Return to civil war

Published : Jun 16, 2006 00:00 IST

PRIME MINISTER MOHAMED Ali Gedi and Parliament Speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden. - MOHAMED GULED/REUTERS

PRIME MINISTER MOHAMED Ali Gedi and Parliament Speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden. - MOHAMED GULED/REUTERS

The truce between the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-terrorism and the Islamic Court Union proves short-lived.

SOMALIA has been paralysed for more than a decade and a half by internecine warfare and anarchy. But this January there was a glimmer of hope for its long-suffering people when the warring factions signed a peace deal. However, a sudden upsurge in fighting in May threatens to undo the deal.

For the first time in 15 years, the two major groups, one headed by Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmad and the other by parliamentary speaker Shariff Hassan Sheikh Adan, agreed to convene a government on Somali territory and jointly bring about a lasting solution to the crisis. The Transitional Federal Government (TFG) operates from Baidoa, about 90 km from the capital Mogadishu. The lack of security was cited as the reason for shifting the seat of government temporarily. The plan for the TFG was first formulated in the Kenyan capital Nairobi in 2004 and international donors, along with the states that border Somalia, grouped under the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) played an important role in its formation.

However, the renewed fighting, which has killed more than 300 civilians, injured many more and left thousands homeless, threatens to make the TFG irrelevant. The clashes were between forces representing the Islamic Court Union (ICU) and the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-terrorism (ARPCT). Many of the warlords fighting under the ARPCT banner are senior Ministers in the TFG. In the third week of May, Ali Mohammed Gedi, Prime Minister in the TFG, gave four Ministers who are rebel leaders a week to leave Mogadishu and return to Baidoa. But the rebel chiefs ignored his order and even refused to resign. The fighting has left the interim government in a shambles and by the end of May most of the capital city seemed to have come under the sway of the Muslim militia owing allegiance to the ICU.

The ARPCT, which until recently exercised control over most of Mogadishu, is a broad-based alliance of warlords and rich businessmen. According to credible reports emerging from Somalia, the fighting was instigated by the United States government agencies active in the Horn of Africa. Somalia's interim President, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, believes that the U.S. is funding the warlords as part of its "war on terror". The government spokesman declared categorically that the U.S. had funded the warlords in the recent battles in Mogadishu. "There is no doubt about that, it only fuels the civil war," he said.

Since September 2001, the Bush administration has been claiming that Somalia has become a haven for Al Qaeda and other radical Islamic groups. U.S. Ambassador to Kenya William Bellamy, who is also responsible for Somalia, has admitted that it was "true that the U.S. has encouraged a variety of groups in Somalia, in all corners of the country, and among all clans, to oppose Al Qaeda presence and reject the Somali militants who shelter and protect the terrorists".

The East African media are full of reports about Somali warlords visiting Nairobi and returning to Mogadishu with bags full of dollars. Despite an international arms embargo, weapons are available freely all over Somalia. Some reports suggest that the ARPCT is being liberally supplied with arms by the Ethiopian government, a close ally of the U.S., while the ICU gets its supplies from Eritrea, which is estranged from the U.S. A United Nations report released on May 10 stated that a country was giving "clandestine" support to the ARPCT. The U.S. was not specifically named for reasons of diplomatic propriety. There is a U.N. ban on countries aiding the warlords financially.

The warlords seem to have convinced the Bush administration that they are natural allies of Washington in the "global war against terrorism".

The latest round of bloodletting started in February, when the important warlords in the capital formed the ARPCT, professing that counter-terrorism was their goal. The armed skirmishes with the ICU started immediately but were limited. Former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Porter Gross was reportedly in Nairobi in February to strike a deal with the ARPCT. The CIA offered cash to the ARPCT warlords in exchange for support in tracking down alleged Al Qaeda figures said to be roaming free in Somalia. The Americans were also alarmed by the steady political gains of the ICU since its formation in 1994.

Today, the Islamists are a major force in Somalia and the Islamic Courts that the ICU has set up have gained credibility among the people. The courts have set up schools and hospitals, besides resolving legal disputes. Many Somalis seem to be appreciative of the ICU's tough stance on law and order issues. The U.N. Monitoring Commission in Somalia has acknowledged that the ICU has become a major force "with organisational strength, leadership and, most importantly, will". However the warlords and power brokers perceive the courts as a threat to the traditional "clan structure" that has dominated Somali politics.

Since the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in 1991, the people have been trapped and rendered defenceless as rival warlords have been busy fighting for real estate and political influence. There has been no national police force or army in Somalia for the past 16 years. Gunmen extort money regularly from civilians. The situation is similar to that which prevailed in Afghanistan prior to the rise of the Taliban. According to some reports, the latest round of fighting was sparked off by rising suspicion among Islamists about the U.S.' long-term goals in the region.

Since the events of 2001, the Bush administration has viewed Somalia as a geo-strategically important state. Somalia's geographic location between West Asia and Africa, coupled with its long coastline on the Arabian Sea makes it a key country for the U.S. Somalia and nearby Yemen are described as geo-strategic "choke points" from the Red Sea. Besides, big U.S. energy companies hope to exploit the abundant hydrocarbon resources of the country after the resolution of the present internal security problems. U.S. oil companies had obtained billion-dollar concessions from the Siad Barre regime for oil exploration. According to Jay Park, a leading corporate lawyer from Canada involved in Africa's hydrocarbon sector, Somalia "may be sitting on some of the greatest oil and gas treasures".

The U.S. is not the only country that is interested in the conflict in Somalia. Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya have been accused of taking sides in the conflict. Ethiopia is known to be supportive of the secessionist activities in the so-called "Republics" of Somaliland and Puntland. Somaliland was the first to announce that it was breaking off from Mogadishu. Although the breakaway province enjoys comparative peace and security, it lacks international recognition. The escalation in the civil war in Somalia could give a further fillip to the forces that want to break up the country.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment