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Tuesday, 29 May 1984
Page: 2045

Senator HILL(8.11) —I wish to speak to the report of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence entitled 'Regional Conflict and Superpower Rivalry in the Horn of Africa'. This is a background report which serves the purposes of educating those who contributed to its production and now hopefully the Parliament and those within the community interested in the subject. It should, as the Chairman of the Committee, Senator Sibraa, said be read in conjunction with the reports of late last year on Australia's diplomatic representation in Africa and adjacent Indian Ocean island states and the provision of development assistance and humanitarian aid to the Horn of Africa. That latter report received a government response just a few weeks ago.

The Horn of Africa, for the purposes of our report, comprises Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti. It primarily concerns us because of its strategic significance and its aid implications. As I mentioned we have just received the Government response in relation to aid, and that I welcome. Countries of the Horn are amongst the poorest in the world and we therefore have obvious responsibility in relation to humanitarian aid, particularly food aid. The region suffers terrible droughts, as it did only last year, and also the disruption by continual regional wars and conflict with consequent dislocation and starvation. We have a record in relation to the provision of food aid which is reasonable and appreciated by the recipients. We have assisted in other humanitarian programs, such as basic health care. I have witnessed the work of Community Aid Abroad in Somalia in this regard and take this opportunity publicly to commend its contribution. It is most impressive. Whilst starvation and malnutrition continue we must be prepared to be generous in our support.

The more difficult question relates to developmental aid. Long term food security will require assistance in this regard by the industrialised world. Again it has been my privilege to witness Australia's contribution in agricultural developments and to resettlement projects in both Somalia and Ethiopia. The work has been worth while and I am pleased that our contribution has not depended upon the political colour of the government for the time being. The fact that Australian development aid has come without strings attached has, I might add, been recognised and appreciated by such governments. It has contributed to the good standing in which Australia is held in the region.

I look forward to the report of the Jackson Committee to Review the Australian Overseas Aid Program and trust that it will not result in a lessening of our support to the region. I know that the Government assesses a great responsibility towards our immediate region but we can assist those less fortunate further away and should continue to do so.

The report we have tabled today therefore particularly deals with the other major issue of the Horn-strategic concerns. Like Senator Sibraa, I have not time to detail the history of any part of the region. But let me say that Ethiopia is governed by a military government which has come about since the deposing of Emperor Haile Selassie in a violent and frightening way. Reports confirm that since 1977 approximately 30,000 have died from executions, murders or torture. The Government led by Lieutenant-Colonel Mengistu is socialist and supported by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and other Eastern Bloc countries. Some 15,000 Cuban and Soviet forces are present and assist the regime. A political party has not yet been formed, although as we state in the report there are continual promises that such is about to occur. Land and business have been nationalised although there is some movement towards compensation.

Ethiopia comprises a population of some 30 million of many different cultural and occupational backgrounds speaking over 100 languages. Significant divisions also exist between those who are Coptic Christians, Moslems and Anamists. The Government, comprising principally Coptic Christians from the central plateau, has faced continual nationalist and ethnic rebellion. The most well known include regional violence in the Tigray province, conflict with Oromo peasants, conflict with the Afars, the Eritrean conflict and the Somali conflict in the Ogaden. I want to mention both the latter two conflicts in a moment.

Somalia, formed by the merger of the former British Somaliland Protectorate and the United Nations trust territory and ex-Italian colony of Somalia, comprises principally one ethnic group-the Somalis. It has an elected people's assembly based on a one-party state. The assembly evolved from the Supreme Revolutionary Council formed from among Army and Police officers. Real authority in the country remains under the military and is headed by the President, Siyad Barre. The Government ideology is 'scientific socialism', which in Somali literally means wealth sharing based on knowledge. Extensive nationalisation has taken place. Again dissident forces exist, particularly in the form of the Somali Salvation Democratic Front and the Somali National Movement.

Djibouti, or the former French Somaliland, became independent in 1977. It is also a one-party state-in this case headed by President Gouled.

I said that I wanted to return briefly to each of the two major regional issues -Eritrea and the Ogaden. Independence for Eritrea is a particularly complex issue, and I commend those interested in the subject to chapter 4 of our report for what I believe is a reasonably concise summary of the history of that matter . The basis for nationhood is found in the colonial boundaries and the sense of nationhood that developed during colonial occupation. The United Nations appears to have washed its hands of the issue, and the Organisation for African Unity, as has been mentioned by Senator Sibraa, is also not prepared to consider the matter further because of the fear of disturbing established boundaries elsewhere.

What is not in dispute is that there has been almost continual violent conflict in the region with much consequent suffering. The current state of the struggle is difficult to assess with contradictory claims and a great deal of supporting evidence produced by both Ethiopia and the Eritrean People's Liberation Front.

The struggle for the Ogaden arises from the occupation of that region by ethnic Somalis and the fact that it has been split by the colonial powers. Recovery by Somalia from Ethiopia appeared to have been achieved in 1977 with the Ogaden war before the Soviet Union-as has also been mentioned-switched sides to Ethiopia which, with massive support, repelled the Somali invasion forces to the border. The struggle is now at something of a stalemate but with continuing large numbers of refugees resulting therefrom.

As stated in the report, the Horn of Africa countries do not attract the interest and involvement of major outside powers because of their inherent wealth or resources or because of their intrinsic importance but primarily because of their strategic location in relation to the great oil producing areas of the Middle East and the transport routes from those areas to the West. The presence of the Soviet Union and the East is now principally in Ethiopia, the presence of the United States of America and the West is now principally in Somalia with the French retaining a dominant interest in Djibouti. It can be argued that the Soviet Union has, however, provided some restraining influence in the Ogaden and certainly the United States of America has not been prepared to support Somalia to the extent that that country has desired. It is apparent therefore that the presence of each relates to the global dimensions of their power and not to localised aspirations.

The strategic importance for Australia is therefore incidental to its support of the Western Alliance. Australia has no primary role to play in such strategic concerns. It has good relations with all the Horn countries and should endeavour to retain such relations. It should not, as the Committee concluded, attempt to take sides in the Ogaden dispute. That would be simply counterproductive, but it should continue to urge peaceful settlement and contribute to the welfare of those who are suffering. It can constructively assist with resettlement programs , and should continue to do so. Similarly, with Eritrea, it is difficult to see how taking sides can contribute to a peaceful solution. Even if the UN were prepared to reconsider its position, it is hard to see how that would in any way improve the chances for peace.

In conclusion, consistent with Australia's policy of not basing aid on political considerations, we should recognise the importance of Ethiopia in Africa-its importance as the headquarters of the OAU and the Economic Commission for Africa and, I believe, move towards the establishment of a diplomatic post in Addis Ababa. The result would be a better balance of missions in Africa, better monitoring of our aid program in the region and better reporting of political, economic and strategic developments in the Horn. I commend the report to the Senate and seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

Committee on Australian Capital Territory