Somalia: a sadly familiar scenario

Hey, does any of this story-line sound familiar? Some years ago, the US military was engaged in a conflict in Country X that US leaders described as being of great “geopolitical” significance… Then, inexplicably, the US shrugged off its interest and concern for X. (And since, during the 1990s, the US was widely judged by other governments to be the global hegemon, no other world power showed much concern for Country X, either.)
For many years, the various communities of Country X fell into ever greater political chaos, warlordism, impoverishment, social disorder, and de-development…
Then one day, along comes what seems like a fairly dedicated Islamist movement. It wins popular support by promising to rescue people from the ills of the warlordism that besets them. Propelled by this popular support, it seizes power in the capital…
Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1996– or Mogadishu, Somalia, today?
I watched some intriguing footage from Mogadishu on the BBC t.v. news tonight. It showed what looked like a mass rally being held by the the Islamist movement, which is called the Union of Islamic Courts, which looked very large indeed.
That piece I linked to from the BBC website says that officials with the UIC say that talks are taking place with fighters still loyal to the warlords.
Somalia’s shell of a national government has its hesadquarters not in the capital but in Baidoa, some 200 miles (I think) to the south. The BBC reports– presumably from Baidoa– that Interim Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Ghedi says his government wants to begin dialogue with the UIC. It adds:

    Earlier, Mr Ghedi sacked four powerful Mogadishu-based warlords who had been serving as ministers.
    Nine of the 11 Mogadishu-based warlords have now left the city, reports the BBC’s Mohammed Olad Hassan.
    The four sacked ministers include Security Minister Mohammed Qanyare Afrah and Trade Minister Muse Sudi Yalahow who over the weekend lost control of their Mogadishu strongholds.
    Most of Mr Qanyare Afrah’s fighters have joined the Islamic militia, but Mr Sudi Yalahow and his commanders remain in the capital and are locked in talks over their next move.
    This year’s clashes in the capital have been the most serious for more than a decade, with some 330 people killed and about 1,500 injured in the past month.
    In a statement read over local radio stations, the Union of Islamic Courts leader Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed said the control of Mogadishu by warlords was over and he urged residents to accept the new leadership.
    “The Union of Islamic Courts are not interested in a continuation of hostilities and will fully implement peace and security after the change has been made by the victory of the people with the support of Allah,” he said.
    “This is a new era for Mogadishu,” he told AFP news agency, adding that the Islamic Courts were ready for dialogue.
    Local people in Mogadishu gave a cautious welcome to the news.
    “They said they would work with residents to improve security in the capital,” city resident Ali Abdikadir told Reuters news agency.
    “This is good news for us because the warlords were always engaged in battles. We are looking forward to a life without fighting.”
    But some seemed unconvinced that the weeks of bloodshed were really over.
    “It’s good to see conflict resolved but I don’t want to celebrate a temporary victory,” housewife Hawa Ismail Qorey told AFP. “Mogadishu is witnessing political history but it may be good or it may be bad.”
    And others expressed concern about what the future might hold with Islamists who want to introduce Sharia law in control.
    “What I am afraid of is if they interfere with the education system and bring religion by force to the schools,” Asha Idris, a mother of five, told AFP…
    The violence began earlier this year when warlords who had divided Mogadishu into fiefdoms united to form the Anti-Terrorism Alliance to tackle the Islamic Courts, who they accused of sheltering foreign al-Qaeda militants.
    The Islamic Courts deny this. They were originally set up in Mogadishu as a grassroots movement by businessmen to establish some law and order in a city without any judicial system.
    The head of the BBC’s Somali service described the rise of the Islamic Courts as a popular uprising.
    The Islamic Courts have long said the warlords in the Anti-Terror Alliance were being backed by the US.
    Washington merely says it will support those trying to stop people it considers terrorists setting up in Somalia but stresses its commitment to the country’s transitional government, which functions from Baidoa, 250km (155 miles) north-west of the capital.
    President Abdullahi Yusuf had urged the US to channel its campaign against Somalia’s Islamists through his government, rather than the warlords.

Reuters, meanwhile, is reporting from Washington that:

    Warlords were getting cash payments of more than $100,000 a month from the
    Central Intelligence Agency, according to Somalia expert John Prendergast of the think-tank International Crisis Group. He said he learned about the support during meetings with members of the warlords’ alliance.

Well, now we need to see what the international community (with or without the US) is prepared to do, to help Somalia’s seven million people get out of this long-festering mess…
Meanwhile, both Afghanistan and Iraq now show many signs of being threatened by an imminent collapse (or for Afghanistan, relapse) into outright warlordism. The militarism and arrogant hegemonism that have characterized the United States’ engagement with the world over recent decades have a lot to answer for.
US militarism has indeed been a powerful force for social collapse and human suffering in many countries around the world. At this point, the US military machine needs to be trimmed radically– back to the rock-bottom level that is needed for absolutely immediate national defense. US citizens need to turn our back quite decisively on all these feverish dreams of world domination that have gripped the Bush administration (and before it, the Clinton administration), and find out how to re-engage with the other peoples of the world as the human equals that we all are…
Then, think how many freed-up national resources we would have that we could pour into starting to repair some of the harm we have caused around the world, and to build up productive and self-confident communities everywhere.
Meantime, though, let’s wish the very best for all the people of Somalia.

