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The Misfortunes Of Somalia
Somalia has developed into a humanitarian catastrophe worse than that of Darfur and of Kenya, the UN says. Since the invasion of Ethiopian troops on Christmas day 2006, more than 600.000 Somalis have fled their homes, and the violence seems worse than during the last two decades.
By EVA PLESNER
Photos: FLEMMING WEISS ANDERSEN
Hargeysa, Somaliland, Asmara, Eritrea & Djibouti – Abdillahi Mohyadin has spent the night in one of the mosques of Hargeysa. He arrived the day before yesterday, and he is still exhausted, bewildered and starving after nine days of fleeing from the capital of Somalia, Mogadishu. He has no idea, how to get his next meal.
The 30 US dollars, he had to start life in Hargeisa, has been robbed, and the only things he has left is a small, green plastic bag with a t-shirt and an old jersey.
But staying in Mogadishu would have been even worse.
Last December his sister, his wife and his three year old daughter were killed by shells hitting their neighbourhood, and Abdullahi lost his senses for four weeks, until friends helped him come back to reality and he decided to flee.
“Why stay, when your loved-ones are gone, and there is no safety anywhere,” he says.
Somalia has been without a functioning central government since 1991, when the dictator Siad Barre was toppled, and the country was split up between clan leaders, the so-called warlords.
During the nineties there were no less than thirteen failed attempts to form a new government, and to compensate for the lack of law and order, the so-called Islamic Courts (sharia-courts) emerged. In 2006 Somalia had twelve Islamic Courts, each with a militia of its own.
This development caused international concern, especially in the US. The Americans estimated that the Islamic Courts were housing al-Qaida terrorists, and at the beginning of 2006 CIA paid some of the warlords to join forces and catch the terrorists.
On the US wanted list were names like Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, one of the main suspects for the bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es-Salam in 1998, Adan Hashi Ayro, who was considered a leader of “al-Qaeda in East Africa”, and sheikh Hassan Aweys, one of the founders of the Courts.
The Islamic Courts responded by joining forces, and the money received by the warlords were mainly spent on mutual fighting. The Union of the Islamic Courts (UIC) quickly gained popular support and in the middle of June 2006 the UIC had seized power in most of Southern and Central Somalia, whereas the clan leaders and militias, that did not hurry to change side and join them, were ousted.
For the first time in two decades Somalia seemed peaceful, and for many Somalis the short reign of the UIC has become the “golden era” of Somalia. The International Airport and the port of Mogadishu was re-opened, the warlord’s checkpoints, where people formerly had to pay toll to move from one part of the city to another, were history, and the thriving piracy at the coasts of Somalia nearly came to a total stop. Even the journalists experienced a hitherto unseen freedom of expression.
But Ethiopian and American fear, that militant fundamentalism would take over, was nourished, when the UIC on the 6 th of October declared “holy war” against Ethiopian troops, who were protecting the powerless, but internationally recognized transitional government of Somalia in Baidoa, 250 km. north west of Mogadishu, and the response came in December 2006. First the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer stated the UIC were controlled by “East African cells of al-Qaida”, and eleven days later on Christmas day 2006 around 10.000 Ethiopian troops crossed the border to Somalia, officially invited by the transitional government.
“The plan was, that while the Ethiopians invaded and cleansed the country for “terrorists”, Kenya should close its borders, and the American Navy should patrol the coastline, so that no one could escape,” says Somalia’s former Ambassador to the UN, Ahmed Hashara.
He is now part of the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS), a motley crowd of Somali ex-parliamentarians, intellectuals and former leaders from the Union of Islamic Courts, who based in the Eritrean capital, Asmara, are trying to establish a viable alternative to the Transitional Government.
Initially the Ethiopian invasion went smoothly. The Union of the Islamic Courts went mostly under-ground and on the 7 th of January US gun-ships bombed a group of “high ranking al-Qaida leaders” near the Kenyan border. Pentagon subsequently declared that the attack had been very successful, and unnamed government officials leaked to the New York Times, that it was highly likely, that “the al-Qaeda leader Adan Ayro” had been hit.
