Motivation for writing this article
Some 30 years ago I was at the French Embassy as one of the hundreds of invited guests on Bastille Day lavish celebration teemed with diplomats, government officials, distinguished personalities from civil societies and the business community. It was like a display of power French style.
A French acquaintance of mine amid our interesting conversation on various topics narrated to me about the French Revolution (1789 – 1799) and said he still didn’t understand why the necks of the King and the Queen were cut with the guillotine, implying that the human race still lives in dangerously insecure world of inequality where social justice is conspicuous by its absence.
I remembered the above conversation last week while I was glued to my TV watching a documentary featured on Aljazeera on the occasion of WWI Centenary. That war in which 14 million people died (9million soldiers and 5 million civilians) took 4 years (1914 – 1918), a period eight times more than the 6 months at first estimated by the warring side to declare the end of ‘the war to prevent all future wars. But WWII broke out only 23 years later in 1941 and ended in 1945 claiming the lives of 40 million combatants and civilians. Isn’t it disappointing that the goal for social justice has still not been hitherto achieved?!
One for the discussants on Aljazeera asked the pertinent question: what was it for that these wars fought? Indeed what was the rationale for fighting these wars given that morale rearmament is vanishing and sophisticated arms of destruction are flourishing in the 21st century? Smaller wars had been fought between the two world wars; several smaller wars have been fought and are in progress in the aftermath of WWII including in Africa ironically in the aftermath of the creation of the former OAU and its successor the AU. Is there guarantee to avert WWIII in the 21st century where the demand for allocating resources for the development of increasingly advanced military assets in preparation for future wars? Is Ukraine going to be the flashpoint WWIII?
It is heartbreaking that the decisions made to go to war to end future wars did not yield the desired fruit; revolutions to prevent future revolutions did not work. The end to wars and political upheavals is not in sight! One would only pray that the scale of destruction will not be catastrophic.
Unable to learn from history that there is no lasting military solution to social injustice, AU members states fight each other squandering huge amounts out of their meager resources on military hardware, facilities and personnel either to fight each other or silence legitimate internal dissent. It is both legally and morally inadmissible that African leaders plunge their respective countries in senseless arms race at the expense of basic social services. The arms race in the Horn of Africa as an example and the scaring number of failed AU member states motivated the writing of this piece.
Snapshot on the arms race in the Horn of Africa
Emperor Menilik II vanquished the vastly superior Italian Army in the 1896 war at Adwa with his poorly armed wholly militia army equipped with home-made swords, spears, et al supplemented by rifles procured from European powers who were competing to supply such fire arms to other warlords including Emperor Yohannes IV.
Menilik II’s victory at Adwa not only shocked European powers forcing them to recognize Ethiopia as an independent sovereign country, but also became a beacon of hope for all black people in the Diaspora struggling for emancipation.
The beloved Menilik II had no desire of establishing a standing regular army arguing financing of such an establishment would be expensive to the poor taxpayers in the first instance and that soldiers thereunder will violate basic human rights of civilians by engaging in looting and raping not to mention destabilizing the government. So the task of creating a standing modern army became the responsibility of Emperor Haileselassie I, although some of the arguments of Menilik II are still valid today.
So, Emperor Haileselassie embarked on the lofty task by opening the first military training center at Holeta located 40 kilometers south-west of Addis Ababa. This effort was cut short by the invasion of Ethiopia by Fascist Italy in 1935.
The effort of building modern regular defense force – including ground force, air force and navy – took center-stage upon the victorious return of the Emperor to His capital city Addis Ababa in 1945. The national defense militia force was organized at a later time in substantial scale. The Monarch did His best in bolstering the army in His capacity as its Commander-in-Chief until His overthrow in 1977 ironically by the successors of army He founded. The octogenarian Monarch lacked either the courage or wisdom or both to call it quits in time and became a victim of disgrace of the Derg, which exceeded its mandate in most cases.
