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Somalia Dilemma For Aid Agencies
The Islamic Courts have made it possible for humanitarian organizations to operate in parts of the country, but they risk conferring legitimacy on the faction. IRIN reports
Nairobi, Kenya, September 04, 2006 – The new rule and relative security in areas dominated by Somalia’s Union of Islamic Courts offers long-awaited humanitarian space. Recent missions by UN teams (in July and August) indicate that the Islamic courts expects the UN and other humanitarian agencies reopen their offices in Somalia and restart operations in the troubled Horn of Africa nation..
But the Islamic courts have also made it clear that any aid initiatives will have operate with its sole authority in Mogadishu, the capital, and all areas under its control.
Somalis are, by most indices of human development, severely impoverished. Home to 10 million people, the country has been without a functioning government since former president Mohammad Siyad Barre was ousted in 1991. There has been no national police force or army for 15 years.
Humanitarian workers are worried not only about whether their security can be guaranteed by the Islamic courts but also whether by interacting and co-operating with the de facto government of the Islamists, they are giving it a cloak of legitimacy.
International isolation of the Islamic Courts and the possible "muscular" backing of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) by allies such as Ethiopia, will no doubt prolong the fighting and subsequent suffering of the many displaced and impoverished Somalis, and risk closing the current humanitarian space again.
According to Michael Weinstein of the independent Power and Interest News Report, Somalia’s chaos will cede to relative order, "if the [UIC] performs the delicate balancing act between social experimentation and gaining broad popular support, and between fulfilling its Islamist programme and its need to have stable, if not friendly, relations with its neighbors and donor states."
If it fails, he predicts, Somalia will revert to its pre-existing, fragmented configuration of clan-based politics with a likely re-emergence of warlords, the closure of humanitarian efforts and continued suffering for the population.
The latest report by the International Crisis Group (Can the Somali Crisis be Contained? issued last month) offers an even more stark assessment: "The stand-off between the transitional government and its Ethiopian ally on the one hand, and the Islamic courts – which now control Mogadishu – on the other, threatens to escalate into a wider conflict that could consume much of the south, destabilize peaceful territories such as Somaliland and Puntland and possibly involve terrorist attacks in neighboring countries unless urgent measures are made by both sides and the international community to establish a government of national unity."
"Unless the crisis is contained, it threatens to draw in a widening array of state actors, foreign jihad Islamists and al-Qaeda. Eritrean assistance to the Islamic courts has made Somalia an increasingly likely proxy battlefield between long-feuding Eritrea and Ethiopia," says the International Crisis Group.
The transitional government, created in 2004, is only the executive arm of the Transitional Federal Institutions, but the term TFG is widely used to describe the new body that makes up Somalia’s new government.
But while enjoying continued widespread international support, the transitional government’s detractors view it with suspicion, and many Somalis regard it as a creature of international interests, emerging as it did from lengthy, internationally brokered process in Nairobi.
The transitional government is riven with disputes, culminating in a major disagreement between its President, Abdillahi Yusuf Ahmed, and Prime Minister, Ali Mohammad Ghedi.
In July 2006, more than 40 ministers resigned from the government, and on August 7, the president dissolved the Cabinet with the intention of announcing a new Cabinet of just 31 ministers. Serious political rifts within the government, clan-based differences and the risk of being overrun militarily by the Islamic courts, suggest the coming months may determine the government’s survival.
Mr. Ghedi has named a new Cabinet, largely members of the old one.
Somalis are not alone in questioning the legitimacy and effectiveness of the transitional government, which, after more than two years, has had negligible success in promoting reconciliation or curbing the power of Somali warlords and their militias.
Some ministers in the pre-June transitional government Cabinet were themselves former warlords. Nevertheless, the government is the only tangible result of a protracted, internationally brokered reconciliation, and as such continues to be supported by the UN, the US, the African Union and the EU.
The concerns raised by the International Crisis Group extend to the potential threat posed to the entire East African region if the transitional government fails to mesh the fractious political groupings into a government of national unity.
Despite the Islamic Courts sudden emergence to prominence in recent months, they have a longer history.
