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Back to Mogadishu: Somalia Redux PDF Print E-mail
Peace News
Sunday, 26 March 2006 11:43
Back to Mogadishu: Somalia Redux

AG - Tom Porteous - An unstable and poverty-stricken Muslim nation. A power struggle between warlords backed by the West and ideologically driven Islamists. If this sounds familiar, it is. But it is not Afghanistan. It is Somalia, in the Horn of Africa. And hardly anyone is talking about it. They should be.


Somalia's New Conflict

Tom Porteous

Agence Global
March 26, 2006

The "War on Terror" provides cover for Somali factions to attack and condemn the country's political Islamists. But the latter provide what little security and stability there is in the blighted country, and they grow in power.

Copyright ? 2006 Tom Porteous - Agence Global
[republished at PEJ News with permission of AG]

The opening of this new and largely hidden front in the war on terror will set back even further Somalia's chances of peaceful reconciliation and reconstruction. It will make Somalia's Islamist movement more influential and perhaps more extremist. And it will make Africa's poorest nation more, not less, vulnerable to exploitation by local and foreign terrorists.

Already this new war in Somalia has claimed scores of lives after battles erupted in the capital Mogadishu this month between supporters of the powerful Islamic Courts, who control much of the city, and a coalition of warlords who represent a so-called transitional federal government formed with Western backing over a year ago in Nairobi.

The latest fighting is the worst in Mogadishu since that which followed the withdrawal of UN peace troops more than a decade ago. It has its roots in the West's global war on terrorism and the serial failure of regional and international players to design solutions for Somalia's profound problems -- a failure to take into account the reality of Somali politics or acknowledge the role of outsiders in nurturing Somalia's chronic crisis.

More than fifteen years after the collapse of Somalia's last government, political Islam has made significant inroads in Somalia. This is hardly surprising. Since the departure of UN peacekeeping troops after the failed U.S. intervention, political Islamic groups and their business allies have been in the forefront of providing what little Somalis have in the way of health, education, security and justice.

In return they have managed to usurp significant power from the warlords and faction leaders who have squabbled violently for power since the late 1980s. In the past decade, the Islamic Courts and their militias have won control of much of Mogadishu and other towns. In those areas they control they have provided a measure of security and stability in a country struggling to recover from years of turmoil, with little outside help. Thus, the popularity of the Islamists in a country where people usually support their clan leaders.

Somalia's Islamists were always going to face tough opposition from regional and international powers. In the late 1990s, Ethiopia, Somalia's large neighbour to the North, justified a string of military incursions into Somalia as efforts to stem the growing power of Somali Islamic groups, which it accused of mounting terrorist attacks and supporting ethnic Somali rebels inside Ethiopia.

In 2001, Ethiopia also supported a coalition of warlords to undermine a "transitional national government" which had been formed the year before in neighbouring Djibouti on the grounds that it was controlled by Islamists. The Ethiopian government's Western backers tacitly supported these actions.

Since 9/11 the Islamists in Somalia have predictably come under even greater pressure. The United States has conducted anti-terrorist raids on Somalia from its new counter-terrorism base in Djibouti, but has failed to find many proven terrorists. More often it has found itself drawn into local rivalries.

Meanwhile, the European Union and Kenya have funded and brokered a new peace process -- the fourteenth effort to form a national government since 1990 -- trumpeted as the most inclusive reconciliation effort in Somalia so far. This process includes all the usual suspects: the Somali warlords and faction leaders. But it fails to include the Islamists in spite of (or perhaps because of) their growing power.

This process led to the formation of a fractious interim government which for months last year was so paralysed and ineffective it was unable to relocate from Nairobi to Somalia. When it did move, it chose to make its headquarters some 60 miles north of Mogadishu because the capital was thought to be too dangerous.

The president of this so called government, Abdullahi Yousef, is an implacable enemy of the Islamists, who "cleansed" his own fiefdom in north eastern Somalia of alleged Islamist sympathisers in a violent Ethiopian-backed campaign in 2002. Mogadishu based representatives of the government are currently fighting the Islamists in the capital and have formed themselves into a coalition they call the "Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism".

All the ingredients are therefore now in place for a violent escalation in Somalia which will serve no one's interests except those of the warlords and profiteers who have long made the most of Somalia's instability, and the few Arab and African terrorists who are alleged to have used Somalia as a transit point and safe haven for operations in East Africa and the Red Sea area.

Somalia's Islamist movement is now well entrenched. It may even represent the best chance Somalis have to overcome the worst excesses of the fractious clan politics of recent years and to form a national unity government. Certainly without the cooperation of the Islamists there can be no meaningful reconciliation in Somalia.

By accepting the self serving and false premise of the Somali warlords that the Islamists are hand in glove with al-Qaeda, the West is condemning Somalia to more years of instability and chaos in which extremism, warlordism and terrorism will thrive.

Somalia's current predicament provides yet more compelling evidence that if the West is to win its war on terrorism it needs to engage with Islamists, not seek to eliminate them.

Tom Porteous is a freelance writer and analyst who was formerly with BBC and the British Foreign Office.

Copyright ? 2006 Tom Porteous
Released: 27 March 2006
Word Count: 907 words
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Agence Global is the exclusive syndication agency for The Nation and The American Prospect, as well as expert commentary by William Beeman, Richard Bulliet, Juan Cole, Mark Hertsgaard, Rami G. Khouri, Tom Porteous, Patrick Seale and Immanuel Wallerstein.

Last Updated on Sunday, 26 March 2006 11:43

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