Abdi Ismail Samatar
University of Minnesota ©
This short essay examines the etiology of terrorism in Somalia
Heeryada Gumaysiga ma rido ka u habranayaye.
For the last fifteen years of military rule (1976 -1991) the Somali people longed for the return to democratic rule. Unfortunately, they failed to establish nation-wide organizations that could develop the appropriate strategy to make the fanshen feasible. Instead, opportunist elements of the elite organized clanist networks and militias to fight the regime. These sectarian clicks refused to cooperate with one another and each pursued a tribalist agenda. The emergence of sectarian entrepreneurs reinforced the regime’s own divide and punish strategy. Others who were aware of the dangers of such a duo were too inert and risk averse to take up the challenge. As the regime pursued its scourged earth policy against select communities and the absence of an alternative civic movement, people mistakenly sought refuge in clanist associations. Once the regime collapsed so did the nationalist order. The leaders of the organized sectarian opposition were in no mood to give up their sovereignty over “tribal fiefdoms” in order to re-establish national government. Furthermore, the civil war turned nasty as the faction leaders, particularly within groups in the south, fought for supremacy and ruined whatever little economic, political and cultural infrastructure the old order left behind. The only partial exception to this mindlessness has been the northwest of the country where the public rejected naked intra-communal violence as the vehicle for political primacy. Despite the absence of undisguised terror in the latter region, armed intimidation is never far from the surface. Elsewhere violence continues to be the only instrument of political discourse and warlords have been its masters.
Warlord rule means personal and total appropriation of public power and assets, and the use of private militias to control the population. This system has turned the population into hostages since 1992 and, as a consequence, the quality of life has declined drastically. For instance, fewer than eight percent of school aged children receive some kind of instruction compared to nearly 40 percent in the mid-1980s. Moreover, life expectancy has declined by as much as 9 years since the early 1990s due to the destruction of the public health infrastructure, hunger and violence. Essentially, the merchants of violence have turned the southern region of the country and particularly the old capital city into a huge concentration camp.
The international community, led by the USA, attempted to restore peace and public authority in the early 1990s but that effort ended in disarray. Three factors led to this failure. First, the operation’s mandate was unspecified. Second, the militias in Mogadishu, which was the operational center of the intervention, were not disarmed and that gave the faction leaders enough opportunity to do mischief. Finally, the international community accepted the notion that this was a tribal civil war rather than a struggle among factions over power and resources. The combination of these factors led to the withdrawal of international troops from Somalia and initiated a new phase of the civil war. There were only two warlords in Mogadishu at the time of the UN departure, but their numbers have proliferated since, and consequently the city and the region have been Balkanized into warlord Bantustans.
II. The IGAD Process: “Empowered the Warlords and Enfeebled the Civics.”
The world turned away from Somalia and the population was left at the mercy of the warlords. Numerous attempts were made to strike a compromise among the warlords in order to form a national government but they failed to terminate the chaos. Each and every reconciliation conference was subverted by several unhappy warlords who could not achieve everything they lusted for and who were instructed to do so by their Ethiopian overlord. The government of Djibouti, pained by the abominable predicament of the population endeavored to take a stab at Somali reconciliation and invited delegates from various communities to take part in the Arta conference. Many Somalis responded but most warlords refused to join in as they demanded to have a veto power over the selection of delegates. In spite of Arta’s shortcomings, such as the use of genealogical groups as political units, the conferees agreed to a draft constitution, selected members of a transitional parliament, and appointed a president and cabinet.
Most Somalis were relieved that, at long last, a consensus has emerged and hoped for the appointed leadership to deepen reconciliation and fully discharge the responsibilities enunciated in the charter. Their wish, as in so many other instance came to naught. Five factors perverted the promise of revival. First, the appointed leaders failed to grasp the significance of the moment, the fleeting nature and contingent support of the public, and gave precedence to self-enrichment and personal rule. Second, the donor community was skeptical from the start and refused to give the TNG the diplomatic and material support necessary to sustain it until it gained the ability to restore order and collect taxes. Third, the regime in Addis Ababa, which was envious because its warlord clients could not gerrymander events in Arta argued that the peace process was still incomplete as it was not inclusive and that senior members of the new government had links to Islamic terrorists. Consequently, it provided military and diplomatic support for a number of warlords to form the SRRC, who opposed the TNG. Fourth, Mogadishu-based warlords refused to join the government and work for the stabilization of the Banadir region. Finally, the absence of a purposively organized national civic movement meant that the public watched from the sidelines as the promise of Arta pulverized. Such combination of forces orphaned the TNG and dashed the people’s hope.
As the TNG floundered, the Ethiopian regime intensified its subversive efforts and finally convinced the IGAD states and donors of the need to “complete” the Arta process. Consequently, another reconciliation conference was held in Kenya in which the so-called International Partners sanctioned a process completely dominated by warlords. A few individuals within the donor camp were horrified by the prospects of a world engaged in a global war on terrorism midwifing and chaperoning a government of warlords. The outcome of the torturously long process was the triumph of Ethiopia and its clients warlords. In spite of the distaste the public had for the odious “peace process” they reluctantly accepted its outcome with the faint hope that the warlords cum government would lead. Unfortunately, it took only a few months before the new masters of Somalia demonstrated that they were only interested in sustaining the rule of the armed men rather than restoring the rule of law. Further, some of the key figure of the TFG openly revealed their devotion to their Ethiopian handlers rather than to the Somali people. Nearly a year and one half has lapsed since its inception and no progress has been made except the never ending attempts to reconcile the warlords within the government. Thus, the people’s business languishes. In the meantime, members of the international community continue to utter their vacuous expression that they are ready to help Somalia once Somalis come to a serious agreement. The pertinent question for the internationals is which Somalis they have in mind: the hostage or the jail keepers (warlords) whom they brought to power?
