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Somalia: Up to 12 Countries Could Be Sucked Into Conflict
Nairobi , October 23, 2006 – As another regional war in Somalia becomes ever more imminent, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda and, to some extent, Tanzania are among some 12 countries playing active roles in the conflict, says a new report prepared for the US State Department.
The report - Somalia: Regional Involvement and Implications for US Policy - which The EastAfrican has obtained, says that unlike Ethiopia and Kenya - who have some justification for getting involved - Uganda and Eritrea's interest in the conflict has more to do with regional adventurism and the desire to achieve goals extraneous to the conflict.
Tanzania 's role in the conflict is somewhat interesting and indirect in that the country was drawn into participating when the US invited it to join the Contact Group on Somalia.
Besides, Dar es Salaam has in the past expressed a desire to accommodate Somali Bantus who are said to have close cultural and linguistic affinities with the Zigua people of northern Tanzania.
The report was prepared by a former US Ambassador to Ethiopia, Prof David Shinn.
It says that, since the defeat of the warlords and the rise of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), there has been "a significant increase" in outside engagement and accuses some of the countries of "meddling."
It lists the 12 countries that it says are playing direct and indirect roles in the conflict and bankrolling either the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) or the Islamic Courts. The other countries involved are Djibouti, Sudan, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Iran and the US.
The participants' individual interest in the conflict differ. For example, Ethiopia has a military presence in the country, but others have sent in arms and/or cash to either the Transitional Government or the Islamic Courts.
Other countries like Uganda - which is not a Muslim country and had earlier shown little interest in the conflict - have now formally pledged troops for a proposed peacekeeping effort.
The nature of the participation by countries such as Egypt and Libya is not clear, although they have been accused by TFG's Prime Minister Mohammed Gedi of arming either the Islamists or terrorists suspected to be operating in the country.
The report says that although some of the countries have openly taken sides in the conflict, many have preferred to do so secretly.
Indeed, not wanting to be in the bad books of the US, some of the countries like Saudi Arabia have publicly disassociated themselves from the radical Islamists.
However, the report alludes to a lingering suspicion that charities in the kingdom could be bankrolling the Islamic Courts.
The report says Somalia's immediate neighbors - Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti, all of which have Somali populations of their own - have legitimate reasons for taking more than a casual interest in the ongoing consolidation of power by the Islamists. "Prior to its disintegration, Mogadishu had a policy of actively seeking to incorporate these (Somali) populations as part of Somalia."
It says this desire has recently been publicly expressed by some of the radicals in the Islamic Courts.
And for the first time, the report tries to justify why Ethiopia went into Somalia to protect the interim government of President Abdillahi Yusuf.
It says that Ethiopia and Somalia engaged in a protracted military conflict in 1977/78 over Ogaden, which constitutes 25 per cent of Ethiopia's total land area. Though prone to drought, the area is rich in natural gas and has up to four million Somali inhabitants.
It has been the subject of renewed conflict between Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's government, on the one hand, and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and the United Western Somali Liberation Front (UWSLF) on the other.
Prof Shinn says, " Addis Ababa worries that a hostile government in Mogadishu would strongly support ONLF and UWSLF and revive earlier goals of encouraging the Somali-inhabited areas of Ethiopia to join it. Ethiopia is also said to be concerned that its arch-enemy, Eritrea, has been supporting the UIC."
Addis Ababa was earlier named by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia for having flouted a UN embargo on arms sales to Somalia when it sent three separate consignments of arms - mortars, machine guns, assault rifles, anti-tank weapons and ammunition - to the Transitional Government.
However, the report says this could eventually work against Addis Ababa. "The problem is that any Ethiopian military presence inside Somalia significantly inflames Somali nationalism and antagonism towards Ethiopia."
The report says that Kenya's role as an "honest broker" to peace negotiations could have been damaged by its leadership of the Igad initiative to send in troops to the troubled country. Although Kenya's Foreign Minister Raphael Tuju recently said Kenya is not willing to support any side, this is treated with suspicion by the Islamists, because the country had earlier pledged support for the Transitional Government. But, just like Ethiopia, Kenya's keenness to participate "could have been driven by fears that the Islamic Courts intend to pursue incorporation of Somali-inhabited territory in the country's northeastern region."
Seemingly, Djibouti - a predominantly Muslim Somali country - is not as hard pressed to play a key role as Kenya and Ethiopia. It has also not taken a clear-cut position on what side to support.