They emerged in the late 1990s primarily in Mogadishu, and became the de facto judiciary in the capital after the collapse of the Somali government in 1991. The courts were formed from the amalgamation of different clan-based courts over the past two years, dominated by the Hawiye.
The Islamists are a major force in Somalia and the courts have gained credibility among the population by setting up schools and hospitals, as well as resolving disputes and maintaining a tough stand on law and order.
In May this year, the UN Monitoring Commission in Somalia acknowledged that the courts had become a major force "with organizational strength, leadership and, most importantly, will."
After the courts started asserting themselves in 1999, they came into conflict with the secular warlords. The warlords later joined together to resist the Islamic court’s growing power by forming the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (ARPCT) in February 2006.
The ARPCT immediately clashed with the Islamic courts. Street battles became more violent, culminating in a major battle for Mogadishu which led to victory for the Islamic courts on June 5, including when it claimed control of the city.
A day later, it also laid claim to areas up to 100 km around Mogadishu, and since then has expanded its control over many regions of southern-central Somalia.
According to the a report titled Power and Interest News, "The proximate cause of the [Islamic court’s] power surge was revelations in early 2006 that the ARPCT had been receiving funds to arm itself from the US through the Central Intelligence Agency working with the Ethiopian secret services." Washington has neither confirmed nor denied supporting the ARPCT, but it has admitted to funding Somali factions assisting the capture of Islamic militants wanted by the US.
The impact of the Islamic courts victory has been the collapse of the warlords’ power and of their militias. Security improved markedly in Mogadishu. The re-opening of Mogadishu airport to international flights, after 11 years, offered concrete illustration of the changes the Islamic courts claims to want to bring to Somalia.
The immediate reaction of the Western world to the success of the Islamic courts was concern that it may emerge as the Taliban of Africa.
The chairman of the courts, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, as well as the leader of the policy-making body, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, have denied they intend to force any particular type of government on their people, or forge new links with al-Qaeda or international terrorism.
Aweys is considered by US officials to have terrorist links, and, according to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, on June 26, the US ruled out any diplomatic contact with him.
The US is widely perceived as supporting the transitional government. For some years, the Bush administration has been claiming that Somalia had become a haven for al-Qaeda and other radical Islamic groups.
Former US Ambassador to Kenya William Bellamy has stated publicly that it was "true that the US has encouraged a variety of groups in Somalia, in all corners of the country, and among all clans, to oppose [an] al-Qaeda presence and reject the Somali militants who shelter and protect the terrorists."
It may be too early to judge whether the Islamic courts will emerge as a hardline or moderate Islamic force in Somalia, but deionization of the courts and international isolation could allow hardliners – currently a minority within it – to dominate and force the courts to seek friends with precisely those states and groups that worry the US and its allies.
The EU, the African Union and the UN are publicly backing the transitional government as the only legitimate authority in Somalia. Having invested years of negotiations and peace-building aspirations in the process that led to the establishment of the government in 2004, few foreign states are prepared to see it as a flawed process, or one that can be rejected by Somalis themselves.
Analysis that the transitional government was unworkable was ignored by the international community as it clung to the hope that the government would eventually gain acceptance at home.
That hope appears to have been eclipsed by events as the Islamic courts consolidates power and popularity, and the government appears more impotent within Somalia, though it still receives diplomatic support from outside, as well as some arms supplies.
However, the risks associated with supporting the Islamic courts are also difficult to evaluate when the real intentions of the Islamic movement are not known, and its ability or capacity to establish peace, good governance and national unity untested. Most analysts agree there is no doubt it has gained a decisive advantage, but it is not yet clear whether it will be able to use it to secure a lasting order.
The Islamic courts taps into Somalia’s powerful nationalist sentiment, according to the International Crisis Group, "conflating Islamism with pan-Somalism, seasoned with anti-Ethiopian rhetoric."
Despite rejecting the transitional government, the Islamist movement has successfully portrayed itself as the main hope for state revival. And despite its diplomatic overtures to the West – the leadership frequently condemns the US – tapping into growing Somali resentment and anger.
The International Crisis Group adds, however, that if the Islamic courts reached agreement to form a government of national unity with the transitional government, the Islamists would need to revise such positions.