III. Warlords are Terrorists
A bit over two month ago the warlords in and around Mogadishu formed what they called the Alliance against terrorism and restoration of peace. Their declared objectives were to root out a foreign terrorist cell which they claim to be in the city and the Islamic Courts in Mogadishu that supposedly harbor them. They also allege that they have been encouraged and financed by a major power and members of the international community engaged in the war on terror. It appears that there is a rock of truth in the pronouncement as substantial amount of foreign exchange has found its way into their hands. It is the cash deliveries that have opportunistically united the same individuals who have recently fought against each other and that have supported different factions of the TFG. The Alliance initiated their first attack on the Islamic Courts in late February and this engagement led to the murder of nearly several dozen innocent victims in addition to death of scores of militia gunmen. Contrary to their public claims the alliance has suffered a major setback during this first assault and they have been regrouping to reverse their defeat. They have rejected the mediation efforts by all intermediaries of goodwill and the slaughter of the innocent is on again. Meanwhile, two of the three most seniors “leaders” of the TFG have uttered either contradictory statements –in support of or against the warlords – or irresponsibly suggested to the two sides to go to the outskirts of the city and fight it out. It is as if the latter is eager to see this tussle go to the finish since that will weaken two of his strongest opponents in Mogadishu regardless of the human cost.
The people of Mogadishu are scurrying for refuge as another nasty conflagration has begun. Several hundred innocent people (including many children) have been killed and thousands of indigents are displaced. This atrocity will fortify the cage the population has been in for over a decade while the international community seems least moved by the unfolding disaster and the internment of an entire people. The plight of the Somali people is tantamount to a life in terrorist camp. In spite of the absence of a commonly accepted international definition of terrorism, I offer the following: terrorism is cruelty against civilians with the intention of causing fear in order for the perpetrators to maintain illegitimately gotten gains, including political power. As the recent BBC panel on the subject noted state and non-state actors can commit terrorist acts. This definition succinctly portrays the abominable activities the warlords have been engaged in for over a decade. The costs of warlords terrorism, as we noted earlier, have been the death of hundreds of thousands of people, young and old, and two to three million others who exist under some of the most inhumane conditions in the world. In addition, millions of children’s lives have been stunted and condemned to a blighted future.
IV. What is Next? No More Terrorism!
In spite of the stereotype that Somalis are violent people, the vast majority of the population has not been involved in the endless civil war except in self-defense. In fact, their reluctance to proactively challenge the merchants of violence is partly why the warlords’ tyranny has endured this long. The public has been willing, for the sake of “peace,” to forgive their tormentor and accept whatever they demanded, including a claim to the mantle of national leadership. But it has become apparent that the warlords are not interested in turning the page and embrace the rule of law. This is the etiology of terror in Somalia.
The interplay between several factors prolongs Somalia’s agony. First, the apparent disorganization of civic minded Somalis and their not daring to challenge the warlords is a major obstacle to change. Second, the Ethiopian government which is opposed to Somali unity and independence (see the long record since the 1940s) has attempted to impose its agenda on the Somali people through it Trojan warlord horses. Having failed to do so, it stokes the forces of violence and social fragmentation. Third, the international community’s lackadaisical attitude has not been robust enough to help Somalis help themselves by establishing a national government that will serve them as well as honor its international obligations. These conditions have created a milieu that serves neither Somalis nor the international community and which therefore is not tenable. What then must be done?
Several things must occur in a graduated sequence in order to transform circumstances that reward terror and restore civilized norms to Somalia. First, international actors who support some of the warlords as allies against terrorism must accept responsibility for the massacre of hundreds of innocent people and the thousands displaced, and urgently redirect their involvement in support of the civics and the ailing TFG. To paraphrase the words of Somalia’s most immanent democrat, those who support the warlords must recognize that they are involved in a “devil’s pact.” Second, concerned Somalis can no longer be spectators waiting for someone else to salvage their domain. Instead, they must come to the fore and form a broad based civic organization whose purpose is to help form a national government dedicated to democracy and accountability. Given the poverty of resources in the country and the dangers involved in challenging domestic terrorists, the international community -for reasons of self interest- should support this movement materially and diplomatically. Further, it should treat local and international terrorist alike and seriously warn the warlords to cease their heinous activity and disband their militias. Such stance will galvanize the majority of the population and rekindle the nationalist project – the key to the creation of a sane political order. Third, those involved in the Shariica courts must understand that the only way for a cultured Islamic nation to reemerge is through the rule of law. As the country’s nationalist poet laureate forewarned nearly four decades ago:
Darajada Ilaahay ninkii doonaya hele / Those who toil for Allah’s blessings are rewarded
Nin ka duday distoorkiyo waxyiga diinti ka carrowye / Those who stray from the constitution and the divine revelations are outcasts
Dugsi male qabyaaled waxay dumiso mooyaane / Clanist politics provide no solace, it only destroys
Hadaydaan xumaanta iyo dilkiyo daynin kala qaadka / If we do not terminate this savagery and mend our ways
Dibaddan ka joogna sharciga daacada Illaahe / We are beyond Allah’s grace
Danbarkeygu waa jahanama iyo dobobki naareede / Its reward is jahanama, the cruelest purgatory of all
Abdillahi Sultan Timacadde, 1968
Timacadde’s prophetic words enunciated the close affinity between the divine and constitutional accountability. Those in the Islamic courts need to understand that without constitutional accountability Somalis risk losing their cherished faith. Thus, if they are keen for Islam flourishing in this land, then they must distinguish themselves by laboring for such a salvation.
Abdi Ismail Samatar is Professor, geography and global studies at the University of Minnesota and can be reached at: E-maill: [email protected]