The meteoric and emotionally exhilarating rise of the Somali Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) during the first half of 2006 finds a match in dramatic effect, albeit of an unlike kind and with a contrasting impact, in the UIC’s depressingly precipitous downfall at the end of that very same year. The emotional highs and lows that Somalia’s citizens went through can be likened to the sort of frenzied elation quickly followed by heart wrenching stupor that the rider of a roller coaster endures from being suddenly jerked and shot up into the thin air to just as abruptly be made to tumble down the distance ascended in the climb as soon as the carriage transporting him reaches the maximum altitude to which carriages of the roller coaster contraption are set to climb.
by Dr. Ali Abdirahman Hersi
March 05, 2007
The UIC’s not so Unexpected Demise
Somalis, who took pleasure in the emergence and spectacular rise of the UIC, especially those monitoring its career and achievements with admiration from great distances, were all heartbroken by the swift collapse of the movement in which they have staked so much emotional investment. Amazingly enough, some who were closely associated with the UIC and others not so intimately involved in its affairs, but who nevertheless studied its activities at relatively close quarters, were not similarly affected emotionally by the wild and momentous changes in the UIC’s fortunes. To those two groups, the UIC’s easy victory over the warlords was a bit surprising but the speedy falling apart of the movement was neither out of the ordinary nor unexpected. These two groups, who are both in the know on the short-lived career of the UIC, claim to have quickly detected in the Union of Islamic Courts a number of disturbingly fatal flaws that destined it to a sad and unavoidable collapse similar to the early 1990s disappointing failure of the al-Itihad Islamic movement. These groups emphatically maintain that the downfall of the UIC was easily predictable and insist that the blame for its demise goes primarily to obviously detrimental fallout from two distinct but otherwise closely intertwined genetic flaws of this organization itself, and only secondarily to the force of external causes.
One of these two fatal flaws, which doomed the UIC to failure, stemmed in part from its lack of a shared and clearly elucidated ideology to guide its political activities and in part also from the UIC leaders’ inability to realize strong organizational unity from their many hapless attempts to effectively combine the disparate courts constituted in the UIC alliance into a single and strongly fused organization with a unitary authority system that would enable its formally constituted leadership to command respect and mandatory obedience to its directives and that would also allocate to the leadership of this body exclusive powers to initiate and centrally direct the implementation of future programmatic activities of the UIC’s constituent courts. As we shall presently explain, failure of the UIC’s leaders to fix these inbuilt and deeply entrenched organizational deficiencies of the UIC resulted in defective and essentially anarchic governance that proved to be injurious to their movement in many respects. The other just as harmful failing of the UIC, attributable in part to the UIC’s disorderly system of rule, was the astonishing foolhardiness in action and tactlessness in word of some of its young and inexperienced leaders, a behavior that annoyed friends and foes alike.
These leaders’ manifest deficiency in the art and attributes of statesmanship was fully exposed when they began to commit diplomatic slip-ups that had disparaging consequences for them and for the nation too. These diplomatic mistakes sent to powerful enemies of the UIC the invitation they sorely needed to invade Somalia and to drive the hated UIC regime to oblivion. However, these inbuilt weaknesses and the brevity of its regime’s term in office could not, separately or in combination, prevent the UIC from the realization of miraculous achievements that brought incalculable pleasure to the Somali masses and to some unlikely beneficiaries who fortuitously benefited from the UIC’s astonishing exploits. In short, the UIC was driven, in the process of benefiting so many including many of its own sworn enemies, unawares perhaps but inexorably, to self-destruction by some of its own youthful leaders.
I. Origins of clan courts and their development into the UIC
At different times during the 1990s, the different Somali clans in Mogadishu formed what later on became member courts of the UIC, to deal with security matters for the benefit of their respective clan members. These courts operated with total autonomy and mutual independence of each other, the activities of every court strictly confined to the territory that its clansmen inhabited. The history of the Union of Islamic Courts, an essentially recent phenomenon, began only about two years back when a number of the then existing clan courts got together and formed this umbrella organization for the purposes of coordinating their activities and of providing facilitation for teamwork among them in the fight against crime they were all engaged. For in spite of working as independent and unrelated forces, the clan courts were collectively responsible for the maintenance of security in all the different quarters of the city. There were in fact compelling reasons for them to work in partnership every now and then, especially in the pursuit of those criminals who ran away from justice in the areas under the control of their own clansmen and took refuge in other clans’ territories.
The spirit of natural comradeship among the clan courts and the realization of their need for teamwork has been gathering momentum with an ever mounting urgency since 2001 when the USA declared its intentions to wage war against Islamic terrorist groups and because of the frequent occurrence from then on of mysterious and scary acts of abduction of religious leaders by shadowy bounty hunters who used to either eliminate their victims or alternatively surrender them in exchange for cash payments to US secret agents or to the spy organizations of other hostile foreign governments similarly engaged in the hunt for Muslims, often stamped unfairly with the mark of religious fanaticism and militancy. Solidarity among the member courts of the UIC gained additional strength when a group of Mogadishu’s local warlords stated in early 2006 that they came together in the so-called Association for the Restoration of Peace and the Fight Against Terrorism, bluntly accusing several prominent leaders of some UIC member courts of harboring an indefinite number of foreign terrorists that their alliance intended to hunt down.
This open challenge to the personal safety of specific court leaders and in general also to the security of the wider religious community in the country, helped transform the formerly periodic operational cooperation among the courts associated in the UIC organization into an intimate and closely knit alliance for the mutual defense of the UIC’s member courts. The alliance became a practical reality in the course of the hostilities that soon broke out between the UIC and this newly formed alliance of warlords. In an amazing collective expression of the hatred they bore for the warlords, the Somali masses now flocked in this war to the defense of the UIC. This vital popular support enabled the UIC to vanquish the warlords and to emerge victorious from the struggle.