”Problem was, that they only killed some local herdsmen, who had nothing to do with neither the Islamic Courts, nor al-Qaida,” says Ahmed Hashara, and now Adan Ayro is operating in Mogadishu area as a leader of “Shebab”, a presumably small part of the Somali resistance. Ayro has denounced any cooperation with the Union of Islamic Courts since they joined the ARS in Asmara, accusing them of negotiating with the archenemy, USA.
According to plans the Ethiopian troops should have started withdrawing in March 2007. But in stead the number of Ethiopian troops have increased and is now estimated to be around 30.000, whereas the number of casualties is kept in the dark.
At the same time it is the resistance movements that - perhaps with the exception of “Shebab” – according to the refugees has the general backing among people. Nobody believes in the weak transitional government, whose members mostly are situated in Kenya or in Baidoa, and who the majority are blaming for the current blood bath in Somalia.
Around 600.000 have fled the area of Mogadishu, according to the UN, characterizing Somalia’s current humanitarian disaster as worse than Darfur. 200.000 have gathered along the roads about 50 km. South of Mogadishu. A few manage to cross the sealed border of Kenya, while others are heading North to Puntland, Djibouti and Hargeysa, the capital of the small, unrecognized state Somaliland.
Here the refugees are describing the daily shootings, shellings and bombings of Mogadishu, and how Somali government militias hand in hand with Ethiopian troops are frequently raiding the neighbourhoods, randomly arresting young men and accusing them of being terrorists.
Hundreds of young men have vanished without trace, says 43-year old Fathia Abdirisak.
“On the sixth day of the Ramadan (18 th of September) they raided our neighbourhood, and my husband decided to flee to save the life of our teenage sons,” she says.
Fathia was left behind in her cousin’s house, and from the balcony on the third floor se witnessed how Ethiopian soldiers shot and killed an old man, who had been sitting on the street selling cigarettes and who tried to flee.
”Later they went after a man selling goods from his wheel-barrow. When his wife tried to escape, they caught her and slaughtered her like a goat in front of her husband before killing him with a bullet. I have no idea why they did it,” she tells us. “They killed seven in our neighbourhood that day.
The following day Fathia fled with her two small nephews and her crippled mother. They could not afford a bus ticket, but a young man from Southern Somalia took pity on her and carried her mother on his back a lengthy part of the 1.000 km. long journey to Hargeysa. The voyage took them two and a half months, and today Fathia is living together with 15 family members in two small rooms in Hargeysa.
She has no idea whether her husband and her two teenage sons are still alive. Every day she is hoping for good news, but as times passes by, it becomes more difficult to keep up the spirit.
The prospect to peace in Somalia also seems gloomy. The transitional governments vague efforts to solve its actual task, to create the grounds for reconciliation, has failed, but maybe the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia has the key to the future.
The chairman of the Alliance is the former UIC-chairman, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, and politically the alliance is ranging from western-minded secular intellectuals to conservative islamists, who have the implementation of strict sharia as one of their first priorities. Among the latter we find the founder of the UIC, Hassan Aweys, who apparently has been erased from the US list of terror-suspects.
“It is only natural that the Americans reacted emotionally, when they sensed the world was against them. But they did’nt have a real case against me,” Aways says.
He is now, like the more moderate Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, busy travelling the region, and in Asmara Western diplomats, seeking ways out of Somalia’s quack mire, are openly consulting the Alliance.
We meet both of them in Hotel Ambasoira, which serves as a kind of headquarters for the Alliance in Asmara. The very same morning Aweys’ wife no. 4 gave borth to his child no. 21, and he is sparkling with joy.
The fact that he has spent all afternoon in allegedly successful negotiations with Western diplomats, and that the Alliance has recently participated in consultations in Cairo, Rome and Abu Dhabi, onlu seems to add to his well-being.
“Previously the Alliance was practically unknown. Now we are sought out by the international community, asking for counsel. That’s a strong proof of our success,” says Hassan Aweys.
The allegations, that the Islamic Courts are harbouring al-Qaeda terrorists are dismissed as evil slander both by Aweys and by Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.
“Al-Qaeda criminals and their kind will never find asylum with us,” Sheikh Sharif says.
When confronted with the question, how on earth the Alliance shall overcome all their internal differences betweens secularists and Islamists, if they ever come to power, both sheikhs have the same answer:
”Whether Somalia in the future shall be a secular or an Islamic state is for the Somali people to decide at free elections. Right now everything is about working together to create the basis for peace.”