By Ali Osman
Is the US foreign policy to advance the US interest or Ethiopian Interest?
The United States foreign policy in Somalia could be summed up to advance Ethiopian interests in the Horn of Africa. America's most important national interest in Somalia currently is the prevention of Strong Somali Republic with a Pan-Somali agenda or ideology to get a hold in Somalia. The United States actions to turn deaf ear to Ethiopian aggression against sovereign Somalia while Eritrea draws scorn for its alleged support for the Islamic Courts cannot be explained other than the US willingness to promote and support Ethiopian dominance in the horn of Africa.
US maintain this balance of domination through regional balance and counter balances. For example the Middle East is balanced by Israel. The former Russian federation is balanced by Russia. The South East Asia is balanced by India and US is trying to balance East Africa by Ethiopia. In the light of the current Somalia developments; the Islamic Courts Union is seen a threat to this balance of power. The same way United States sees Hugo Chavez’s recent election to be a threat to this balance in the Latin America.
Preventing of strong Somali Republic is widely recognized as an important American interest and to guarantee strong Somali Republic does not emerge there is a reasonable expectation and willingness to use force. The force could be the use Ethiopia and Uganda as the balancing factor. It could be in the form of surgical strike against the Islamic Courts Union leadership and infrastructure. It could also come in the form of bolstering the current transitional government and using it along with IGAD forces to lessen the influence of the Islamic Courts. All these measures would back fire and would radicalize a nation of warriors to be resolute in their desire to establish their desired Republic with a huge life and material cost. This is a worthy cause for the Somalis but not for Ethiopia and certainly not for the United States.
It does not matter what actions the Islamic Courts take or what they tell the world media; United States sees them as threat to their national and international interest. Regardless, that the Islamic Courts came together to prevent the threat posed by the warlords to their schools and Islamic infrastructure or that they might have more moderates than hardliners. Most of them might be interested in cooperating with a transitional government if it recognizes the Islamic Sharia and expels the Ethiopian troops and warlords.
The United States believes that the Islamic Courts are threat to the US interest is cemented by their believe that Colonel Hassan Dahir Aweys, the current elected leader of the Islamic Courts is their list of suspects. We have no knowledge of what he has been suspected of whether it is a legitimate concern or conjecture similar to the closure and now the cleared Albarakaat enterprises. Nonetheless he makes the case for the American argument that the Islamic courts are bent on becoming another Taliban. On the other side, since he is a decorated war hero, an unquestionable nationalist, a man not tainted by tribalism and the architecture of the defeat of the warlords he deserves to hold that position in the eyes of the Somali people.
We all know the US interest is not guaranteed by pre-emptive strike as the case in Iraq makes clear for anyone who paid attention the developments there. Similarly, taking a pre-emptive strike against the Somali Islamic Courts might not be a wise move either. First allow me to elaborate why I believe this is a highly disastrous move.
First, the Islamic courts are primarily from grass root movements not an import from Arab countries as Ethiopian prime minister would have you to believe. In the eyes of the average Somalis they are God sent and salvation from self destruction. They have restored law and order, prices of basic food have dramatically reduced, and school attendance has increased not only among boys but also among girls. Remember, now mothers are not afraid their daughters will be raped on the way to school. High ways, airports, sea ports and media channels which was shut down for the past 17 years has been for the first time opened for business.
Secondly, the court system originated the region of the Hawiye tribe; one of the largest tribes in Somalia. The warlords that have been kicked out of Mogadishu were all from the Hawiye tribe. Therefore, the Hawiye tribes are all united behind the Islamic Courts Union as their sole representatives of their interest among the wider clans. The credible members of the Hawiye in the current Transitional Government have all resigned from their post and only the Prime Minister and few cabinet members with addiction to alcohol and narcotics are remaining. Therefore, actions taken against the Islamic Courts Union are not only interpreted an action against Islam but also interpreted as a war against the Hawiye and not from some virulent Islamic group. If one wants to find out the outcome; look the results when a sub-clan within Hawiye was threatened by American forces in Mogadishu; the outcome was bloody no one has anticipated. The religion and tribal instinct is the only thing that can put a Somali in steroids.
Secondly, the Hawiye top secularist leadership was eliminated by clan warfare. What was left were either killed by revenge tribal killings or have migrated to overseas. Those remained was of low quality that become warlords or has worked with the warlord system and has lost any credibility within the wider Hawiye tribe. Therefore, the Hawiye populace made a conscious effort to work with the Islamic Courts leadership who were seen as the only salvation from self destruction and they would fight to teeth to defend it. Even the Sufi mystics have rallied around the Islamic Courts.
Thirdly, the current Somali Transitional government is seen by Somalis as illegitimate “Warlord government” and very close to their arch nemesis Ethiopia. The prime minister who is Hawiye tribe was unknown figure until he was selected by Ethiopia from a dormant IGAD office in Addis Ababa and is seen too weak to reach any consensus or mediate the affairs of his besieged government let alone create a unity government.
In addition, the current president even though he has the support of his tribe in Puntland; he once defected to Ethiopia when Somalia was engaged a war with Ethiopia and most Somalis view him as a divisive figure and that is the reason he always pleas for international peace keeping force.
Fourth, the Islamic Courts are seen pro-business of sort; the closest you can compare is the way the Republican party in the United States are seen as pro big business and that makes them to have close relationship with the business community. The business community with its formidable capital is behind them as well.
Finally, the Islamic Courts with their short term in power and their limited experience in civil affairs have shown a major progress in the area of Security, infrastructure rehabilitation and opening the Mogadishu International Airport and Sea port. The Islamic courts also opened a formal military and police training to their different militias so they can function as a unified entity that has rules and structures. This further consolidates the belief the Islamic Courts are better alternative to the madness and mayhem of the warlords.
Having pointed out the Islamic Courts and the significance of their rise to power; one must ask what United States can do to “advance American interests in the Horn of Africa” without further complicating the environment and creating another Mogadishu fiasco? I do believe the United States must look the issue of the Islamic Courts more than just a religious sect that is bent on attacking American Interest. I believe they should be looked a viable alternative to chaotic and order less system of warlords that failed the Somali state and continues to fail a Somali state to emerge.
The United States should also see the current transitional government is not one that the world or Islamic Courts could take seriously, because the warlords they have kicked out of Mogadishu still dominate it. Until an environment where the Islamic Courts demands are met such as changing the constitution to Islamic republic, making sure Ethiopia takes its forces from Somalia and replacing the prime minister and warlord members of parliament to Islamic Court members and recognizing Somalia is indivisible any negotiation with the government or support for the government would end in failure.
Therefore, every effort must be made to satisfy the reasonable conditions of the Islamic Courts to accommodate the new reality on the ground. I believe the US should not leave this noble effort to the squabbles of ineffective African regional powers who each is vying for dominating or installing their pro-governments. A good place to bring together between the groups could be Minneapolis Minnesota where most of the Somali Diaspora in America lives. If that is accomplished which is easily doable, then one could argue the American foreign policy is to advance American interests in the Horn of Africa.
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