Ethiopia is Africa’s oldest independent nation and its second most populous. The country remains one of the poorest nations on earth, frequently drought and famine-stricken. Meles Zenawi, the current prime minister, heads the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front.
Since the fall of Emperor Haile Selassie’s corrupt regime in 1974, the nation has been riven by conflicts involving rebel movements that have been brutally suppressed, and with its neighbors to the north and south, Eritrea and Somalia.
Ethiopia has one of the largest armies in Africa and has often clashed with Somalia. Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia in 2006 to oust an Islamist movement that then controlled much of the country. But in the process a more radical offshoot of the Islamists arose: the Shabab. The Ethiopian troops remained for about two years, and their occupation was hugely unpopular; thousands of civilians were killed when the troops indiscriminately shelled urban areas. The Shabab capitalized on the intense anti-Ethiopian feelings, and their ranks swelled.
Western and African Union officials say the Ethiopians are now eager to deal the Shabab a crushing blow and to install their own proxies in Somalia, which could lead to even more power struggles and factional bloodshed.
In November 2011, witnesses along the drought-stricken Ethiopia-Somalia border reported that hundreds of Ethiopian troops had crossed into Somalia with armored personnel carriers, heavy artillery and tanks, opening a new front in an intensifying international offensive against the Shabab.
Many Somalis say they welcome anyone who can get the Shabab out, even their historic enemy, the Ethiopians.
A senior official with Somalia’s transitional government, a weak and unpopular entity that survives purely on outside support, has said stated that Somalia’s president, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, did not want Ethiopian troops inside Somalia, but that he was powerless to oppose them.
The injection of Ethiopian troops is a risky move, Western officials say, because of the historic enmity between Ethiopia, a Christian-led nation, and Somalia, which is almost purely Muslim. The neighbors have clashed repeatedly since Somalia became independent in 1960.
Somalia, which has not had an effective national government since 1991, is rapidly becoming an arena where Kenya, Ethiopia and even Uganda, which has contributed thousands of troops to the peacekeeping force, vie for influence and use their involvement in the war-ravaged country for leverage with Western aid donors.
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