace."10 It was Somali's leg of war that eventually become a point of discord between Somalia and the West. Early in 1961, after failing to obtain military aid to staff its 20,000 man Army, Somalia turned to the East. During the period between 1961 and 1967, Somalia continued to support the insurgent movement known as "Shifta" in the region in search of liberating the lost land. However, its meager economy could not sustain the country's badly needed development; therefore, there was political turbulence. After the 1969 elections, there ensued political parties coalition which was marred by fraud and intimidation. Senior government officials submitted their resignation following an uproar in the government. The Prime Minister reshuffled senior police offic- ials in key electoral districts in his efforts to restore stabil- ity within the government and the country. Authoritative sources believe that these interventions in police created a mood of deep bitterness in the officer cadre.11 On October 15, 1969, four months later the Somalis parliamentary democracy came to an end with a dramatic suddenness. President Shermark was assassinated in the Northern portion of the country, an area alleged to have featured with major electoral frauds. Prime Minister Egal, who was out of the country, hastened his return to Somalia.12 However, before dawn on the sixthteen, Mogadishu was in the hands of the Army. After this Revolution, which brought President Said Barre into power, the Soviet Union emerged as the dominant foreign power in Somalia. Perhaps because of their failure in Egypt, her move in Somalia during this period might be termed as yet another attempt to regain and maintain influence in the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. To counter the American influence in Ethiopia, the Soviet Union singed a friendship treaty to equip the Somalia defense forces and in exchange they were allowed to improve and use the air and naval facilities in the ports of Berbera, Kismaya, and Wein. Long distance maritime reconnaissance patrols aircraft were to be stationed in these facilities. The stage for eventual invasion of Ogaden Region was set. After the fall of Emperor Haile Sellaisse in 1974, the military government that took over power was riddled with many fighting factions. Senior officers in power were eliminated one after the other until, then Major, Mengista Hails Mariam emerged as a true leader of the Dergue and head of State of Socialistic Ethiopia. During this period, the Eritrea Liberation Front (ELF) operating in the Eritrea Region (Formerly French Somalialand ) was getting a lot of support from the Arab World in the form military equipment. Between December, 1976, and May, 1977, almost the entire Eritrea Province countryside was under effective control of the ELF employing about 15,000 well trained guerrillas.13 The Ethiopian troops, in small garrison town, were already surrounded by the guerrillas. During this period, the ELF raided and sieged one of the towns (Keroba) and as a result, 96 regular Ethiopian troops had to flee across the border to Sudan. Meanwhile, the Ethiopian Democratic Union was operating along the Ethiopian-Sudanese border with some support from the Sudanese government under auscipious of the Eritrea Popular Liberation Front. Also within the country itself, there was the White and Red Terrorist squads who roamed the surrounding towns and countryside eliminating citizens who had remained loyal to the regime within Addis Ababa. The economical and political status of Ethiopia was clearly in chaos. The acute rise in the price of fuel added inflationary pressures in the cities and urban areas. Meanwhile, in parts of the highlands, above all in the provinces of Wollo and Tigre, a murderous drought consumed the countryside. Because of this drought oxen and cattle died. There was no grain harvest. There was no food. The people started dying in tens, and eventually in the thousands. The domestic change in Ethiopia's ideolog towards the Socialist camp paved the way for the realignment of Somalia and Ethiopian foreign policies. During July, 1976, Mojus Wolde Mikall of Ethiopia held cordial talks with Soviet officials.14 Six months later the Soviet Union granted substantial aid to Ethiopia and as events of 1977 unfolded, it became clear that a major transformation was taking place. In late February, 1977 the United States decided to cut off military grant aid to Ethiopia, as part of a protest over the treatment of dissidents by the Dergue.15 Faced with serious domestic opposition and a cut back of U.S. aid the Dergue began to search for alternative sources of financial support. During March, 1977, Fidel Castro met with Dergue officials to discuss a number of issues including the prospects of military aid.16 On April 