Global Policy Forum

Somalia: What Peace Are They Keeping?

April 6, 2007

There seems to be a general belief that all will be well if the international community funds the African Union peacekeeping operation Somalia. Nothing can be further from the truth. One has only to recall the US-led peacekeeping fiasco in 1993, which forced the US Marines to beat a hasty retreat.

That the government of President Abdullahi Yusuf is in trouble is not news. What is new is the revived interest by the international community (read America's geopolitical interests) in the fortunes of the long suffering country. When the Transitional Federal Government was elected and installed in Nairobi, there was hope at last that the long-running civil war would finally come to an end. But that was not to be. President Abdullahi dilly-dallied in Nairobi and when an exasperated President Kibaki- whose government was footing the TFG's bills - finally persuaded him to move to Somalia, Abdullahi, to everybody's consternation moved to Baidoa, a small town in central Somalia, rather than to Mogadishu, the capital city. The reason for this seemingly strange move was that President Abdullahi had and still has plenty of enemies in the capital. His presidential palace, Villa Somalia, for instance is regularly shelled by insurgents almost on a nightly basis. It is indeed a wonder that the President still manages to live there at all though he is well guarded by Ethiopian forces. There are also daily skirmishes between the Ethiopian forces (Abdullah has hardly any army) and the insurgents. So why do some Somalis detest a government they took part in crafting?

The answer lies partly in the complex nature of Somalia's clan based politics and the role the international community plays in Somali affairs. Somalia was colonised by two different powers, the British in the north, in what was known as British Somaliland, and the Italians in the south, or what was called Italian Somaliland. The two halves united at independence to form the Republic of Somalia. Northern Somalia or Somaliland is relatively peaceful and has its own government based in Hargeisa, though it is not internationally recognised. The problem is with southern Somalia where the Capital, Mogadishu, is situated. What fuels the war in the south is the desire to control the capital, because whoever controls it, controls the rest of Somalia. Although the TFG was seemingly democratically elected by all the Somali clans, the participants were mainly warlords and their sidekicks who had little support among the general populace. It is this lack of popular acceptance that led to President Abdullahi's reluctance to move to Mogadishu. Also the clan that resides in Mogadishu, the Hawiye, does not support the President who comes from the larger Darod clan.

The presidency has always been under the Darod and the Hawiye naturally feel that it is their turn to occupy it. Under these circumstances, the TFG has found it virtually impossible to establish its authority over the country . The emergence of the Union of Islamic Courts was the one real chance the Somalis had of establishing a lasting peace. Initially these courts emerged to combat insecurity in the capital and when they proved successful, other clans in different parts of the country set up similar courts, which later coalesced into a national system of justice and administration. This shifted the dynamics of Somali politics for the first time in history from being clan based by providing a unifying ideology in Islam rather than in clan. Unfortunately though, the Islamic courts were viewed with suspicion by the US, which suspected them of being supported by terrorist organisations. Also, the courts' rhetoric for a Greater Somalia in as far as the Ogaden Province is concerned didn't go down well with the Ethiopians. President Abdullahi was therefore only too glad to avail himself of the support offered to his weak government by the Ethiopians and Americans.

This, however, has backfired beacuse the Somali people have always regarded Ethiopians as their enemies from time immemorial. They are not particularly fond of the Americans either. This led to the resignation of two thirds of the cabinet in protest and to the firing of the popular speaker of the Transition parliament, thus worsening the already deep divisions. While the move to replace the Ethiopian forces with African peacekeepers makes political sense, it must be borne in mind that most Somalis view such a move as aimed at bolstering the detested Transitional Federal Government. If the reception that was accorded the first batch of Ugandan peacekeeping troops is anything to go by (they were welcomed with heavy mortar fire at the airport) then the International community should well rethink their strategy on Somalia.

More Information on the Security Council
More Information on Somalia
More Information on US Military Expansion and Intervention


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