by Liam Bailey
War Pages blog
In the last throws of 2006 Ethiopian forces invaded Somalia, and with Somalia's Transitional Government (TG)forces drove the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) out of Mogadishu, and with the help of American air strikes, supposedly, out of Somalia. Somali residents had lived in a state of anarchy since the dictator Siad Barre was ousted in 1991. The Union of Islamic Courts restored order and allowed people to go about their normal lives in relative security.
In UIC controlled areas children could go to school safely and once more hospitals could treat the sick without flows of injured coming in from daily violence. However, the UIC ruled with a strict code of Sharia law, meaning the security came at the cost of some personal freedoms and civil liberties. With the UIC ousted, 2007 began a new chapter for Somalia, a new chapter of violence and insecurity.
The UIC began their sweep to power, taking the capital Mogadishu Jun 2006. By December they controlled most of Southern and Central Somalia. The Transitional Government's one remaining stronghold was Baidoa and a small area surrounding it, where it is widely believed Ethiopian troops were stationed to protect the government.
The United Nations was responsible for the imposition of the TG. In early December they still recognized it as the only governing body in Somalia or "The only route to peace and stability" --as it was called in Resolution 1725--, despite it being made up of warlords. The warlords were responsible for much of the violence, insecurity and terrorizing of the civilian population before the UIC took power.
The U.S gave strong support to the TG, against the UIC forces. Strong support to the very warlords that, by inflicting heavy casualties, forced the withdrawal of U.S. forces in a peacekeeping mission in the early nineties. U.S support failed to stop the UIC advance. Shortly before the Ethiopian invasion the U.S presented a draft Resolution to the UN Security Council (UNSC). The Resolution laid out the rules of engagement for a proposed Inter-Governmental Authority on Development and African Union force to enter Somalia. The fore was to protect the TG, to restart the peace negotiations between the TG and the UIC, but ultimately to reinstall the UN recognized government and engage any forces running contrary to that mission.
It was adopted as Resolution 1725 but the UIC's rapid sweep to power gave the impression that they were a strong determined and highly capable fighting force. This combined with the UIC's war declaration on Ethiopian forces in Somalia, their threats to attack peacekeepers and the Iraq quagmire, which started from a similar mission, to make IGAD countries reluctant to send their forces into what could easily become another Iraq.
Ethiopia showed no such reluctance, because Ethiopia had no such noble intentions.
With U.S. support, Ethiopia responded to the UIC's final attack on the last remaining government stronghold of Baidoa. Ethiopia said throughout that it had no intention of occupying Somalia, its only mission was to oust the UIC and return the TG to the seat of power. Unexpectedly the UIC put up little resistance, displaying none of the fight to the death attitude they had spoken of. Ethiopian and TG forces made short work of removing the strict regime of the UIC. As they beat a hasty retreat the UIC made statements to the press promising to wage a guerrilla war, "like Iraq".
So, it seems that the U.S., Ethiopia and the UN believe freedom is more important than security.
Ethiopia is keeping to its word and their forces have already begun to withdraw. The UIC is also keeping its promise and since their defeat, Somalia, more specifically Mogadishu has been rocked by almost daily, mortar, rocket propelled grenade attacks, and occasional suicide bomb attacks. According to reports an 8000 strong African Union force is now expected to enter Somalia in mid-April 2007. Uganda was due to announce a date for a small Burundian advance force but the news conference was cancelled.
Given the failure of 7000 AU troops to stop the violence in Darfur, Sudan, it is unlikely they will adequately fill the vacuum left by the Ethiopian forces. It is also unlikely they will afford the TG the same protection as the Ethiopian force and a UIC uprising could begin anew. Given the consistent UIC statements to view peacekeepers as an invading force it is almost certain the peacekeepers will become targets for insurgent warfare, and even more certain they will fail to stop the insurgency.
Mogadishu residents are fleeing the city en masse to take residence in makeshift refugee camps on the outskirts. Without security people can't live their day to day lives but have the freedom to make personal choices. I believe Somalis would rather be secure in their day to day lives, be able to live in their homes, be able to go out without getting caught up in violence or fear of not returning home, or having no home to return to, and be able to send their kids to school without fear of them being killed on the journey. Even if it meant they couldn't enjoy western comforts, listen to western music, or go to the cinema.
So, by trying to give the Somali people freedom, Ethiopia and the U.S. have returned them to the anarchy they have already endured far too much of. Some people are forced to leave their homes, and so not free to live where they choose, others are forced to stay indoors. Therefore security is more important than freedom, because without security there isn't much freedom, and what little there is can't be enjoyed.