23, 1977, Ethiopia ordered the closure of the U.S. Embassy. Less than a week later, the United States announced that delivery of nearly $100 million already appropriated dollars for Ethiopia would be stopped.17 Mengistu wasted no time in courting the Soviet officials on the topic of continued military aid. He met with Foreign Minister Gromyko and President Podgomy in Moscow in early May, 1977.18 Although, the contents of the meeting were not made public, it was evident that an increase in military aid was discussed. Immediately after the meeting, there was an increasing presence of Cubans in Ethiopia.19 The relationships between the Soviet Union and Somalia started experiencing upheaval as it became clearer that Ethiopia was leaning towards the East in the name of the Socialist dogma and more so, the arrival of arms to Ethiopia from the Soviet Union. On 27 June 1977, Djibouti became independent under the leadership of Mr. Hassan Gouled, whose party was pro-Somalia Republic. As events were unfolding, an emergency meeting between Somalia and Ethiopia was held in Aden under the chairmanship of Fidel Castro.20 The theme of the meeting was an attempt to convince the two leader to lay aside their differences and to form a Marxist Confederation. Apparently, such a resolution was aimed at consolidating the Soviet influences on the Horn of Africa and give it control over the economically entrance to the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. Said Barre is said to have vowed that Somalia had no intentions of attacking another socialist country. Shortly after the meeting, Said Barre rebuffed the Soviet initiative. He stated that international solutions were fruitless until the national question of a "Greater Somalia" had been solved.21 Somalia ventured to explore their Arab connection for assistance. As the Ethiopian-Soviet relationship grew warmer and overtone of the Soviet presence in the Horn increased, the United States was ready to embark upon a closer relationship with Somalia. In May 1977, Saudi Arabia offered Somalia an equivalent of U.S. $200 million dollars to lure her away from Moscow.22 It appears as if Saudi Arabia was acting as a broker between the U.S. and Somalia, after the U.S. [had] lost Ethiopia to Soviet influence. As time went by, the U.S. found itself in a somewhat different predicament as the outsider looking in, having no formal ties with Somalia. During June, 1977, the Carter Administration began to explore the prospects of wooing Somalia away from Soviet influence. President Carter is reported to have instructed his aids to "get Somalia to be our friend".22 The man who was tasked to perform the delicate task was Dr Kevin Cahill, a close personal friend and physician of Said Barre. Dr. Cahill consulted with Matthew Nimatz, a chief aide of Secretary of State Cyrus Vance before leaving for Somalia. Dr. Cahill delivered the message to Barre who "got an impression that the United States did not care about Ogaden",24 Public announcement by U.S. officials underscored Washington's intention to meet the exercise of influence by the Soviet Union in Africa peacefully but aggressively, an attempt to denouce the presence of Cubans and Russians in the Horn and an indication that United States was consenting to cordial relationship with Somalia. Saudi Arabia also promised Barre that it would ship weapons immediately. With other Arab States making similar promises and attitude of the West, it is conceivable that Barre calculated in mid-July the invasion of Ogaden was possible, even without the access to Soviet arms. Somalian leaders believed also that future opportunities to recover the Ogaden would be limited in view of the trends in international support of the Horn. (See diagram 1). President Said Barre indeed seized the opportunity. Between 1976 and 1977, Somalia had infiltrated enough "Shifta" guerrillas led by regular Somalia National Army personnel to establish firm bases in the Ogaden Region. (See diagram 2). At 0600 local time on July 23rd, 1977, Somalia Armed Forces Support by tanks, and aircraft crossed the common border into Ethiopia. Colonel (Dr.) Feleke Gedle Giorgis, Ethiopia's top official made the statement in the wake of the invasion. "The situation is a serious threat to international peace and security, is a culmination of Somali's expansionist policy which has its goal of of Ethiopian territory. Over the last several months, the government of the Democratic Republic of Somalia has been infiltrating its regular troops into Ethiopia for deliberate purpose of committing aggression against Ethiopia short of launching a full scale conventional war ----".25 The invasion took the Ethiopians by total surprise, and between 24 and 26 July 1977, ten major towns in Ogaden had already been captured. By the 28th