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Friday, 26 May, 2000, 12:02 GMT 13:02 UK
Neighbours lament Horn war

As Ethiopia claims victory in the war with Eritrea, most African newspapers have avoided comment. But commentaries by two regional journalists pull no punches.

"Cry Blood, Africa, Your Children are Insane"

This is how Charles Onyango-Obbo entitled his impassioned opinion article in the Kenyan `East African' newspaper, from the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa

. He was concerned at the lack of criticism, let alone opposition, to the war policy of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

A typical week for Africa - bad

Charles Onyango-Obbo

Highlighting the fact that many areas of Ethiopia are suffering serious food shortages, he said the government has diverted most of the country's depleted fleet of lorries into ferrying troops to the Eritrean front.

He said Ethiopia needed 4,000 lorries to ship in international aid supplies from Djibouti port, and that "You would think that would have caused massive public outrage. Wrong".

food aid
Aid held up by war
Onyango-Obbo reviewed a week, which he described as a "typical week for Africa - bad", in which the Ugandan and Rwandan armies clashed again in the Democratic Republic of Congo city of Kisangani, and in which the UN mission to Sierra Leone stumbled in its efforts to stop the attacks of rebel leader Foday Sankoh.

"It is easy to lose perspective here and next to impossible to make sense of outrageous stories like these," he said.

He criticised the UN for sending "potbellied officers and soldiers" to Sierra Leone, and accused it of making a bad situation worse through its "monumental incompetence". When it came to Ethiopia and Eritrea, though he could find no outside elements to blame for the resumption of fighting.

Ethiopian "hardliners" blamed

Writing in the Egyptian newspaper `Al-Ahram', Gamal Nkrumah laid the blame for the conflict on Ethiopian "hardliners" from the old ruling elites, who he said were exerting an excessive influence on Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

in retreat
Erirtean troops are forced to retreat

Nkrumah saw the root of the conflict in the contrasting political structures and state philosophies of the two states.

Eritrea, he wrote, based itself conventionally on the idea of an Eritrean state identity transcending ethnic divisions, and ran a conscripted army - very much the post-colonial model for most of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Ethiopia, on the other hand, has launched on an experiment in not only recognising ethnic divisions but actually enshrining them in the constitution, Nkrumah wrote.

Far from appeasing, this has in fact antagonised the two largest ethnic groups in the country - the Amhara and the Oromo.

Eritrean soldier
Former allies locked in conflict

The former, making up about 25% of the population, were for centuries the ruling class, and resent a constitution that rules out a return to their former political hegemony, even though they still dominate the commercial and professional worlds.

The latter, although they make up 40% of Ethiopia's citizens, are too broadly dispersed through the country to have a strong regional base.

Nkrumah argued that they resent the power of the Tigrayan people of northern Ethiopia, who dominate the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPDF) and also provide the leadership in Eritrea.

Indeed, the EPDF and the future Eritrean leaders were close allies in the fight against the pro-Soviet dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam.

By egging Meles Zenawi on to war, they hope to weaken the Tigrayan influence and give a boost to traditional Ethiopian identity.

Next Media Watch on 2 June

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