While the situation in Somalia is still not garnering a great deal of news attention, some of the web’s smarter commentators are weighing in on the tensions between the Islamists and the Ethiopian-supported provisional government. Taylor Jackson sees the fact that Somalia isn’t front-page news in the US as an indictment of US foreign policy, a tendency to focus on situations only when they’ve exploded, not when they’re igniting.
“Somali militias may seem underfunded and inconsequential now, but plenty of people were saying the same thing about Afghan warlords and Saddam Hussein 20 years ago.
All this goes to show that the war on terror cannot be won as a fight against terrorists. It must primarily be a fight against the conditions that allows violent ideologies to flourish. Our war should be a fight against desperation, closed-minded ideology and the collective memory of America’s arrogant, failing foreign policy abroad.”
Meanwhile, I find myself agreeing with Foreign Policy’s Aditya Dasgupta – I can’t tell whether it’s worth fearing the advance of the Islamists or celebrating them. Despite some recent clan-based violence in Southern Somalia, the areas controlled by the UIC are a great deal safer than they were a year ago. And there are some truly remarkable developments, like a UIC ban on exporting charcoal and rare animals. As the IRIN story reports, Gulf states are willing to pay huge amounts – $15 a bag – for charcoal, especially sweet-smelling charcoal made from mango trees. At these prices, it’s very difficult for impoverished people to resist cutting Somalia’s remaining trees and selling them to Saudi Arabia.
(Charcoal is a big freaking deal in environmental and development terms. While charcoal is a smoky fuel, it’s a great deal cleaner than other biofuels – animal dung, for instance – which means it’s a healthier alternative. It’s comparatively affordable in many nations, fairly easy to produce, and gives the sort of heat most people are comfortable cooking over. (It would be great if everyone would convert to using solar ovens, but the cooking popular in the horn of Africa requires a pot over a flame, not baked casseroles…) But charcoal has horrific environmental consequences, leading to deforestation and, in some cases, increased desertification, especially when it becomes a commidity for export. Dr. Amy Smith at MIT’s D-Lab is focused on ways to create charcoal that doesn’t require cutting trees – corn cob, sugar cane and other biofuels.)
If the UIC can actually enforce progressive policies like these, it may increase their international legitimacy and reassure some who are concerned that UIC’s advance is a worse outcome than the vacuum of authority they’re filling. Then again, UIC may be focusing on other issues in the very near future – despite Ethiopia’s insistence that they don’t have troops in Somalia, the AP is reporting the presence of troops in Galkaayo, a key city in Puntland. The UIC has threatened a military response to this troop presence, which would almost certainly trigger the conflict observers have worried was impending.
It’s hard to prevent charcoal smuggling while fighting a land war against Ethiopia.
Other recent Somalia posts:
UIC on the move in Somalia
And you thought it was hard starting a business in your country…