5 thoughts on “Somalia: a sadly familiar scenario”

  1. Helena,
    Although US interested in the region as it’s playing major part of ” Vast U.S. military forces also pass through the Suez Canal and other vital waterways such as the Bab Al Mandeb and the Strait of Gibraltar. The United States has three major naval fleets between East and South Asia and the Middle East, including the Sixth Fleet, which roams the Mediterranean Sea. Lack of control over these water pathways would significantly choke U.S. ability to maneuver, particularly in the event of a rapid forward strike. ”
    I think you forgot there is another power having interest in that region for different views and goals.
    Israelis had tried many years to influential that region specially for their great location as such in case represent danger for Israelis water pass ways through the strategic strait of Bab Al Mandeb their. For them it’s a strategic advantage for Israel that in some stage the alliance with Ethiopia had been designed to prevent any threatening of blockage of that strait waterway.
    So it’s not just US also its Israeli importunacy to be there. Unless US acting on behalf of Israel!
    As most of those tiny African coastal countries they had many troubled time and still not settled it might be more troubled in future for same reasons and goals.
    This link gives some good background for the area
    Somaliland, a forgotten country

  2. Sorry to be out of topic, but I’ve just read that the Pentagon and White House are planning to definitively break away from the basic rules of the Geneva Conventions, especially with its common article 3, the article banning torture and inhumane treatments of detainees. Article 3 is common to all the four Geneva conventions defined in 1949 and which the US signed.
    I have no words to tell my outrage at such a move. This behaviour is on par with that of the worst dictatures and totalitarian regimes, but coming after the nomination of Gonzalez, it won’t be a surprise to anyone.
    Naturally the hypocrites who have banned all references to the Geneva conventions from the new interrogation manual they are preparing says that they will still apply human treatments tot he detainees. But if they will, then why do they need to suppress the paragraph concerning the obligations of the interrogator to apply the Geneva Conventions ?
    Please impeach Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and all the war criminal plaguing the US and the rest of the world; they are no better than the fascism they were combatting in Europe during WWII.

  3. [Some years ago, the US military was engaged in a conflict in Country X that US leaders described as being of great “geopolitical” significance… Then, inexplicably, the US shrugged off its interest and concern for X.]
    I just want to reiterate: “shrugging off its interest and concern” is euphemism for being kicked out. The end goal of local guerillas is to make foreigners leave with whatever justification.

  4. A military trimmed down to immediate national defence would not have been able to help Somalia in 1990’s. The U.S. cleared out under widespread criticism for conducting an imperialist policy. If the US had not shrugged off its concern it would’ve still gotten that imperialist condemnation.
    I don’t want to draw parallels between the Union of Islamic Courts and the Taliban just yet. The UIC has been accused of harboring terrorists but I haven’t seen any irrefutable evidence of such. I also have not seen any evidence that the UIC has an extemist ideology comparable to the Taliban’s inhuman policies. Any rhetoric equating the UIC and the Taliban risks playing into the Bush administration’s policies of violent intervention. Let’s see how the UIC behaves first.
    Even if the UIC really was the new Taliban the Bush policy of clandestinely backing warlords was a big mistake. These warlords were thoroughly discredited in the eyes of Somalis. All the US support led to was a month of bloodshed. Any US concern about UIC terrorist ties should’ve been expressed through the interim government in Baldoa. The US and world community should’ve worked to strengthen President Yusuf’s government, who could’ve then engaged with the UIC diplomatically to determine if the UIC is really a Taliban or not.
    I hope to see congressional investigations of who supported the warlords. These supporters need to be punished for associating with the instigators of the Black Hawk Down incident.

  5. Thanks, all, for helping to clarify the issues here. They are v. complex and needs much more thinking thru. I need to go back to a couple of books I have about what happened in Somalia in 1993 (NOT ‘Black Hawk Down’). It was actually quite a turning point for the Clinton administration’s thinking on overseas military interventions. Prior to BHD the Clintonites were very gung-ho about such interventions. Afterwards– including during the Rwandan genocide– they were extremely conservative about them.
    The question of how you protect vulnerable populations during a genocide is a v. tough one indeed and probably does require a very capable armed international gendarmerie. However, that was the issue in rwanda. It wasn’t the issue of Somalia, which was much more complicated, even Hobbesianly so. One wrong step the Clintonites took, I remember, was to putAdm. Jonathan Howe, a very militaristic guy, in charge of handling it, in place of the much more diplomacy-focused Bob Oakley (a friend), who’d been handling it for Bush the Elder. Only after Howe had succeeded in causing big escalations inside Somalia did Clinton pull Bob back in to do some proper diplomacy once again…

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