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Africa Insight: Somalia - Theatre Of Proxy And Hidden Agendas
Triumphant Somali government forces in Bur Haqaba, 60km south of baidoa, last week.
Story by Peter Kimani
Nairobi, Kenya, January 5, 2007 – Somalia’s political future was uncertain this week even as the Transitional Federal Government —installed in Nairobi in 2004 through a controversial collegiate — finally marched to Mogadishu backed by Ethiopian guns.
The government forces were greeted with jubilation by Mogadishu residents who only six months ago applauded the advent of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) that Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi had sworn to crush, and whom he finally drove out of town under a hail of bullets after two weeks of fighting.
These contrasting vistas of ballots and bullets underline the complex nature of the Somalia conflict, which is slowly gaining acceptance as an abiding symbol of international intervention failure after 16 years without a central government.
The latest push for control — the 13th since 1991 when things fell apart after the deposing of dictator Siyad Barre — typify the desperation in restoring law and order in a country now reputed as a safe haven for international terrorists.
Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who led the jihadist outfit al-Itihaad al-Islaami in the mid-1990s, metamorphosed as the leader of ICU, which is blamed for harboring terrorists suspected of masterminding the August 1998 US embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, as well as the November 2002 attack on Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel, Kikambala, in Kenya’s coast province.
In a swift response to this week’s developments, Kenya closed its border with Somalia and repatriated 400 refugees who had made it to Liboi crossing point, a clear signal that the country is not keen to shoulder a further burden beyond the 165,000 Somali refugees presently sheltered in camps in North Eastern province for nearly a decade.
The TFG President Abdillahi Yusuf, whose wobbly government has been operating from the squalid provincial capital of Baidoa, central Somalia, made a brief visit to Kenya and held a meeting with Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki at the port city of Mombassa.
Yusuf, a former warlord and president of the breakaway republic of Puntland to the north east, is yet to consolidate its authority in Somalia where a restive calm has settled after the flight of the ICU leadership.
Beyond the infighting that characterized TFG’s formation, where meetings by delegates from rival clans degenerated into fist-cuffs and chair-throwing, the government faces a credibility test among residents.
The TFG operated from Nairobi for six months, before making few faltering steps to Jowhar and later Baidoa, where the ICU are claimed to have attacked, triggering the all-out war with Ethiopian forces.
”We fear for our safety,” a TFG official in Nairobi confessed this week. “Those people (ICU leaders) are still in Somalia and they are armed.”
Ethiopian forces have indicated that they will stay on for a few more weeks but it could be months before the TFG secures a footing in the country is has been installed through fire power from a foreign army. Kenyan Foreign Minister Raphael Tuju, whose government chairs the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) that brokered the truce that created the TFG in Nairobi after two years of negotiation, at a cost of $16 million, said Kenya was taking a neutral stand on the Somalia conflict but supported the installation of the TFG.
“We are very happy that the TFG have finally taken charge in Mogadishu,” he said, “We welcome that.” Tuju added that Kenya would only intervene within the Igad framework.
Analysts, however, were sceptical about prospects for peace through the Igad forum following the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia. Ethiopia is a founder member of the regional grouping that started as a lobby to fight desertification 20 years ago, before conflict and governance issues took the centre stage.
Further, the presence of Ethiopian forces in Somalia breach the United Nations Resolution of 1725 signed last month to allow the partial lifting of the arms embargo slapped against Somalia in 1992, but which prohibit the deployment of African Union peace-keepers from frontline states.
While Ethiopia may have felt justified in invading Somalia to flush out ICU Islamists, who had attacked it in the mid-1990s, and also harboured three Ethiopian rebel groups on its soil, many see the hidden American hand in Ethiopia’s war adventures in Somalia.
“ Washington encouraged Addis Ababa to go ahead,” American analyst Michael Weinstein said this week. “They (the Americans) provided the same sort of diplomatic cover they did for Israel going into Lebanon (last year).”
