A historic opportunity for what?

The Economist gives the best analysis I’ve seen so far of the current situation in Somalia. Some key points in today’s article, which is a must-read for anyone following the situation in the Horn of Africa:

– The “collapse” of the UIC forces has allowed the leaders of the UIC to slip away, some into the forests in the south of the country where it’s difficult for Ethiopian tanks and jets to hunt them down. It’s unlikely that tightened border security with Kenya is really catching many fleeing fighters, given the huge Somali populations on the Kenyan side of the border (and the fact that Ethiopian forces “accidently” strafed a Kenyan border post from helicopter gunships…)

– The US military has taken an active role in the Ethiopian invasion. “America’s Fifth Fleet is patrolling the coast between Mogadishu and Ras Kamboni to prevent Islamists escaping, and special forces may have been landed to track them through the swamps.”

– The failure of the UIC can be blamed on three factors: involving Eritrea, which provoked the Ethiopians; alienating UIC moderates, who were anxious to negotiate with the provisional government and didn’t participate in the battles; and attacking Baidoa, which triggered the Ethiopian response.

– Mogadishu is probably ungovernable without support from the Hawiye clan. This is going to generate conflict with Prime Minister Gedi. “Mr Gedi is a Hawiye, but despised by his kinsmen. Any national reconciliation has to involve the Hawiye, so that may mean removing Mr Gedi from office, something that the transitional government and its backers oppose.”

In the meantime, the government’s strategy for disarming Mogadishu has been an almost farcical failure. A 72-hour voluntary amnesty was designed to rid Mogadishu of weapons. Rob Crilly reports in the Christian Science Monitor that the amnesty’s not going so well:

There were no takers at the Villa Baidoa Tuesday – an old presidential villa designated as one of two collection centers.

“We haven’t even taken a pistol,” said a Somalian government soldier.

In a city where AK-47s cost $150, most families and businesses rely on one for protection.

They need the protection, because some of the dynamics of warlordism have returned to Mogadishu in the absence of UIC control. Jeffrey Gettleman reports in the IHT that scenes familiar to anyone who’s watched Mogadishu over the past decade are returning:

In northern Mogadishu, residents said that four people were killed Wednesday night after bandits fired a rocket at a truck whose driver refused to pay extortion. Unauthorized checkpoints have popped up all over the city, reminiscent of the years of anarchy when clan-based militias carved up Mogadishu, and much of the rest of Somalia as well.

This banditry is complemented by anti-Ethiopian violence, which has included bomb blast directed at a hotel where Ethiopian military officers have been staying. Given the unpopularity of Ethiopia in Somalia (the two nations have fought two wars in the past 50 years), one would think that the Somali government would be slightly more cautious about appearing to be acting as Ethiopian puppets. But not Hussein Aideed, Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister of the new Somali government, who proposed a unification of Somalia and Ethiopia into a single country, a proposal which evidently shocked and outraged most of his audience.

For Somalia to stabilize, the Ethiopian military needs to pull out and let an international peacekeeping force take over. Uganda – which appears to be competing with Ethiopia in currying favor from the US – has offered a batallion of troops, but many Somali-watchers believe that an AU presence will be viewed as an Ethiopian presence because the AU is based in Addis Ababa. Alternatives might include a peacekeeping force from Pakistan, Malaysia or Indonesia.

Meanwhile, Condi Rice has declared the Somalis have a “‘historic opportunity’ for Somalis to move beyond two decades of ‘warlordism, extreme violence and humanitarian suffering.'”. Right. The $16 million aid packageroughly the cost of the war in Iraq for two hours – should go far in rebuilding a country shattered by almost two decades of constant conflict.

Writing in the Kampala Monitor, Omar Kalinge Nnyago sees another historic opportunity:

University students applied for year offs, to go for training and Jihad in Afghanistan. This is when the Osama bin Ladens were born. The rest is history. Then, there were few African volunteers. Should Somalia become the (new) African Afghanistan as trends indicate, then this would complete the picture in a dramatic way.

Africa will grow its own brand of Jihadists by sending its young men to Somalia to learn to resist neo colonialists. With unemployment in the Horn of Africa at alarming levels, Somalia fighters won’t have a lot of problems finding willing recruits.

He suggests that the provisional government needs to get the Ethiopians out, include the UIC leadership in the new government and, perhaps most improbably, wait for the “United States dissuading itself from hoping to eliminate every Islamist on earth…” Pardon me if I don’t hold my breath.


There’s a useful comment thread on my last post regarding Somalia. Akwe offers some very helpful clarifications to some of my more sweeping generalizations. And Bill has a great comment with links to some key bloggers writing about Somalia and this situation.

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One Response to A historic opportunity for what?

  1. Good roundup Ethan, I hadn’t seen all of this stuff online. CNN’s Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is reporting from the Somalia Contact Group meeting in Nairobi. Did you see Assistant Secretary of State Dr. Jendayi Frazer in Nairobi today on BBC World News and CNNI? I didn’t know Dr. Frazer was so short in stature, built like a little bulldog. Looks as if Frazer was the only “international envoy” in attendance that was at ease and understood why she was there, along with Somali interim President Abdullahi Yusuf who was as cool as a cucumber in front of the cameras. Everybody else from the EU and AU and UN and U-whatever looked kinda nervous and worried at the meeting. Maybe it was the jet lag.

    Al-Qaeda’s second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri couldn’t make the meeting in Nairobi due to bad weather but he was able to get out a quick podcast to the Web calling on all of his “bretheren” to launch Jihad against the evil invaders and their lowlife backers (U.S.A., U.N., E.U., etc.). Mr. al-Zawahiri allegedly said and I quote:

    “I appeal to the lions of Islam in Yemen, the state of faith and wisdom, I appeal to my brothers the lions of Islam in the Arab Peninsula, the cradle of conquests, and I also appeal to my brothers the lions of Islam in Egypt, Sudan, the Arab Maghreb, and everywhere in the Muslim world to rise up to aid their Muslim brethren in Somalia,” he said.

    He said this could be done “through offering sacrifices, money, opinion, and expertise so as to defeat the slaves of America that it sends to death on its behalf”.

    UN attack

    Zawahiri also accused the United Nations of plotting against Somalia.

    “The Security Council is plotting to approve this invasion by issuing its resolution to dispatch international forces to Somalia and by its failure to issue a resolution that calls for the withdrawal of the Ethiopian forces from Somalia,” he said.

    The speaker urged the fighters to employ the tactics that have been used by insurgents fighting US-led forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    “As the world’s most powerful power in the world has been defeated in Afghanistan and Iraq by the believer groups, who will go to heaven, its slaves will be defeated, God willing, on the land of the muhjahid Muslim Somalia,” he said.

    “Use ambushes, mines, raids and martyrdom-seeking raids [suicide bombings] to devour them as the lions devour their prey.”

    Gosh, I’m shaking in my boots and ready to piss my pants, really.

    And to make matters worse, the BBC News website has published a map showing the approximate location of off-shore U.S. naval forces. British, German, French, and other nation’s naval forces that are also patrolling off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden CONSPICUOUSLY DO NOT show-up on the BBC map. With friends & allies like these guys (the BBC News), we don’t need any enemies.

    BBC News Online
    ‘Al-Qaeda’ calls for Somali jihad – 01/05/07
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6234167.stm

    ‘Somalia needs force quickly’ says TFG President
    (see Location of militias and US forces map at bottom)
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6233159.stm

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