The report says Djibouti not only acknowledged last December having provided the Transitional Government with 3,000 military uniforms but had also formally received a senior Islamic Courts delegation in September this year.
Further, Prof Shinn reports that Djibouti's heavy dependence on Arab investment "may account for its greater willingness to accept the Islamic Courts."
Away from Somalia's international borders, Uganda, Sudan and Eritrea are also playing different roles in the conflict.
The conflict seems to be a new-found preoccupation for President Yoweri Museveni's government, which had earlier not shown any interest in Somalia.
The report says Uganda "is the only country so far to offer troops for a proposed regional peacekeeping force." The country's parliament has pledged 1,000 troops.
On the surface, Sudan seems to be more engaged in peacekeeping efforts. The report says Khartoum has retained its representatives in Somalia ever since the disastrous UN intervention in 1993.
But Khartoum is bent on expanding its role, especially now that President Omar el Bashir is heading the Arab League and is therefore in charge of a peace negotiation initiative brokered by the League.
" Eritrea," says the report, "is playing one of the strangest games in Somalia." The country was named by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia as having shipped arms to both the Islamic Courts and the Ogaden Front.
"All the country is doing," says the report, "is to take a course of action that it deems might hurt its arch-enemy, Ethiopia. Asmara will take just about any action to harm Ethiopia." The report says Asmara's support for the Islamists is its way of putting additional pressure on Addis Ababa, with which it has a long-running border dispute.
Although they are accused by Mr. Gedi of having supplied arms to terrorists in Somalia, Egypt and Libya could be playing a more "background" and indirect role in the conflict.
The report says Egypt's role has more to do with maintaining its overwhelming use of the Nile waters than anything else.
The country is said to have maintained a relationship with Somalia since the 19th century as a means of "periodically" putting pressure on, or weakening Ethiopia, which is reportedly unhappy over Egypt and Sudan's use of virtually 100 per cent of the Nile waters.
Libya 's role has something to do with its regional adventurism and newly-discovered interest in championing the creation of a Pan-African state. " Libya seems to engage in controversial issues just because it does not want to be left out."
In an apparent attempt to broker peace, President Muammar Gadaffi is said to have invited the Islamists and transitional government early last month of the 7th anniversary to the establishment of the African Union.
Outside the continent, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the US have also taken sides in the conflict.
Yemen , which has up to 84,000 registered Somali refugees, was named by the UN as having sent 15 pick-up trucks and military clothing to the Transitional Government in January.
The US has also accused Yemen of supplying the Islamists with cash, a charge the country's foreign ministry has denied.
Officially, Saudi Arabia is not supplying arms or cash to the warring parties in Somalia.
But the report says there are suspicions that though it stopped financing Somali Islamic charities after the US linked them to terrorism, some Saudis "continue to support fundamentalist activity in the country."
The Saudi government is also named by the UN Monitoring Team as having provided the Transitional Government with military uniforms last December.
The United Arab Emirates, particularly Dubai, is said to be the financial centre for Somali businessmen with an interest in the ongoing conflict. Qatar is said to have "increased interest" in Somalia after its leader, the emir, "invited the chairman of the executive council of Islamic Courts for talks late last moth."
Although Prime Minister Gedi has accused Iran of providing arms to terrorists in Somalia, the country's role in the conflict is not so open. As a country dominated by Shia Islam, Iran is reported to have had little interest in predominantly Sunni Somalia.
However, "this may be changing," the report says, especially after the Iranian leadership questioned the wisdom of sending a peacekeeping force to the country.
The US role on the other hand is driven by concern over the entrenchment of fundamentalism in the country and its possible spread to the region.
The US is also worried that the Islamists might turn Somalia into a neo-Taliban regime. Since early this year, the US had committed substantial financial resources to arming the warlords' outfit - Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (ARPCT) - for the campaign against suspected Al-Qaeda elements there.
But this has been described by Le Monde Diplomatique as a "policy blunder" as it earned the Islamists nationalistic support from ordinary Somalis.
"In theory," says the report, "the ARPCT was supposed to pursue al-Qaeda terrorists. In reality, it had its sights on the Islamic Courts."
This is said to have encouraged the Islamists to strike first, a mission they accomplished in February. Analysts believe that by doing so, the US unwittingly fuelled the rise of the Islamists and by wanting to bring together friends and foes for an anti-Islamist assault, it could actually foment a serious international conflict in the Horn of Africa.
Source: The East African