This proxy strategy is useful as George W. Bush intensifies his “war on terrorism” globally, but avoiding the sort of disasters Washington suffered earlier in Somalia.
The US, after all, had attempted to rein in Mogadishu’s main warlord in the early 1990s, General Mohammed Farah Aideed, but the campaign ended in humiliation when Gen Aideed unleashed his militia on UN and American peace-keepers.
Things came to a head in October 1993 when 18 American Rangers were killed, and the body of a dead American soldier dragged through the streets of Mogadishu before TV cameras.
This turned American public opinion against US involvement in Somalia, which it had doted on through the 1980s, providing military aid totalling more than $200 million to counter Russians’ overtures at the height of the Cold War.
“The enormous quantities of military hardware from Somalia’s Cold War-era sponsors,” writes the American lobby, Global Focus, in a recent report, “guaranteed the country’s long-term destabilisation.” Ethiopia’s earlier attempts to supplant the Transitional National Government between 2000 and 2003 had also come a cropper, but it succeeded in alienating large sections of the Hawiye clan who live in Mogadishu who have considerable political and business influence over the territory.
But Ethiopia had its own reasons for invading Somalia on Christmas Day, a key factor being its arch enemy, Eritrea’s meddling in Somalia. Eritrea, who Addis waged a two-year war over a border dispute that remains unresolved, was one of ICU’s key supporters. This has turned Somalia into a war theatre where hidden agendas and proxy wars are being waged. Between 1998 and 2000, Eritrea also funded the Oromo insurgents operating in Somalia, who have been making their own push for independence from Addis.
After the Ethiopia-Eritrea border war, writes the International Crisis Group in their recent report, “Can Somali Crisis be Contained,” support for the Oromo insurgents diminished, although Asmara maintained relations with the Ogaden National Liberation Front and other Ethiopian rebel groups.
But Ethiopia had unfinished business with Somalia, part of which is traced back to 1977 when the two neighbours waged a war over Barre’s irredentist ideology to create “a Greater Somalia” by annexing Ogaden, which is dominated by ethnic Somalis.
This, too, turned out to be an unmitigated disaster after Somalia’s main backer, the Soviet Union, switched sides and supported Ethiopia after Marxist leader Mengistu Haile Mariam came to power in Addis.
Mariam, who has been exiled in Harare as a guest of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, was last month convicted in absentia for genocide by an Ethiopian court. He denies the caims.
Further, Barre extended his war-mongering to Kenya’s Northern Frontier District as well in French Djibouti, although he did not succeed in any of its unification ventures.
The British Somaliland to the north east, however, voluntarily relinquished its sovereignty to amalgam into one union, but re-asserted its independence after 1991. It is now a thriving state that could offer a model for resolving the conflict that has plagued its southern partner for nearly two decades.
But what could have primarily motivated Addis to invade Somalia, ironically, may have nothing to do with Somalia at all, yet threatens Ethiopia’s future survival: the Blue Nile.
The Blue Nile originates in the Ethiopian highlands to combine with Atbara River downstream, and is also fed by Eritrean streams, coursing down 1,500 kms to join the White Nile emanating from Lake Victoria to confluence in Sudan, before reaching Egypt. The import of River Nile to Egypt cannot be gainsaid; it is its lifeline that former President Anwar Sadat vowed to protect, even if it meant going to war to secure it.
Thankfully for Egypt, two colonial legal instruments, the 1927 and the 1959 Nile Water Agreements, gave Sudan and Egypt extensive water rights at the expense of 10 riparian states, including Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, all of whom are demanding a fair share of Nile waters.
Haunted by the great famine of 1984, in which one million people perished, and frustrated that 80 per cent of the water consumed by Egypt emanate from its highlands, Ethiopia’s desire to vanquish Egypt’s ally next door is understandable.
“From 1964 to 1978, Somalia received extensive military aid from the Soviet Union. But Egypt also provided military training and weapons in order to help Cairo maintain leverage over Ethiopia, and to prevent Ethiopia from achieving stability,” writes analyst Daniel Kendie in his report, “Egypt and the Hydro-Politics of the Blue Nile River.”
