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Ethiopia: National Defence Forces’ 21-years journey

Following the fall of the Derg regime on May 28, 1991 through the arduous struggle, Ethiopians shifted their full attention to install peace, democracy and development. As a result, the nation enormously reduced its military expenditure for the sake of development and to get rid of poverty. This decision was made with the conviction that the foremost priority of the nation is development. It is indeed reasonable to reduce the military expenditure effectively utilizing the country’s resources prioritizing growth and development.

However, the unanticipated invasion of the country by the trouble making Eritrean regime necessitated the need for a strong military. Besides, the geopolitical reality of the Horn of African requires the presence of a strong military force to ensure peace, stability and the continuity of the ongoing development. Hence, a strong National Defence Force is required to dismantle the activities of anti-peace and anti-development forces and incapacitate their forces within the shortest time possible whenever its mandatory is to realize the desired sustainable development. The Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) has irreplaceable role in effectuating the peace and development agenda of the nation and safeguarding its sovereignty and the Constitution. The Defence Force has been successfully accomplishing its missions of defending the nation from anti-peace elements. Over the last 21 years, the Defence Force has undertaken and discharged several missions including safeguarding the country’s sovereignty, countering insurgency campaigns and the war on terror as well as taking part in various UN peacekeeping operations’ in various African countries.

Building the capacity of the National Defence Force emanates from the country’s firm desire for peace and development. Bearing this in mind, the government has been striving to boost the capacity of the Defence Force without impeding the development agenda of the nation. Ethiopian armed forces rely on voluntary military service of people above 18 years of age. The country has several defence industrial organizations that produce and overhaul different weapons systems. The Ministry of Defence which oversees the ground forces, air force, as well as the defense industry has been undertaking multifaceted capacity building programmes over the last few years in order to transform the Defence Force into a new and advanced force. The Ministry has also been establishing higher military learning institutions over the last few years in order to boost the capacity of the army. The Defence Force has been upgrading its quality and capacity to successfully accomplish its constitutional mandates.

In an interview held in connection to May 28 celebration, Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) Chief of Staff, General Samora Yenus told EPA reporters that in order for the Defence Force to successfully accomplish its mandates, its academic, military, scientific and democratic capacities and values should be improved and hence education plays a key role. He says as a result, members of the Defence Force continue their academic education where they are deployed. On the other hand, he says, various colleges and training institutions have also been established and the Defence Force has now 14 military colleges.

According to the General, various educational and training programmes are being carried out in various departments of ENDF and multifaceted efforts have been undertaken to equip members with academic, technical and military skills for the purpose of building a National Defence Force which is able to understand and effectively use modern military technologies. He said the trainings also aim at furnishing ENDF with scientific knowledge to cope with the development of the military technologies and improving its awareness on peace and stability issues to enhance its missions. To this effect, educational and military trainings have been conducted in the military and fruitful results have been registered, the General noted.

Gen. Samora said previously, 80 per cent of the military had lower primary education while only 1 to 2 per cent attained higher education. According to him, this reality has changed now that more than 80 per cent of the military has now reached higher secondary level of education. The higher education enrollment of the military has also been improved significantly while thousands in the military have diploma, BA and MA degrees.

These days the Defence Force incorporated a defence industry sector in order to continuously build its capacity. The Ethiopian Defence Industry sector, an office under the Ministry of Defence, is responsible for administering several defense industries. Its objective is to provide for and support the Ethiopian National Defence Force. General Samora noted that the engineering college has been playing two key roles – in providing the Defence Force with technical support on one hand and the country’s metal industry on the other.

Besides discharging responsibilities internally, ENDF has conducted important undertakings at regional and at continental levels involving in UN peacekeeping missions. Generally, to accomplish its all round responsibilities, the ENDF received training in peacekeeping operations, professional military education, military training management, counter-terrorism operations, military medicine, and other military training with the help of the Ministry of Defence and other bodies.

