Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Africa's tinderbox

January 12, 2006

AFRICA'S NEXT WAR COULD BE between two countries already in the middle of a devastating drought: Ethiopia and Eritrea. They are also bordered by violence and instability; to the east lies a deeply fractured Somalia, to the west is Sudan, Africa's poster child for genocide.

It won't take much of a spark to set off a bloody explosion between Eritrea, which has one of the biggest armies on the continent and spends a whopping 13.4% of its gross domestic product on its military (the United States spends 3.3%), and Ethiopia, a larger country from which Eritrea seceded in 1991. Yet the United Nations may be poised to light a match.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan recently said the organization would have to reconsider its options for monitoring the demilitarized zone between the two countries and that it may pull the peacekeepers out entirely. That could lead to the resumption of a war that ended in 2000 after killing more than 70,000 people. Such a war could increase the flow of weapons to armed groups throughout the region.

The United Nations is reacting to Eritrea's restrictions on helicopter flights by monitors and its expulsion of 180 peacekeepers. The no-fly order, which came after Ethiopia massed extra troops near the border, makes it impossible to effectively monitor the DMZ that was created after the peace deal of five years ago. Leaders on both sides continually threaten war, though both say they won't be the one to start it.

The tension stems from a small border town, Badme, which both countries claim as their territory. Badme might be the pretext, but the more likely reason both countries are girding for a fight is that a war would be a distraction from constant poverty and political protest. The leaders of each nation hope to unite their people against a foreign foe, so the people spend less time protesting their own governments.

After months of inaction, the Bush administration is finally taking needed steps. On Monday, a U.S. assistant secretary of State was appointed to head a mission aimed at settling the conflict. The U.N. Security Council has rightly put off a ruling on the peacekeeping mission for 30 days in order to give the U.S. team a chance to do its job. A success would go a long way toward renewing international respect for the power of U.S. diplomacy.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|