January 13, 2012:
Somali Al Shabaab gunmen attacked a northeastern Kenyan town along the Somali border and killed six people and kidnapped several others. These types of incursions by militants are one reason Kenya launched an invasion of Somalia, with Ethiopia’s support. Ethiopia and Kenya are operating as allies in Somalia. When Kenya attacked Somalia in October it portrayed the attack as punitive, but here it is 2012 and Kenya remains in Somalia. Ethiopia is discussing replacing its troops there with African Union peacekeeping forces, but everyone believes Ethiopian forces would roll right back across the border if their government makes that decision. Kenya could withdraw, but it appears increasingly likely that it will demand a buffer zone if it does withdraw. In the meantime the Kenyan forces have become peacekeepers serving with the African Union (AU) force in Somalia. Over time a buffer zone could become a new buffer state. The buffer state could consist of the tribal zone known as Jubaland, carved from the Somali side of the Somalia-Kenya border in a region south and southwest of the Juba River. The area is also called Anzania. Kismayo would give this new state a seaport though at the moment Kismayo remains under the control of Al Shabaab rebels. However, Kenyan forces are reportedly advancing from the south toward Kismayo. Somalia already has two statelets to the north, Somaliland and Puntland. Jubaland would be a southern statelet. The big question is whether or not Kenya could get international support for creating a statelet. Ethiopia might support it (Ethiopia recognizes separatist Somaliland), but then it might not, since it faces its own separatist groups.
January 11, 2012: A major confrontation between ethnic Oromo students and Ethiopian police has broken out in the town of Naqatme. Police reportedly swarmed the campus and arrested several hundred demonstrating students. The students are demanding the release of Oromo political prisoners and autonomy for Oromos within a federal Ethiopian state. The student demands reflect statements made by senior Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) leaders in late December, 2011. The first week of this year the OLF apparently made a more official overture to the government that it would end its secessionist movement if ethnic Oromos were guaranteed the rights they are promised in the Ethiopian constitution. The OLF has been fighting the government since 1973. Its chief demand was the creation of Oromia, a separate Oromo state. The OLF has had several backers over the years. Eritrea has provided it with money and weapons. A couple of years ago the OLF was making common cause with Al Shabaab. If the OLF is really serious about ending its armed secessionist movement then the government has won a major victory.
January 7, 2012: Ethiopia said that it had reached an agreement with the African Union’s Peace and Security Council. Ethiopia will withdraw its military forces from Somalia and they will be replaced by a reinforced AU peacekeeping contingent. The timeline for this transition from Ethiopian to AU soldiers is not certain, however. The AU needs to find 5,000 to 6,000 additional troops to replace the Ethiopians. Some of these AU forces may be supplied by Kenya. The AU now has around 9,000 troops in Somalia.
January 6, 2012: The head of Somalia’s government visited the Ethiopian-controlled town of Beledweyne, Somalia. Ethiopia has held the town since the end of December 2011. Ethiopian forces are solidifying their control of the Beledweyne area.
The Kenyan Air Force claimed that it had attacked an Al Shabaab base camp near Garbahare. The air attacks killed 50 Al Shabaab militiamen. The Kenyan military claimed that the militiamen intended to attack Kenyan forces in the towns of Fafadun and Elade.
January 3, 2012: Ethiopia has ordered 316 officers to retire. Most of the officers were described as long serving, meaning that they were well past the age of being able to direct field operations. Thirteen of the officers ordered to retire were generals.
December 31, 2011: Ethiopia confirmed that its military forces had driven Al Shabaab fighters from Beledweyne, a trading center near the Somalia-Ethiopia border. Ethiopian forces have taken Beledweyne before. This time, however, Ethiopia has a little diplomatic cover. The Ethiopian forces are ostensibly fighting with Somali government forces (Somali National Army, under the aegis of the Transitional National Government, or TNG). However, observers in the area reported that the attack involved over 3,000 Ethiopian troops supported by Ethiopian artillery and a substantial number of Ethiopian armored vehicles. In other words, Ethiopia is providing the Somalia government with the heavy military punch it lacks.
December 30, 2011: Several senior leaders in the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) are considering ending its war with the Ethiopian government. The OLF faction would drop its demands for a separate Oromo state and become a political party operating within a federal Ethiopian state. However, Ethiopia would have to guarantee Oromo ethnic rights.
December 27, 2011: Ethiopia sentenced two Swedish reporters to 11 years in prison on the charge of aiding the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) separatist organization. The journalists were also accused of illegally entering Ethiopia with a group of ONLF rebels. The ONLF force was infiltrating from the Puntland statelet within Somalia.
December 23, 2011: The UN Security Council voted to extend the Abyei (Sudan) peacekeeping mission. Ethiopia supplies the troops for the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA). About half of the planned 4,200 Ethiopian soldiers have arrived in Abyei.
December 20, 2011: The first contingent of peacekeeping troops (about 100 soldiers) from Djibouti deployed in Mogadishu, Somalia. Ultimately Djibouti will deploy 900 soldiers in Somalia (reinforced battalion-sized force).
December 16, 2011: Ethiopia declared that it is prepared to help Sudan and South Sudan reach a permanent peace settlement based on fulfilling the commitments made in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). Sudan continues to fight rebels in Blue Nile state, which borders Ethiopia. Refugees from Blue Nile state have flooded several camps inside Ethiopia. Ethiopia is providing peacekeepers to patrol the disputed Abyei region (between Sudan and South Sudan). Ethiopia has also reportedly assured Sudan that it will not let the rebel army in Blue Nile, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) operate from Ethiopian territory.
December 9, 2011: The Eritrean government stated that the allegations which lead to stiffer UN sanctions are lies. Eritrea is fighting a proxy war in Somalia with three of its neighbors Kenya, Ethiopia, and (when its troops deploy) Djibouti in Somalia. However, it is increasingly focusing blame for the sanctions on the U.S. America is always a convenient target, but don’t dismiss the role of Iran in Eritrea’s diplomacy. Iran is Eritrea’s ally and the U.S. and Iran are at loggerheads. Iran is threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz (which connects the Persian Gulf to the Indian Ocean). In the past Eritrea has indicated that it might try to close the Bab al Mandaab, the strait which connects the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean. Actually closing the Bab al Mandaab is really beyond Eritrea’s capabilities, but implying it might do it does have effects on commercial shipping insurance rates. Eritrea could drop a few anti-ship mines but the diplomatic and military blowback might be very costly.
December 6, 2011; The UN Security Council has imposed a new and more rigorous set of economic and political sanctions on Eritrea. The new regimen requires foreign mining companies which operate in Eritrea to insure that money from Eritrean mineral exports does not go to fund militias (like Somalia’s Al Shabaab) and terrorist organizations.