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Now is the time to show more political realism


By Ismail Jumale     


Since 1991, Somalia has had neither a recognized governmental authority nor any other feature associated with an established independent state. It has experienced the longest period of statelessness by any country in modern history. De facto authority resided in the hands of unruly warlords, whose irreconcilable differences have destroyed the Somali Nation State. On February 2006, heavy fighting broke out between the Union of Islamic Courts and the secular warlords, who have ultimately been driven out of Mogadishu and several other cities, such as Balcad and Jowhar, by the Courts. Since then, the military victory of the Islamic Courts in Somalia over the warlords has been seen as a significant step in prevailing over the main obstacles to peace. Subsequently, the Courts have gained popularity over recent months, particularly after they reopened the public infrastructures, such as the Mogadishu International Airport and the Seaport. More importantly, the Islamic Courts have been credited with success in restoring stability to regions they virtually control including Mogadishu, where people can now walk freely around the city for the first time in 16 years.


Unfortunately, there has been, and still is, sharply increased tension between the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the Union of Islamic Courts (UICs), due to what the Islamic Courts called “the alleged presence of Ethiopian troops on Somali soil”. They consider that the Ethiopian forces have been sent to keep President Abdulahi Yusuf in power due to its long-desire to manage Somali’s national affairs. This is why, the Islamic Courts declared that they were not willing to take part any peace talks until foreign troops pull out from Somalia. Even now, although their delegation is said to be in Sudan pushing for reconciliation and power-sharing scheme, it is still unclear whether or not they are ready to leave their previous conditions. On the contrary, the top government officials, on their side, have bitterly criticized the Islamic Courts for establishing the extensive Islamist model or ‘possibly’ clan network to undermine the government’s attempt to reinstate its law enforcement bodies. The government leaders described the Islamic Courts as the rising tide of sub-national anti-state challenge that intends to pre-empt any possibility to establish a moderate democratic state in Somalia. 


This article seeks to suggest that a pragmatic way to deal with the current tension between the TFG and the UICs and to achieve an efficient resolution is; (a) to have mutual recognition and understanding among them in the first place and; (b) to initiate an effective reconciliation for their differences within Somalia. In practice the way to do this, is to press on the TFG to renounce some of its central demands, such as calling for the Ethiopian troops to come in the Somali territory. Simply because, the government and the Islamic Courts will never work together healthily, whilst the top government officials endeavour to gain legitimacy from without rather than from within. At the same time, the Ethiopia’s persistent attempts to protect the government from a so called ‘an imminent attack by an Islamic militia against TFG’ can cause serious consequences. Firstly, it gives the top government officials a false sense of confidence to relay on foreign forces that can easily hinder the dialogue between the TFG and the UICs. In the same way, it can generate more determined and a greater Somali will to stand firm in its military interference to the Somali’s domestic issue. I, personally, hold the view that the foreign intervention in Somali affairs without mutual consent among the TFG and UICs could precipitate a military confrontation between the outside forces and the Islamic fighters. Historical evidence illustrates that the Somali people are highly suspicious of foreign influence, as well known author Vergina Luling said many years ago in her article, “the Somali people have in the course of their history known many movements intended to revived and purify the faith of which the best known is that in the early 20th century headed by Sayid Mahamed Abdulle Hassan” In his case as in many others, the determination to reform the people’s religious life was associated with resistance to foreign control.[1] Similarly, Richard Dowden has recently said “the Somali people may possibly be divided by their very Somali-ness, but when it comes to war against invaders they are united by two factors; (a) their Muslim faith; and (b) a xenophobic opposition to interference by outsiders”.[2] Therefore, it would be tactical brilliance if the TFG provides a clear policy and coherent diplomatic process to patch up the current tension between it and its opponents and finally to adopt the power sharing process.


In respond to the Courts’ moral high ground. Yes it is an undeniable fact that there is a measure of peace and security to where the Islamic Courts control. Nonetheless, they cannot claim to be security guarantor, because they are not legitimate recognized political representatives among the Somalis. In other words, they can neither bring a legal and legitimate government nor overtake the task of building up state institutions with administrative factions without having some degree of political spectrum. This is not to underestimate the Courts’ success in living up to their promises to restore peace and stability to the most Southern Somalia. But, rather to indicate that Somalia needs to have a functioning central government, capable to bring its people out of their long period statelessness. Anything else is beside the point and is totally irrelevant to what the Somali people truly want. More serious and significant than anything else, is to realize that the courts’ speedy military victory may cause the country to move from 16 years secular warlords to a new era of Islamic warlords if they failed to submit their direct political ambition within reasonable time. Hence, it is equally important to convince the Islamic Courts to be tolerant of different concepts, particularly in this significant period otherwise nothing can be and will be resolved.


Finally, now it is tenable to suggest that the international community and donor countries should encourage the TFG and the UICs to instigate substantive negotiation inside Somalia rather then outside. Precisely because, it makes it possible for them to find strategic understanding and build confidence and mutual respect among each other. Similarly, it enables them, not only to be free from foreign influences, but also to accept as true that a decisive role in resolving the crisis in Somalia is in the hands of the Somali people. Such direct talks can ease them to get into an immediate power sharing, which is the only understandable way to make the compromise for national coherence. Failure to do this (in my view) will be a clear evident to have learned nothing from the past period whereby the country has been, and still is, in a state of anarchy. It could also be more likely to lead the Islamic Courts to remain diplomatically isolated, while the government tends to be steadily weakening, if not face complete collapse. Subsequently, it will ultimately cause a new deadly battle between the TFG and its allies and the UICs’ fighters and then the security situation in Somalia could well go from bad to worse.   



Ismail Jumale

SOAS University of London.

Email [email protected]

[1] V. Luling, Third World Quarterly, vol 18 N0 2, (1997), p 295.

[2] R. Dowden, Peace has been achieved on the streets of Mogadishu by an unintended factor: American Policy, (2006), P 2.


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