One seemingly insurmountable problem is the presence of foreign troops – rejected by the Islamic courts, requested by the transitional government, and a diplomatic problem for the UN because of the arms embargo in force against Somalia.
Any move by the UN Security Council to lift the embargo for the benefit of the transitional government, says the International Crisis Group, would "greatly risk expanding violence in the country."
UN Monitoring Group reports have noted a significant increase in arms entering the country.
The UN embargo has also stopped the transitional government from legally acquiring arms and supporting its security sector, as well as preventing the deployment of a peacekeeping force.
Early last month, foreign ministers from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), which had led the negotiations that created the transitional government in 2004, proposed sending an international force to Somalia, comprising troops from its members – Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda.
However, the ministers did not indicate a date for deployment and Igad members stressed that sending peacekeepers to the country might be premature. These mixed messages reflect the confusion about the reality on the ground as well as a possible political solution.
While the UN, the Arab League, the African Union and Igad agree in principle that the transitional federal institutions are the only legitimate governing option, in reality, the UIC, which is far more powerful, stands outside the governing structure.
It "is not party to any ceasefire, does not subscribe to the Transitional Federal Charter [a broad agreement that led to the establishment of the TFG] and has not endorsed the transitional government’s National Security and Stabilization Plan – upon which any foreign deployment would necessarily be based," says the International Crisis Group.
The result: no peacekeeping force is about to arrive in Somalia. The Islamic courts has the upper hand in terms of military control and popular support outside of the south-central town of Baidoa, where the transitional government is based. The warlords have been emasculated and the Islamic courts is set to control most of central and southern Somalia.
For as long as the Islamic courts opposes a foreign military presence, any such deployment will necessarily act as a protection force for the transitional government, rather than a peacekeeping force for southern Somalia.
Fears run high that the government crisis in Somalia, along with the risk of increased intervention by some of Somalia’s neighbors, could spark a conflict well beyond the country's borders.
There are concerns that the transitional government will either disintegrate over differences within its leadership, or over clan differences, or be crushed by the Islamists, possibly igniting a major regional conflict, according to analysts.
A strong US counter-terrorism partner, Ethiopia, is staunchly opposed to Islamism and has long supported the transitional government’s president, Abdillahi Yussuf.
According to the International Institute of Strategic Studies, "The US, then, could probably task Ethiopia to take down any terrorist enclaves that might arise in Somalia. Indeed, Ethiopia strengthened its troop presence on the Somali border after the Islamists took control of Mogadishu in June."
Attacking anti-US terrorist enclaves would be in keeping with the past; Ethiopia makes no secret of the fact that it destroyed several Islamist militant training camps inside south-western Somalia in the 1990s.
The International Crisis Group quotes a Somali peace activist as saying, "I’ve never picked up a weapon in my life, but by God I will be in the frontline if the Ethiopians invade my country," while the head of the Islamic courts security committee, Sheikh Yusuf Indha’adde, has reportedly threatened that a war would "be carried to Addis Ababa," a threat it is currently incapable of carrying out, except in terms of forging new alliances with Ethiopian rebel groups, or engaging – if it condones them – acts of urban terrorism.
However, there is a danger that tensions may increase in the large but no populous region where Somalia borders Ethiopia, involving groups such as the Oromo Liberation Front and the Ogaden National Liberation Front, which are already engaged in armed conflict with the Ethiopians. Both rebel groups have reportedly established contact with the Islamic courts.
For as long as the political gaps between the transitional government and Islamic courts appear unbridgeable, it remains imperative that every effort is made to prevent Somalia from a further slide into war. One problem is the narrow political base of the transitional government, suggests the International Crisis Group. A first step towards peace would be to broaden its base, bringing the Islamic courts and other powerful clans outside the courts into a government of national unity. At the same time, outside interests such as Ethiopia and Eritrea would have to withdraw political and military support.
A new national security plan should reflect the broader power base, while an international monitoring presence may still be necessary to maintain the integrity of the country’s borders.
In addition, the security plan should address counter-terrorism, and thereby assuage fears of other countries, in the region and internationally.
The East African – September 4 – 10, 2006