The genesis of the arms race in the Horn of Africa on a significant scale is reasonably attributable to the territorial claims of Somalia blinded by its leaders with their pipedream of creating “Greater Somalia” symbolized by five stars imprinted on their national flag. This mad ambition required acquisition of modern military weapons from socialist countries posing as converts to Marxist-Leninist ideology. The defunct USSR agreed and inundated the regime of Ziade Bear with a generous supply of fire arms including tanks artillery, jet bombers as well as jet fighter airplanes. The balance of military power changed instantly in favor of Somalia thus making Ethiopia nervous for the time being.
I recall the time that five senior officers including me were assigned the task of assessing the new threat posed by Somalia. There was sufficient top secret intelligence made available by the Ethiopian Ambassador in Mogadishu to supplement our own gathered by the intelligence unit of the Air Force.
The Emperor went on a mission to Washington to see the then Secretary of Defense Mr. McNamara and present a request for provision of military assets worth millions of US$ including the requirements separately compiled by the Ground Forces and the Navy. The package included a Squadron of Phantom Bombers.
The Secretary declined to agree with the request on grounds that it will not be in the interest of the region to encourage arms race. The Emperor was disappointed and travelled straight to the Ex-USSSR with similar request for arms, which the Kremlin authorities declined to provide, but offered development aid to the tune of 400 million rubles instead. Ethiopia was forced to go elsewhere to shop for fire arms.
The Ethiopian Revolution broke out suddenly in February 1974. The left leaning policy of the Derg regime disappointed the USA, but endeared the Junta to the Kremlin which for fear of Maoists usurping the new political landscape, rushed with the offer to provide substantial military assets including Mig-21bis. I recall a young Russian Major coming to my office with a request to facilitate a meeting with the rank and file Air Force personnel to announce the offer, which was enthusiastically accepted in the face of the Carter Administration refusing to supply the US$ 100 million worth of military equipment paid for by poor Ethiopia for self-defense.
Thus the arms race in the Horn of Africa took a dramatic turn increasing significantly on unprecedented scale emboldening the Ziade Bare army to invade Ethiopia in 1977. I know so because I signed for one of the agreements with the ex-USSR government on behalf of Ethiopia at the time of the invasion.
Somalia lost the war eventually, thanks in particular to the effective assistance of the USSR and Cuba. But Mengistu got his priorities wrong in refusing to adopt an inclusive government and mixed-economic policy supported both by the USSR and the Western powers. Thus he lost trust with the Ethiopian people and suffered humiliating defeat by the combined force of TPLF rebels and the separatist Shabia, the latter playing a major role with the help of Arab reactionaries.
Mengistu’s ignorance and stubbornness led him into fleeing the country leaving a huge army in disarray and out of existence eventually. Thus the glory and indispensable long tradition of the Ethiopian army built over more than 70 years abruptly ended; it was once branded by President Gorbachev as a mighty force in Africa. This is a classic example of ruins that dictators leave behind when they fall from power – a lesson to heed for African tyrants!
The present situation is that Somalia is a failed state; Eritrea is a pariah state; Isaias has lost his Air Force; desertion is rampant within the defense force of the EPRDF regime. These are the fruits of the detrimental effect of the arms race in the absence of moral rearmament. In retrospect I applaud Robert McNamara for his advice not to start arms race in the Horn of Africa.
Rethinking African defense doctrine/Strategy
The big powers, scrambling for strategic natural resources, are engaged in cut throat competition everywhere on the planet Earth and beyond. They are competing for military supremacy in wars of future wars involving advanced weapons hard to imagine. The gap between reality and what we see about warfare on future wars or read in science fictions is narrowing to the point of vanishing. On the other hand, the techno-scientific gap between the big industrial world and Africa is widening – forcing African tyrants to procure phased-out military assets. The question is to fight whom?
The entire military assets of the Africa combined are no match for a single neo-colonial power in the event of war. In any case colonial masters have no appetite for engaging in direct war. The African leaders will fight each other while suppressing their people to the point of running out of resources. The colonial masters will come back with their drilling equipment to extract the rich minerals of the African continent.
