7 Jan 2007
Last reports indicate that remnants of the Union of Islamic Courts (the rag tag government that was dislodged from Mogadishu recently) are holed up near the Kenyan border contemplating their future. Some have fled and taken refuge in Yemen. There are reports that among these Islamic warriors are foreign fighters that responded to the call by UIC to come and launch a jihad against Ethiopia.
The Somali Transitional government backed by Ethiopia currently occupies Mogadishu. Their hold on the capital is shaky because of entrenched clan politics and the hostility of ordinary Somalis towards the Ethiopians. Due to insecurity, many Somalis tend to carry weapons primarily for self-protection. An order from the Transitional government for citizens to disarm triggered a spate of street protests forcing the government to temporary suspend the order.
As the Islamic Courts fighters were being squeezed out of their last stronghold of Kismayo, Al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri, issued a statement urging them and their sympathizers to wage guerrilla war against what he called the “slaves” of the U.S.- a reference to Ethiopia. The UIC has long been suspected of having ties with Al Qaeda and also possibly shielding suspects of the attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Somalia is 99% Muslim and has been in a state of war and anarchy for about fifteen years. A poor country like Somalia awash with warlords and with an overwhelming illiterate population is a fertile ground to breed violence.
The Transitional Government leaders are quite conscious of the role that political Islam has to play in today’s Somalia. The respect for Islamic law is enshrined in their working document. The most challenging thing is how to strike a balance between an Islamic legal system and a political system that will not be hijacked by Muslim extremists. Geographically, Somalia is situated on the horn of Africa and is separated from the volatile Arabian peninsular by a narrow stretch of water. Ethiopia sits between Somalia and Sudan- a country whose government has been in the news recently for waging a genocidal war against its own citizens. The same Sudanese government has been thwarting efforts by the U.N. to install a peacekeeping force in the country. In the conflict of Sudan al-Zawahiri also issued a statement opposing the UN peacekeeping force. Somalia’s immediate neighbors (Kenya and Ethiopia) have substantial number of Muslims and ethnic Somalis within their territories. These countries are conscious of the destabilizing effect on their territories should any Taliban style government be allowed to see the light of the day in Somalia.
Ethiopia has taken the first step to help dislodge the Islamic militants from power in Mogadishu, but for strategic reasons, she cannot afford to keep her army in Somalia for a prolonged period. The Transitional government, on her own, will certainly not be able to control the country and provide the security that the Somalis desperately need. The stabilization of Somalia depends on the immediate deployment of a multinational peacekeeping force to replace the Ethiopians and the formation of an all-inclusive government that accommodates even the fleeing Islamists. Somalia has proven before that she can frustrate plans by outsiders to instill some sanity into their body politic.
The only consoling thing is that almost all stakeholders in the Somali crisis agree that at least some elements from the UIC must be included in any future arrangement in Somalia. The U.S, Yemen and the Transitional government have all publicly expressed this view. They all understand that the alternative will be an open-ended guerrilla war (like is the case with Iraq) that may eventually suck in neighboring states with dire consequences.
Njei Moses Timah