During the last 21 years, the Ethiopian Defence Force has exceptionally played crucial role in maintaining peace and stability in the country and the Horn of Africa as well as in the continent. It would be a surprise for some who assumed Ethiopia was on the verge of disintegration in 1990’s. Nevertheless, the country has become more united, stronger and role model for federalism, and active participant in peacekeeping missions in various parts of African where national integrity seemed at stake. Since 1991, Ethiopian troops have played crucial role in United Nations’ and African Union’s peacekeeping missions. The Defence Force, as trustworthy peacekeeping force, has made great contribution through its several missions in maintaining peace in different African countries including in Rwanda, Liberia, Burundi, Sudan/Darfur, Abiye etc.

The Chief of Staff said the main reasons behind the success of the ENDF in peacekeeping operations are its strong popular base and right mission orientation. ENDF has gained international recognition in its peacekeeping missions. He said in areas where the Defence Force deployed, it has undertaken its peacekeeping missions with the principle of neutrality. “The character of ENDF help it to carry out its missions with the principle of neutrality as it is composed of all the peoples of Ethiopia. Hence, the Defence Force also serves all the peoples of Ethiopia equally and this is what has been reflected in its peacekeeping missions.” Ethiopia is listed the tenth highest country in terms of military and police contributions to UN peacekeeping operations, according to the UN annual review report. The Defence Force has proud history concerning peacekeeping around the world. It provides necessary support for the implementation of ceasefire agreements and peace process. It also protects United Nations staff, facilities and civilians, support humanitarian and human rights activities as well as assist in national security reform. Currently, Ethiopia has a peacekeeping contingent serving in Darfur with the joint African Union and United Nations Hybrid Operation as well as shouldering the sole peacekeeping missions in Abiye. Besides, the Defence Force also provides help to peacekeeping operations in combination with other African countries. For instance, it provides necessary supports to AMISOM troops in Somalia, with a view to enhance partners capacity, promote regional stability, dissuade conflict, and protect coalition interests. Ethiopia has also sent troops to Somalia to help the UN and AU backed transitional government to drive Al-Shebaab out of Mogadishu.

Gen. Samora said Ethiopia has welcome all requests for peacekeeping missions in Africa. “Following the requests of the people and transitional government of Somalia, African Union and IGAD, Ethiopian troops has been deployed in Somalia to help peace and stability efforts and provide support for AMISOM. In this regard, the operation has been successful as it managed to annihilate Al Shebaab form strategic areas of Somalia including big cities. This has been accomplished together with the forces of the transitional government.”

Ethiopia dispatched peacekeeping troops to various African countries. And had been honoured many times over with medals for outstanding peacekeeping operation. Off late, Ethiopia’s peacekeeper troops in Sudan received UN Medals in recognition to its outstanding services bringing relative peace and stability in western Darfur. Similarly, in November 2007, nearly 1,800 Ethiopian troops serving with the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) were presented with UN Peacekeeping Medals for their "invaluable contribution to the peace process." Up to three Ethiopian battalions used to constitute Sector 4 of the UN Mission, covering the southern part of the country. Anywhere deployed, Ethiopian peacekeeping forces have been carrying out their duties with strong military discipline. These peacekeeping operations are not only vital to the countries where the Ethiopian army deployed but also equally important to ensure peace and stability in the African continent as a whole.

With friendly foreign policy and strong national defence, Ethiopia’s effort to bring peaceful solution to conflicts in the Horn of Africa, has been commendable and continue to be source of hope for the region. According to Chief of Staff, Ethiopia’s development needs both at home and abroad require peace and stability and the ENDF has been carrying out various activities to ensure these requirements. He further noted Ethiopia’s foreign policy promotes peace and cooperation with neighbouring countries.

* Originally published on the Ethiopian-Herald, on May 26, titled ‘National Defence Force 21-year journey, authored by Abiy Hailu.

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