of August, 1977, the main thrust of Somalia columns were heading westwards towards Jijiga and Harar.26 (See map 2). On 14 November 1977. The Ethiopian launched a major counter offensive operations in the northern front, starting with probing attacks around the Jijiga area. The counter offensive operations were supported by the Cubans and the Russians, who had been flown into Ethiopia prior to the invasion. In fact, Russia's Army- General Vasily Petro, at that time First Deputy Commander of the Soviet Ground Forces, is reported to have planned and directed the operations.27 Skirmishes between the two opposing forces continued, both sides suffering a number of casualties. Finally, on 10 March 1978, the Ethiopians had reached the Ethiopia- Djibouti-Somlia border. The Somalia occupied defensive position across the border. On 15 March 1978, all Somalia troops had crossed back into Somalia having left pockets of Western Somalia Liberation Front to harrass the Ethiopians. A truce was reached, apparently with the pressure from the super powers. Ethiopians were told not to cross the border in pursuit of the retreating enemy and indeed the Ethiopians were very unhappy. During the 1970's, no area of Africa underwent more sudden and startling internal upheavals and foreign policy than did the Horn of Africa. As a result of coups d'etat in Ethiopia and Somalia, power was in the hands of new leadership who were bent on policies that forced the Soviet Union and the United States to re-think their stand on the Horn. The deteriorating political and economical situation in Ethiopia's Mengistu regime offered a golden opportunity to Somalia to enhance their dream to fulfill "The Greater Somalia". Since the national boundaries were drawn by colonial powers without regard to geographical and ethnographical considerations, the Horn of Africa will continue to experience boundary disputes. The Ogaden War is an example of wars or skirmishes to be expected in the future. Click here to view image FOOTNOTES 1Hillary Ngweno, "Ethiopia Alerts Heads of States, "Weekly Review Magazine, January, 1976, p.4. 2Ngweno, p. 4 3John Drydale, Somalia Dispute (New York: Praeger Publishers 1964) p. 122. 4Tom J. Farer, War Clouds on the Horn of Africa: A Crisis for Detente (New York: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace 1976) p. 70. 5Farer, p. 68. 6Robert F. Gorman, Political Conflict on the Horn of Africa (New York: Praeger Publishers 1981) p. 29. 7C. Claphan, "Ethiopia and Somalia, "Conflicts in Africa, Adelphi Papers Number Niney Three, London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies 1972. 8Farer, p. 67. 9Gorman, p. 35. 10Saadim Touval, Somalia Nationalism: International Politics and Drive for Unity on the Horn of Africa (London: Oxford University Press, 1963) p. 15. 11Farer, p. 91. 12"President Shemark is Assassinated," Daily Nation Newspaper, October 16, 1969. p. 1. 13Richard Sherman, Eritrea: The Unfinished Revolution (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1980) p. 88. 14Colin Legum and Bill Lee, Conflict in the Horn of Africa (New York: Africana Publishing Company, 1977) p. 92. 15Marina Ottaway, Soviet and American Influence in the Horn of Africa (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1982) p. 101. 16Gorman, p. 55 17"United States Turned Down Ethiopian Request, "New York Times, May 2, 1977, p. 16. 18Ottaway, p. 149. 19"Cubans in Ethiopia, "New York Times, June 11, 1977, p. 15-16. 20Gorman, p. 61. 21Gorman, p. 64. 22Ottaway, p. 119. 23Gorman, p. 70. 24Gorman, p. 70. 25"Somalia Invades Ethiopia," Daily Nation Newspaper, July 24. 1977. 26Mark Urban, "Soviet Intervention and Ogaden Counter-Offensive of 1978," RUSI J for Defense Studies (June 1983) p. 42 - 46. 27Urban, p. 42 - 46. Bibliography Bell, Bowjer J. The Horn of Africa: Strategic Magnet in the Seventies. New York: Grand Russak and Company, 1973. Drydale, John, Somalia Dispute, New York: Praeger Publishers, 1966. Gorman, Robert F. Political Conflict on the Horn of Africa. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1981. Legum, Colin and Lee, Bill, Conflict in the Horn of Africa. African Publishing Company, 1977. Nelson, Harold D. and Kaplan, Irving, Handbook Series Ethiopia, Washington: American University, Foreign Area Studies, 1981. Ottaway, Marina, Soviet and American Influence in the Horn of Africa. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1982. Sherman, Richard, Eritreal The Unfinished Revolution. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1981. Sauldie, Madam M. Ethiopia: Dawn of the Red Star, India: Asia Publishing House, 1982. Touval, Saadan, Somalia Nationalism, International Politics, and Drive for Unity on the Horn of Africa. London: Oxford University Press, 1963.
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