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Urgent: International Action on Somalia(Part II)
by Hezron H.N Nyawachi
2010-05-28 09:00:52
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The Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Somalia is working to save itself from collapse with news that the incumbent President Sheikh Shariff has struck a deal with the Prime Minister and House speaker they quit their offices for new leadership to be appointed to create a new balance that will save the government from collapse.

A year ago today there were hopeful signs that after the withdrawal of the widely disliked Ethiopian forces from Somalia and the resignation of President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, Somalia factions would rally around the new leader; President Sheikh Sharif and start the process of reconciliation.

Once in office as head of the TFG, the former ICU chief instituted sharia law across the country and enlarged parliament to 550 members to accommodate as many disparate interests as possible. Internal strife, proxy wars under divergent interests have meant that among other institutions, Parliament has not been able to transact business, what with parliamentarians residing away in Nairobi, Europe and North America citing insecurity.

The TFG is said to be preparing for months now on a punishing assault on the al-Shabab. The Associated Press has also carried reports in the recent past that the Pentagon may station drones- the pilot-free MQ-9 Reaper in the Horn of Africa for surveillance and targeting of al-Shabab leaders.

This would be simply ‘Americanising’ an already worse relationship-the TFG has been associated enough with the West, and this will surge the influence and power of Islamists hence weaken the TFG.

In the Ethiopian invasion after the routing of the Union of Islamic Courts and the subsequent two year occupation, the US was perceived to have been behind the Ethiopian march on Mogadishu. All the crimes committed against Somalis by the Ethiopian army and AMISOM forces such as rape, kidnappings, indiscriminate shelling against civilians that to this day have not been accounted for were easily blamed on the US by the suffering public and this anti-American sentiment alone built up the al-Shabab from grass to brass.
Brain dead politics

With Ethiopia’s occupation of Somalia, public opinion continued to turn against the US, TFG and later AMISOM who were all seen as ‘christian’ crusaders against Islam. While the Ethiopian forces routed ICU from Somalia, disagreements that ensued led to splinter of ICU and with that more radical elements within the ranks of ICU formed al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam while moderates escaped to Djibouti to form the Alliance for Re-liberation of Somalia.

The reign of Ethiopian forces in Mogadishu has been the single most important factor that has catapulted al-Shabab to fame and power. Ethiopia, a Christian country has had a long history of hostility with Somalia-largely Muslim- and they have fought several wars over territory.

The decision to invade was not well thought out and the crimes committed by Ethiopian soldiers on local population are yet to be accounted for. Even so, Ethiopia continues to defile Somalia territory at will and this brings in Eritrea. Add to that opposing allies aligning with the two on Somali soil and the scene becomes apocalyptic.

In Dec 23 2009 United Nations Security Council voted sanctions against Eritrea for her destabilising role in Horn of Africa. Libya voted against, China abstained. The resolution as well directed Eritrea to withdraw her forces from a contested border area with Djibouti, -a country where 1200 US marines and a contingent of French soldiers are stationed- in line with UNSC resolution 1862 of January 2009.

Continued Eritrea-Ethiopia enmity emanates from the rulings by International Boundary Commission that has not been adhered to by the parties. Hence in their zero-sum dash for regional influence, Ethiopia and Eritrea with their respective allies in Middle East have been outdoing each other in Somalia.
The TFG has not been weaker. Embraced by international community and buttressed by AMISOM, they are no less considered American stooges by the local population.

The handshake in Nairobi last August between Secretary of State and President Sheikh Sharif in Nairobi and President Obama’s sending ammunition to bolster TFG was the last in a series of good intentions but with damaging implications. Now TFG only controls Wadajir and Darkebley districts in Mogadishu out of the sixteen, the rest mostly under al-Shabab

Al-Shabab, for all its bluster, is not a trans-national challenge to us. They are hated by locals and a strategy can be concocted to isolate them the way ICU isolated the notorious warlords in June 2006 to defeat them and restored order for six months.

The chickens have come home to roost

Most international opinion agrees that the turning point in this conflict happened in 2006. The Union of Islamic Courts;  supported by locals and businessmen tired with warlords pillaging their businesses was formed by merger of several local courts that became prominent in 2000 to fill a vacuum after the 1991 ouster of Dictator Siad Barre..

Besides offering school and health services to local population, the local courts had been dealing with petty crimes but graduated to handling bigger disputes and felonies. In this powerful alliance with business, warlords who had dominated the conflict since 1991 were bitterly defeated in a ‘Somali revolution’ that never lasted.