Failed African states
Here is a list in descending order of 25 failed states (with Somalia at the bottom) in our global village from Google:- Eritrea, Liberia, North Korea, Uganda, Syria, Burundi, Ethiopia, Niger, Kenya, Nigeria, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Pakistan, Côte D’Ivoire, Zimbabwe, Central African Republic, Haiti, Afghanistan, Yemen, Chad, South Sudan, Sudan, Congo, Somalia.
It is interesting to note that:-
In view of the foregoing short analysis under this section, the onus is on AU leaders in rethinking African defense doctrine because expenditure on security and defense has up to the present proved an intolerable hemorrhage on natural resources without being able to avert several internal battles fought within the continent since the creation of the ex-OAU and its successor the AU. It would be prudent to consider in all seriousness the concerns of Emperor Menilik II about heavy expenditure on regular army prone to abuse of human rights.
Glimmer of hope
There is hope that some of the leaders in the East African Community like the PanAfricanist President Yoweri Museveni, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda have the ability, courage, and vision to root out corruption, provide good governance, and engender growth by overcoming bureaucracy.
President Kenyatta addressing a huge crowd of mainly youths from the Community that were gathered at Kampala Parents School in Naguru, in the school’s auditorium on the occasion of the 4th Pakasa Form on 24/08/14. In his inspirational address enthusiastically punctuated by applause, he articulated the vision of a new self-reliant Community admitting the dismal performance of the continent in the last 50 years; he underscored that governance has been bad in all these years and needs to change for the better. The President made several salient points each of which was received with warm applause of the intelligent youths who were unafraid to pose tough questions which he answered frankly to the delight of the audience. Self-reliance was what I wanted to hear in a long time and I heard it enunciated by the President to the delight of the audience in the auditorium and me watching it on TV outside in the city!
Ethiopia actively supported Kenyan freedom fighters liberation movements in Africa. Kenya was a haven for Ethiopian refugees during the Italian Fascist invasion. I ask His Excellency President Kenyatta why not recently during His reign when bad governance is at its worst in Ethiopia forcing young Ethiopians to flee to neighboring states are not welcome? The TPLF/EPRDF racist regime in Addis Ababa is a menace to regional peace. Therefore, I implore President Kenyatta and his colleagues President Museveni and President Kagame to use their influence under “Peer Rating Mechanism” to ask EPRDF top leaders to discard their divisive archaic tribal policy in Ethiopia that is bound to destabilize the region.
I salute the trio for the sterling job they are doing to address the problems of their Community transparently on the PAKASA Forum; their determination to usher in a self-reliant Africa with its patriotic citizens taking the center-stage is laudable. President Museveni’s heroic stand not to take orders from outside is inspiring. So there is a glimmer of hope for self-sustaining economic growth in an environment of democracy both at the same time in EAC that would serve as example to others on the continent.
Finally, I call on AU leaders with due respect:-
To my fellow citizens: – The brutal murder of the 18-year old African-American Michael Brown evoked a shockwave of protest demonstration across the USA for several days; on the contrary, we Ethiopians did little to stem the grave human rights violation including genocide, murders and massive arrests of citizens by TPLF/EPRDF security forces under the direct command and control of tyrant Meles Zenawi and his successors. Shame on us that we have been unable to break the backbone of the puppet brutal regime in the last 23 years!
Call on EPRDF defense and security: – Junior members have nothing to fear in coming on the side of the Ethiopian people and thereby make history by collaborating with the opposition and thereby averting costly catastrophe of internecine; start with disobeying the corrupt wealthy Generals and show your loyalty to the Ethiopian people.
In closing, I am convinced that there is no end in sight to the quest for social justice as long as the appalling “man’s inhumanity to man” exists. Morale rearmament is by far the best option to achieve the goal of social justice.
LONG LIVE ETHIOPIA!!!