“…After centuries of unreality, after having wallowed in the most outlandish phantoms, at last, the native, gun in hand, stands to face with the only forces which contend for his life- the forces of colonialism…”
Frantz Fanon, the Wretched of the EarthA quick look back at the ageless fables of the 17th century French Poet, Jean de La Fontaine, evokes an
interesting comparison between the interactions of his lucidly conversing animals and what led Meles Zenawi to invade the sovereign nation of Somalia and sustain the subjugation of the ethnic Somalis in Ethiopia.
It would be appropriate to start with the current state of the Somalis. The basis for the perpetual internal conflict among the Somalis is summed up by the tale of the two Nanny-goats, in which ornately costumed beasts fight so hard for a right of precedence on a narrow bridge that they both fall into the river. The tale could be extended to include the identities and motives of those who have provided the garbs for the duel to the two goats, and it will elucidate all the dimensions to Somalia’s conflict: the internal foibles and the external malice.
In the last two decades, Western financial institutions for various reasons, ranging from genuine commitment to end hunger in Ethiopia to geo-political considerations, has been pumping money into the pockets of the regime in Ethiopia. The support continued despite persistent reports of human right violations in the form of detentions of political opponents, denial of democratic rights, and targeted violence against ethnic groups perceived to be unsympathetic to the ruling elites. This unconditional financial and political support from the west blurred the eyes of the regime to the dangers of overestimating its ability to rule by force. Any doubts as to whether the leaders of the regime would be held accountable for their crimes dissipated soon after the charade in 2005 elections ended in the massacre of over 300 children and the arrest of all political activists.
Buoyed by the ceaseless inflow of money and mislaid accolades from western leaders, it was only logical for Meles to believe he is an Eagle and not a Raven, anymore. In the Lafontaine tales, the raven attempts to act like an eagle, and perishes when his incompetent claws are tangled in the thick wool of a lamb. Meles, who prides himself of having a thorough understanding of the Somali psyche- a psyche he thinks, is full of tribe and triviality, sought to use an attack on Somalia as an entry point for a much needed transformation into “a conquering Ethiopian hero”. The exigency of growing a new skin dictated the move; after the deceitful ethnic-federalism policy failed to either allay the fears of the nationalities that supported the initiative, if not the way it was practiced by TPLF to assert its hegemony on other regions; or the misgivings of the unionists who opposed it from the start as a policy sowing division and discontent among the different ethnic groups in the country.
Meles sent his army into Somalia, partly to serve the American and western interests, but also because he expected an easy ride. The latter misreading of what lied ahead emanated from Meles’s engagements with Somali political figures who were mainly warlords and self-seeking political rejects with no national agenda. For him, the mentality of those apathetic individuals who stooped down to lick his boots for advancement of personal and/or clan ambitions epitomized the essence of being a Somali. Coupled with the fact that the clan card is often present in Somalia’s political discussions, he thought he would be able to foment a civil war in Somalia and will be able to use one clan against the other, indefinitely. To some degree, he has been successful. But, he has underestimated the conviction of true Somalis who would not take the insult of being colonized in the 21st century lightly. So, the fight back is consuming his invading army and the unusual utterances in the past weeks of ‘not being able to sustain the occupation for long’, were uncharacteristic of a man who likes to show off his muscles too often. La Fontaine’s parting advice for such miscalculations was “Il faut se mesurer,” (“Size yourself up.") Or, more loosely rendered, “Just who did you thought you were?” The fire he lit in Somalia in 2006 might engulf his territories very soon.
Not sizing yourself up is where the next tale leads us to. The tale of the Frog and the Ox. The Frog, envious of Ox's size, huffs and puffs herself up to match Ox's measurements, and halfway there, explodes. Perhaps, the Tigrayan rulers should have known they were not physically well-built enough to take up the ‘Abyssinian Burden’- as opposed to Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The White man’s burden’ and colonize the Horn of Africa. Perhaps, like the hubris-laden fat cat, the king of the jungle, they arrogantly declared war on ‘lowly insects’, much the same like the lion did in the tale of “the lion and the Gnat”. La Fontaine told us that the paltry insect beat out the lion, because the latter suffered from several fatal flaws of character - vanity, conceit, delusion of grandeur. This is not a good analogy, for neither Meles is a lion nor the Somali nation is a gnat. But, the brawl of the two-nanny goats diminished the Somalis to the role of the gnat, and the multi-billion dollars aid of the west elevated Meles to the pinnacles of being an eagle, an ox and a lion.
When Meles implies Ethiopia is immune to the sort of internal bickering and social disunity in Somalia, and goes at length in lamenting the clannish mentality of the Somalis for the present misery of Somalia, he is dishonest. He well knows the distrust between his own Tigre tribe and the Amhara’s, between the Tigres and the Oromos, between the Amhara’s and the Oromos, between the Harari’s and the Oromos, between the Sidama and the Woleita, between the Gumuz and the Benishangul, etc is immense.
He knows that the Somalia debacle would have been resolved long ago had he not commenced his ‘turning of favours to the Somalis’ by hosting warlords in Sodere, and sabotaging every attempt at reconciliation among the Somalis thenceforth. At least, the altruism and fidelity exemplified by the fable “The Lion and the Rat” is not simulated by Meles. In this tale, the habitually ravenous king of beasts mercifully lets the lowly rodent stuck between his paws go free; and shortly thereafter, as the lion lies ensnared in a human hunter's net, the rat reciprocates by swiftly gnawing the captive's snare away. What Meles did is call the hunters of the lion in hurry, so that they kill their prey which is caught in the net.
I am sure the moral of the fables will not trim the inflated egos of the Ethiopian Prime Minister, nor will reduce his uncalled for spite towards the Somali nation; but I know it will give those fighting colonialism and aggression, inside and outside Ethiopia, a dose of bracing optimism.