The other night after we watched the evening news my wife said, "Would you explain to me what's going on in the Horn of Africa?" It was a very reasonable question and it showed she trusted me.
"The Marxist junta of Ethiopia," I said, "is fighting the Marxist junta in Somalia over Ogaden Desert which Somali rebels have invaded."
"I thought we were friends of Ethiopia," my wife said.
"We were before Haile Selassie was overthrown. For a long while we were against the Somalis because they had allowed the Soviets to use their ports in the Indian Ocean. But then the Somalis kicked the Russians out, and we made a promise to arm them in their fight with Ethiopia. When the Soviets were booted out of Somalia they decided to help the Ethiopians kick the Somalis out of the Ogaden desert."
"How did they do it?" she wanted to know.
"By bringing in the Cubans to fight with the Ethiopians against the Somalis. They also gave the Ethiopians $1 billion in arms. In that way the Soviets hope to shift the balance of power in East Africa."
Her eyes started to glaze.
"Western allies in the area, particularly Iran and Saudi Arabia, are worried that if Ethiopia becomes strong, it will not only drive the Somalis out of the desert but will invade Somalia itself. But the United States has been assured by the Soviets that they won't permit this to happen. At the same time, we don't want to give Somalia arms because we're afraid it will escalate the war."
My wife started dozing off and I had to poke her gently in the ribs.
"What really complicates the situation is that Israel is also helping Ethiopia, even if it means they have to be on the side of the Soviets."
"What has Israel got aginst Somalia?"
"They don't have anything against Somalia except that it effects their shipping into the Red Sea which they're afraid could become an 'Arab lake' since Somalia is being supported by the majority of Moslem countries, except for South Yemen."
"What are the Cubans doing in Ethiopia?"
"They're the Hessians of the Horn of Africa. The Soviets don't want to do the fighting because that might get us involved on the Somalian side. So they let the Cubans do it instead. Since the Cuban pilots are tied up flying MIG fighter planes in Africa, the Soviet pilots are flying MIG fighters in Cuba."
She was starting to close her eyes again. "Let's go to bed," she said.
"Wait," I said. "You have to get the whole picture. Not only are the Ethiopians fighting the Somalis, but they are also fighting the Eritreans, who want their independence from Addis Ababa. You see Eritrea was an Italian colony until Ethiopia took it over after World War II.
"The Arabs are supporting Eritrea which is predominantly Moslem. Kenya, on the other hand, is supporting Ethiopia even though they hate the pro-Moscow regime that is now in power."
"Could we talk about this in the morning?" she wanted to know.
"It's not that simple," I told her. "The Soviets are not investing in Africa because of the climate. They hope to get airfields in Ethiopia for their Backfire bomber, which would be a threat to Western oil lifelines."
"What can we do about it?" my wife asked.
"Sit tight until Andy Young settles the problems of Rhodesia."
"Can I go to bed now?"
"Yes," I said. "I'll sit up and watch the 11 o'clock news and wake you up in case there is any change in the situation."