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The Somali Chicken Game

By Shaacir Mataan


“Men run wildly about in pursuit of vengeance, supporting the unbelievers, who offer them grain for food. Foreign soldiers are the ones they choose in preference to the Prophet, on whom be peace,”  Sayyid Muhammad Abdullah Hassan; The Father of Somali nationalism.


Militias loyal to Islamic courts led by one of the courts decorated captains; Hassan Turki, just took over Kismayo, one of the major southern seaports that had been outside of the Union Islamic Courts’ control, in a bloodless coup d'état from Barre Hiiraale, another hapless warlord. This strategic takeover of Kismayo and the Islamist’s swift drive to pre-empt the supposed IGAD and TFG plan of deploying African Union peace-keeping force through the city’s main port is a testimony to the shrewdness and forethought of the Islamic Courts’ leaders.


The Islamic Courts Union (ICU) carried out these preemptive and tactical conquests before in Jowhar and Beledwene even though those cities were not as strategically important as Kismayo. Both cities were under the insignificant iron-grip of Ethiopian backed warlords.  Warlord Barre Hiiraale, the defeated warlord and defense minister of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) was not into the Ethiopian fold though, so why all of sudden he became the courts number one main concern? The Islamic Court’s main grouse was that warlord Barre Hiiraale, was clandestinely double dealing with Abdullahi Yusuf, the warlord-cum president of Somalia. Hiiraale’s looming defeat was also in plain sight as one of the Juba Valley Alliance wings, sympathetic to the Islamic Courts Union, uncovered his sneaky activities with the TFG.


Initially, some moderates within the Islamic courts are said to have been in favor of negotiations to convince Hiiraale to abandon his two-timing actions. But the court’s hardliners rejected such proposal. Negotiating with warlords was not on the table and allowing IGAD forces to land in Kismayo was way too dangerous according to Hassan Turki and his friends.


One doesn’t have to be a brain surgeon to figure out the courts’ reasoning for the preemptive attack. The TFG implicitly contracted Warlord Barre Hiiraale as the minister of defense to woo him to designate the important seaport of Kismayo as the staging point for Ugandan and Kenyan troops to launch their decisive forays into southern Somalia. And probably to facilitate sizeable Ethiopian armaments to come ashore in support of the TFG forces. Therefore the Islamists had to enter the fray simply to thwart the imminent threat and to pump up their control in southern regions. To wait all of these IGAD and TFG ominous maneuvering would have been suicidal and accepting looming defeat.


Now that Warlord Hiiraale fled in ignominy from Kismayo ala Qanyare, one of the defeated Mogadishu warlords, and joined his friends’ rank, the weak TFG feels constricted into the marginal landlocked city of Baidao. Thus, The TFG’s practical fortification or get-away, incase they are attacked by Islamic forces, banks on the porous and rugged border with Ethiopia. Meles Zenawi, the Ethiopian dictator has to come to the rescue of his lackeys. And already reliable sources confirm the presence of Tigre forces in Baidao. Already the inept Prime Minister and his minion cabinet ministers are whimpering with their dismal “Al-Qaeda is attacking us bandwagon” and launched a desperate shout out to the international community to save them from probable annihilation by the powerful forces of the Islamists.


The latest Islamist expansion of the courts, the ensuing Ethiopian reaction, the war of words, and the latest assassination attempt of TFG president, could all be seen as sneak preview of inevitable face-to-face showdown between the government and the Islamists.

It is almost two years since the TFG was formed in Kenya in 2004, it came into existence after lengthy and tedious huddle of the rogue warlords who ravaged Somalia beyond recognition. We were told this tedious peace conference was the labor child of the International community and its desire to reconstitute the failed state of Somalia. Sadly, the fruit of that fateful faux pas in Nairobi was the fashioning of the current weak TFG which so far achieved nothing tangible other than failing so terribly to deliver its mandate.


A cautious individual recognizes his/her weakness/strength and the confines of their authorities. The transitional warlord government of Somalia, a sham fashioned in Nairobi, Kenya by Somalia’s historical enemy, Ethiopia, should not go too far by relying on outside forces for legitimacy. Somalis in general oppose and are extremely sensitive to outside interference. The obsession and insistence of foreign troops is not the way to go. If the purpose of such forces is to enforce thuggish warlords who want to stay at the top to gain muscle and then be able to control the government in order to corruptly enrich them or their clique and bribe the token rubber stamp clannish parliamentarians, as the narrow logic goes, then such folly will not sit well with the Somali masses. The era of clan patronage, cronyism is gone with Siad Barre.


The Islamic Courts has so far generated optimism within the Somali people except those few Somalis blinded by tribal pride who are envious of the miraculous success of the Islamists in Mogadishu and much of Southern Somalia. Still a large segment of Somalis are doubtful of the courts ultimate objectives and don’t know what to make of their competing interest with the TFG. The eventual goal of the Islamic courts is blurred when it comes to their commitment to democratic system and way of governance. Some are justifiably questioning whether the courts want to enforce extremist and imported version of Islam on the tolerant Somali population or whether they just want to pave the way for stable and progressive Somali state? The latter is what most people hope to transpire.


Even though, the Islamic Courts initially started with good spin to convince the world that they are not Taliban, the courts seem to have cast off the momentum aside and the public relations campaign to win more sympathy from the relative powers-that-be seems to be waning. The Islamic courts need to come forcefully once again to ensure the world they won’t be bedrock of terrorist fanatics. Some people in the Diaspora who wholeheartedly support the Islamic courts and their reform think the courts could do much better if they just don’t focus on trivial matters that hint and replicate the awful Taliban thugs. It is obvious that Transitional Federal Government and the Islamic Court union have different interests that could be the source of disagreements. In addition, each retains the military capacity to devastate the other but for what cost?  more bloodshed and destruction? Sometimes one would think Somalis are devoid of common sense and are irrational and warring people that only settle their difference through violence.


Both the so-called Jihadist elements within the Islamic courts and the Ethiopian cohorts within the Transitional Federal Government look as if they are going on board with ugly spiraling hostilities resembling the game of chicken. Each is frightened of the other and in the meantime is engaged in unwise provocations of the other. Maybe this is a bluffing to affect the outcome of the Khartoum talks to one’s favor.


The leaders of the Islamic Courts have spoken about their willingness to continue the Khartoum talks scheduled at the end of October. So is required of the TFG to guarantee its commitment to the talks. Instead of jumping on the dead-beat bandwagon of terrorism and bogey Al-Qaeda link, Ghedi and his TFG crowd need to shut up and abandon the meaningless tirades and name-calling. There is no excuse to duck the scheduled rendezvous in Sudan. The only promising way out to the Somali morass is by continuing the Khartoum dialogue and making sure the two sides engage each other affably. Only continued and sustained diplomatic engagement by the international community on both groups will lessen the looming crisis.


Shaacir Mataan
E-mail: [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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