Matt Bryden, a consultant with the International Crisis Group in Nairobi, and who has been monitoring the situation in the Horn of Africa concedes: “ Ethiopia and Egypt have been fighting over the control of the Horn of Africa for over 100 years,” he says, adding that Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia has added fresh dynamics that could complicate the conflict there. “We don’t see any positive signs,” said Bryden, concluding: “ Kenya’s role is potentially important” due to its past efforts to secure peace in Somalia
Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni appeared to read from a different script, as he headed for Addis for talks with Meles Zenawi, perhaps to confirm that he has 1,200 soldiers ready for deployment in Somalia.
Tuju, who revealed that the Kenyan government attempted unsuccessfully to engage with ICU leadership last year, says their priorities lie in helping President Abdillahi Yusuf’s government to stabilize.” Ethiopian forces in Somalia is not an issue for us,” Tuju said.
Ethiopia, which is landlocked, is reliant on Somalia for access to the sea, and in the past decade, was wholly dependent on the Berbera port in the breakaway republic of Somaliland.
With TFG in control, Ethiopia would score two crucial points: it would secure a foothold in Mogadishu that would ensure a steady flow of cheap imports, and in the process, expose the vulnerability of Somaliland, which is entirely dependent on Berbera port earnings to fund its modest $12 million budget.
Somaliland has resisted efforts to reunite it with Somalia. “If they (ICU) come here, we will fight them,” Somaliland President Dahir Rayale Kahin told Africa Insight in a recent interview in his capital Hargeysa, days before the Ethiopian attack.
Somaliland’s earnings from livestock exports to the Arabian Gulf dried up in 2000 following a ban that was precipitated by an outbreak of the Rift Valley Fever. The nation is heavily dependent on remittances from its diaspora, but lacks international recognition.
“Somaliland offers a model that can be used to resolve the conflict in Somalia,” said ActionAid’s Africa communications coordinator Eric Mgendi. “It is a government that’s inclusive and rooted in the country’s traditional culture.”
The simplistic and parochial interpretation of the Somali conflict, however, retains a misleading perception that the exit of the Islamic Courts leadership will herald peace and prosperity.
It might help, for instance, to appreciate that sharia-based courts existed longer than the ICU, with two courts established in 1993 and 1994 in Abgaal clan areas of Mogadishu as local initiatives to restore order.
The courts solidified their influence and power base, and with the passage of time, some elements within the courts were radicalized to appeal to international terror networks, and which they needed to attract funding.
“By late 2005,” says the ICG report, “Eleven clan-based courts had been established in Mogadishu, some closely linked with Awey’s brand of radicalism, others of a more traditional character.”.
”Islamist extremism has failed to take a broader hold in Somalia because of Somali resistance — not foreign counter-terrorism efforts,” says ICG.
“The vast majority of Somalis desire a government — democratic, broadly-based and responsive — that reflects the Islamic faith as they have practiced for centuries: with tolerance, moderation and respect for variation in religious observance.”
That vision may be far from being realized. But for millions of ordinary Somalis who have borne the brunt of the conflict for 16 years, none epitomizes their country’s birth pains more than 24 year-old Hussein Saneo Muamir.
In his stone-washed blue jeans and open shirt, he sits in a makeshift camp in Dadaab, where he has been sheltered since 2001.
He was lucky to limp there to safety after his ordeal with ICU radicals in Mogadishu.
“They said I had committed adultery, so they had to cut my right hand and left leg,” he says, revealing the stumps of his deformed limbs.
“They later found out that I did not do it and offered 10 camels in compensation. What could I do with 10 camels when I had lost my leg and hand?”
Such may be the tragic consequences of failed policies on Somalia — irreversible — and bearing a permanent scar.
Peter Kimani is a senior writer on the Daily Nation in Nairobi
Africa Insight is an initiative of ther Nation Media Group’s Africa Media Network
Source: The Nation