By Mahdi Gabose
The consensus seems to be that we are headed for a new war in Somalia between the TFG (Transitional Federal Government) supported by Ethiopia its IGAD allies and the US against the UIC (Union of the Islamic Courts) in Mogadishu supported by Eritrea, a number of Arab countries including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and possibly freelance fighters lured by the prospect of the coming Jihad.
The fact that Washington sponsored and managed to pass a resolution at the UN to lift the arms embargo in Somalia is a clear indication of its current inclination of facilitating arms shipments and foreign troop movement into the country for what seems to be an inevitable new war in Somalia. Having supported the loosing side previously when it backed the infamous warlords the U.S. is keen on making an impression on the ground this time by supporting the TFG. The hope is that by achieving some military victories on the battlefield with Ethiopian troops they might weaken the UIC influence to a more manageable level instead of the real problem they pose for the region and for Washington’s war against terror.
This reflexive approach that favors dealing with the symptoms instead of the underlying condition is precisely the reason why the US seems to be loosing credibility among the Somali population and running out of good options on the ground.
Before we address the US shortcomings it is worth noting that the Somali conflict has been in the past a Somali affair, sure there were always outside forces looking after their own interests wanting to shape events, venues and even outcomes, but none of the previously “concocted governments” were able to take root because they all lacked legitimacy in the eyes of the people, and time after time different pretenders and their supporters came and left when they could not achieve the necessary traction to last.
Things are somewhat different this time, the roles have been reversed and the strings are being pulled by outside forces and interests looking for the right proving grounds and the Somalis are the willing puppets in this latest mad dash to this familiar trail of tears we have come to know so well.
The trouble with the UIC is that other than claiming that God is on their side and that they are the only ones qualified to implement “His laws” on the land, they have proven to be a bit too opaque for anyone to know for real what their true intentions are, whether they are actually an outgrowth of local discontent with the decade long warlord feuds, or a Wahabi nurture movement whose interests and priorities may not be necessarily those of the Somali people. The sudden imposition of new laws banning trivial matters such as soccer and smoking among other things when the country is on the verge of a new war does not inspire people’s confidence in the decision making process of those in charge.
On the other hand it does not require one to make too much of an effort to connect the dots and conclude that there cannot be a TFG without Ethiopia’s backing and muscle and one would be hard press to tell where Abdullahi Yusuf (President of the TFG) ends and Meles Zenawi (Ethiopia’s Prime Minister) begins.
It is also worth noting that there is a lot of history to suggest that Ethiopia’s interests are distinctly different and usually are opposite from what can be considered genuine Somali interests.
Wars are by nature an extension of political end games, and the question that begs an answer is whose political end games is this war going to serve?
Too many cooks in this version of Hell’s kitchen but what is abundantly clear is that the chef with the fewest resources will be the one holding the shortest end of this political stick. This means the one with the least amount of political economic and military power is the one most likely to suffer the lasting consequences of this war, and when the guns and bombs fall silent, the burning issue for Somalis is not going to be about finding the elusive right tribal balance to shape the next government, but how fast they can learn how to speak the Amharic language in order to live in what will be called the 6th region of Ethiopia. The other possible scenario is of course living under a radicalized version of the infallible rules of God administered by very fallible sword wielding individuals.
No good outcome for any Somali is likely to come out of this one unless the conversation and disagreement remains among and between Somalis, and even though this particular debate has been going on far too long for our liking, the fact remains that we have the right tools to resolve our differences, what we lack is the right leadership.
Whatever one feels about Somaliland, there is no ignoring the fact that they seem to have found a workable solution to their differences that does not involve shooting someone into submission. Elections are routine and losers actually concede and walk away from their official aspirations after coming just eighty votes short of being elected to the highest office in the land. The secret to their success is rooted in the belief that war is no longer an option to settle political differences and that there is wisdom in respecting the rule of elders. This brought about the unusual spectacle of aspiring office seeker who are no longer able to shoot their way into the sought positions and are instead reduced to beg for votes, while making promises they cannot keep like any other politician should.
This seemingly unattainable condition for the Somalis in the South is very much within their reach, what is required for them is to recognize that true reconciliation and peace can only be found if they stop seeking the right formula for peace in foreign capitals and instead look inward and follow the proven path their brothers in Somaliland have taken.
Somaliland can play a major role in facilitating such an endeavor by offering to mediate between the two factions in the South and inviting them to Hargeysa to provide the right venue and conditions to allow such a peace conference to take place.
This new initiative will have a greater chance of success if the US which is currently seen as myopic and part of the larger problem changes its stand and supports a negotiated solution for the current situation before the unintended consequences of a shooting war become harden realities on the ground. With the right combination of carrots and sticks the TFG and the UIC can be induced to come to Hargeysa and negotiate in good faith as brothers among brothers.
A new approach from Washington will go a long way in changing the negative perception of being seen as one dimensional reactive entity to one that is supportive and respectful of the wishes and aspirations of the Somali people.
Soft power is what is needed here!
There are real advantages for Somaliland to take a more prominent role in this matter because it is in it’s best interest to play the peacemaker role today and create good will and trust among its very volatile neighbors instead of waiting and dealing with the aftermath creation of whatever radicalized entity is to emerge from the current chaotic environment. Sticking your head in the proverbial sand and hope for the best is no longer an option for Somaliland, it is time to be proactive and shape events while the window of opportunity exists and gain the stature and recognition that so far have proven to be quite elusive.
The elephant in the room when Somaliland is the mix is one we are all aware of but addressing the sovereignty issue at this juncture is quite premature and should be postponed to a more suitable period when there is actually a legitimate entity in the South that can give it it’s due consideration instead of the absolute prevailing positions that are currently taken.
This maybe considered heresy in some camps but the quickest road to Mogadishu may actually be through Hargeysa, not Nairobi, Djibouti and definitely not Addis Ababa.
Let’s try the sit under the cool shade of our thorn tree, it has yet to fail us.
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