Public opinion was against warlords, who were rightly said to be bolstered by the CIA to counter militias across the country. At the time, former Clinton administration official John Prendergast clarified to Reuters that there was clear evidence that the CIA pumped $150,000/= monthly to the warlords while Ethiopia is said to have supplied truckloads of ammunition to their loyalists.

With the ICU in Mogadishu, relative calm was restored and southern Somalia towns; (Somaliland and Puntland aside) Mogadishu, Kismayo, Baidoa, Bandradley, Beledwyene and all were under the firm control of the ICU;  a fact historians note was unachievable even in Siad Barre’s regime- even when he was handsomely supported by CIA- he could not muster control beyond Mogadishu.

In that brief lull, business performed, security improved. Schools and hospitals opened in Mogadishu. In a crusade of conspiracy by western media and intelligence, this turnaround was depicted as softening ground for al-Qaeda. This line was wrongly swallowed by governments and intelligence in the West.

All frenzy, no substance

On the Islamist takeover of Mogadishu, the 43rd President George W Bush said:"[Our] first concern, of course, would be to make sure that Somalia does not become an al-Qaida safe haven, doesn't become a place from which terrorists plot and plan.’

Analysts of Somalia have noted that the US frenzy on terrorism in the Horn is sometimes unfounded. When Osama Ben Laden used to live in Khartoum, he naively thought that lack of central government in Somalia would be fertile ground for him to set base.

Osama’s men were later humiliated in Somalia given several unfavourable factors among which the hold of moderate strand of Islam; Sufism among Somalis and a clan structure that refused sponsorship of their campaign.

Fears of Taliban-style establishment as early as ICU was installed were exaggerated. The ICU invited the international community to visit Somalia and see themselves where terrorists were in vain. The ICU communicated to the world they were not interested in holding power; but only creating conditions for self-determination of Somalis.

Military games will only lead to a war of attrition, have we considered instead, for instance, approaching Somali religious and clan-who wield sweeping influence among the population- elders for help?

In the wake of the defeat of the Soviet Union’s red army in Afghanistan in1979, a retired Afghan general wrote in 1996 thus: ‘a guerrilla war is not a war of technology against peasantry. Rather it is a contest of endurance and national will. The side with the greatest moral commitment will hold the ground. Tactics for conventional war will not work’.

Now policy makers in Washington would be worried at the suggestions that the US wants to ratchet up her dronehold in the region for the simple reason that this will be the final nail in the coffin of the TFG with the opposite effect of increased support for Hizbul al-Islam and al-Shabab.

This is code for more civilian casualties with reconciliation made even harder, and sadly, the hyenas fanning conflict in Somalia will vulture around the conflict to advance their selfish aims.
Policy so what?

In 1992 when the UN and US pulled out, it required fewer imagination and resources to fix the mess. Now the cancer has metastasised and worsened; as they say in medicine, at the beginning of a disease, it is difficult to diagnose but easy to cure. Now that the cancer is all too apparent, will we sit by as the ravaged Somalis wait for ‘Godot’?

Somalia is a problem not just for East Africa but for the world. If this war was in Europe or in North America, it would not go on without an active international press and international action.

With referendum elections due for Jan 2011 in South Sudan, a general election beckoning in Ethiopia and Kenya bracing for possible trials in ICC against a backdrop of a general election in 2012, the international community-if it exists at all- should pay more attention to the region to banish the signature threat of globalised fundamentalism in the region. ‘Had-I-known’ is a premise too little too late.

At the risk of sounding unfashionable, at the dying days of George Bush presidency, North Korea was cleared off the US list of State sponsors of terrorism. Much water has passed under the bridge, but clearance from the list of terrorists of say Sheikh Dahir Aweys and more amenable elements in al-Shabab will take wind out of sails of extremists and mobilise moderates to rally behind government. This will be ripe opportunity to engage al-Shabab’s more conciliable elements.

But a set of simple measures could nudge opinion in Somalia for conducive environment for reconciliation talks. By the same token, the AU and UN must insist on the international community to enforce the rulings by International Boundary Commission to end Ethiopia-Eritrea proxy war in Somalia. This would reduce the opposing frictions and clear ground of invisible forces fanning the conflict.

Help should be directed at sponsoring local projects with the help of religious and clan leaders perhaps fronted by the Arab League. If the security situation in the region worsens, our economic prospects will worsen, our northern corridor will become even more porous, more illegal weapons will find their way into our cities, investors will shun our markets and even tourism will suffer.

Hezron Nyawachi researches with the Institute for African Progress

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