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Why Ethiopia-bashing is not the right option for the United Islamic Courts of Somalia

By Liban Ahmed


For the last two weeks the political temperature in the Horn of Africa reached a dangerous level. Consummate observers of the region are of the opinion that emergence of Somalia’s United Islamic Courts hint at a possible confrontation between ‘Muslim and Christian fundamentalists in Ethiopia and Somalia.’



Like the former Somali Transitional Government, the predecessor of the current Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, the United Somali Courts view Ethiopia as sworn enemy. The Islamic Courts allude to the “historical” enmity between Somalia and Ethiopia but fail to notice that Ethiopia is on very good terms with Somaliland and Puntland administrations in addition to being a keen supporter of the Baidoa   based Transitional Federal Government of Somalia.


Why the leaders of Islamic Courts have failed to notice Somalis’ changing attitudes towards Ethiopia is not understandable. The Derg is no longer in power in Ethiopia. The EPRDF led government of Ethiopia considered the right of Eritrea to self-determination, facilitated the setting up of regional administration in   Zone 5 where large number of Somalis live. Ethiopia has organised two reconciliation conferences for Somali faction leaders. Among accusations made against Ethiopia is that it has armed Somali factions and that it does not want to see an effective central government in Somalia. Ethiopia is believed to have been in favour of building regional administrative blocks during 1990s as spring-board for a future central government in Somalia.  To what extent such a policy has contributed, if any, to Somalia’s prolonged statelessness is a debatable matter.  


Demonising Ethiopia has got much to do with Somalis’ inability to solve their problems. It was in 1991 when two dictatorial regimes in Ethiopia and Somalia were ousted. Victors in Ethiopia did not resort to witch-hunt or pogroms. They rebuilt the country and put in place constitutional arrangements that take into account the rights of all ethnicities. In Somalia the toppled dictatorship was replaced by undisciplined rebels with no  a political programme. Hence the turmoil that led to state collapse and prolonged civil war.


United Islamic Courts of Somalia still have an opportunity to become an influential, stabilising force similar to Somaliland and Puntland administrations. The task of nation building and soul-searching that awaits Somalis is hefty. Self-righteousness and parochial political outlook can mar the process of reconciliation and recovery.   

“The world must address decisively the role of Ethiopia in particular in lasting peace in Somalia, and the international community in general, in the determination of the future of that country,” editorialised   East African Standard. Ethiopia’s role cannot be addressed in isolation from the Somali problem. Since1991 Somalis has been without an effective central government. The power vacuum was filled by factions whose policies were characterised by shifting alliances; they never placed themselves on a war footing with a neighbouring country nor have they thought of their plans as panacea for Somalia’s ills. “The United Islamic Courts of Somalia could have played a bigger and positive role by inviting the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia into Mogadishu and see what role they could play in the government,” Ali Mahdi Mohamed, former interim Somali president  told Universal Somali TV. The Islamic Courts have blown  that opportunity.  It can be restored, though.

The idealism and boundless ambition of the leaders of Islamic Courts have caused reactions from Somali politicians. "I warn you not to dream of coming to Somaliland in the guise of Islam. History teaches us that bloody wars have been fought, when [sic] aliens wanted to subjugate people in the name of Islam. No one will accept you, and no one will be deceived by your disguise",  Mussa Bihi a veteran Somali National Movement leader and  a member of Somaliland’s Opposition party, Kumliye, told the Hargeisa based The Republican newspaper.  A somewhat similar sentiment was echoed by Ali Mahdi Mohamed when he said: “I am for Islamic Sharia; but is it going to be the Sharia of one group or the Sharia as laid down in the Koran and Prophet Mohamed’s Hadiths (traditions).”

Leaders of The United Islamic Courts can learn from history by not repeating the strategic mistake that triumphant United Somali Congress leadership had committed when rebels ousted Siyad Barre from power in 1991. Islamic Courts   deserve credit for pacifying Mogadishu, but they ought not to use the advantage to hold the reconciliation process hostage by bashing Somalia’s neighboring country, Ethiopia, for the problems Somali create unnecessarily. Virtually all major Somali social groups have elicited the support of Ethiopia to challenge perceived injustice. Consensus on the role of Ethiopia in Somali politics will remain an almost impossible exercise in the near future. Clan lenses rather than nationalist lenses are used to brand Ethiopia a friend or a foe. United Islamic Courts of Somalia can play a large role in facilitating   the process of reconciliation by thinking through its policies in consideration of geopolitical and Somali realities.

Liban Ahmad
London, UK
[email protected]


The opinions contained in this article are solely those of the writer, and in no way, form or shape represent the editorial opinions of "Hiiraan Online"

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