The instantaneous coming of the people to the aid of the UIC was an instinctive and uncharacteristic mass rebellion against unhelpful old clan ties that obligated one to be supportive of one’s own kith and kin, for reasons good or bad and with unquestioned loyalty, at all circumstances and in all matters. During the civil war era, the warlords skillfully exploited this societal failing to their advantage, to perpetuate the conditions of conflict that have served them well and to effectively foil all the past peace making efforts seeking to restore the fallen Somali state. Therefore, this popular revolt against the shackles of traditionalism gave hope that the Somalis might at long last have come to wisely realize the futility of their turbulent ways and might henceforth work toward the restoration of normalcy and peaceable conditions to their lives. Unfortunately, this hope was soon dashed through no fault of the masses but largely because of inherently negative birth defects of the UIC regime that began to contest the TFG for control of the reins of state in Somalia. And it is to a consideration of the said fatal defects of the UIC’s regime we turn now.
II. The Fatal Birth Defects of the UIC’s Regime
A. Organizational & Administrative Deficiencies of the UIC
1. The Fault of Assuming Responsibility With No Preparation
The UIC constituted a loose association of clan courts honor bound solely to come to each other’s assistance if an occasion called for joint operational action. Like the clans they separately served, the clan courts that became associated in the Union of Islamic Courts continued, even after the formation of the UIC, to be quite independent of each other, uniformly very jealous of their independence and separate identities. One could not point to any clearly articulated political ideology that bound member courts of the UIC together, though on occasion individuals associated with these courts commonly expressed their preference for the resurrection of the Somalia state on the principles of Islamic governance.
But even if all the individual court leaders shared these notions of Islamic rule that they all expressed, they appear not to have developed any theoretical construct or, for that matter, any practical action programs towards the realization of the ideal of Islamic governance for Somalia that they purportedly shared and espoused in their sermons and public statements.
Also the public statements of the court leaders did not make intimation of any ongoing UIC attempts to formulate other principles of cooperation among their courts for work beyond the task of their jointly waging war against criminality in the city. They apparently did not envision for a moment that the task of running a country might one day fall upon their shoulders and apparently did not put in place any optional operational plans to that end.
Credible illustration of the UIC’s lack of plans and preparedness for the task can be found, as we will presently show, in the confusions and administrative anarchy that characterized the behavior of the different units of authority in the demonstrably rudderless regime the UIC created. This is proof enough that the UIC’s rise to power was unplanned and truly accidental.
Be that as it may, the UIC, on defeating the warlords, suddenly found itself burdened with the heavy responsibility of running a city and, shortly thereafter, of an additional territory that encompassed almost two-third the total size of Somalia’s landmass. This was a job the UIC leadership was neither qualified for nor expected to ever undertake. For the most part, the leaders of the UIC courts had neither formal secular education nor any skills of relevance to the situation.
Those among them who have had formal education were recent university graduates, below the age of 40 and with practically no experience in politics or public administration. Worse yet, they were all possessed of an incapacitating fear and suspicion of anyone that might have had training in and experience in these matters, particularly if such a person did not belong to any of the courts that organized themselves into the UIC. So, woefully wanting in management skills themselves, and in the event distrustful of those with the required knowledge or experience, the UIC leadership understandably failed to establish a single institution responsible to them for the delivery of needed public services to the citizenry and for the management of other public affairs. Their whole energy and time were consumed in efforts to iron out differences among the member courts of the UIC and in damage control, to minimize the harm to the UIC’s public image that resulted from the clearly uncoordinated manner in which the member courts behaved.
2. The Faults of Incompetence and Fruitless Groping in the Dark
At the beginning, the leadership quickly established a numerically small executive council, theoretically responsible for the day-to-day running of the UIC’s business and a much larger and somewhat cumbersome advisory council entrusted sadly with ill-defined responsibilities. But that was all. There remained the vexing problem of welding together the disparate member courts of the UIC and amalgamating them into a single body with a central authority, a hierarchical command system comprising the institutions that marked the different levels of authority in its administrative structure as well as the specific and specialized functions of the units at the different levels of this authority system.
Towards the end of their tenure, the leaders of the UIC at long last managed to make a little progress here, establishing a regional court for the city of Mogadishu, an appeals court and a number of specialized courts with authority to hear cases citywide in their respective areas of judicial competency and even succeeded to bring the militias of all the different courts under a single command. The leadership of the UIC spent a lot time struggling with the thankless task of fusing and molding the host of separate courts loosely associated in the UIC’s voluntary arrangement into a single organization with a disciplined and structured authority system acceptable to all its constituent parties.
This proved to be a hard nut to crack because these courts have traditionally never submitted to any higher authority. They were strongly resistant to parting with their liberties and independence of action. The UIC leadership’s groping in the dark for an organizational framework that would best suit their purposes in their pursuit after their goals of first molding the disparate courts into a single faction and of then establishing an Islamic Somalia state under their authority continued without respite throughout the tenure of the UIC’s regime, but with little success.
3. Unhappy Consequences of the UIC Regime’s Administrative Disorderliness
While the top leaders were engaged in the fruitless task of unifying the UIC’s general membership, the individual courts in Mogadishu and in the regions that have fallen to the UIC were left alone to their own old devices, to operate for all practical purposes on their own as independent mini regimes. An abiding sense of disorderliness, which greatly annoyed and flabbergasted the masses, was the principal characteristic of the UIC’s regime, with the individual courts managing the affairs of their specific areas of control on the personal judgment and whims of the local courts’ leadership. When the people complained about the anomalous behavior of the local court leaders, the UIC’s top leadership merely disowned the said causes of public irritation but otherwise did nothing to correct the situation. There was no shortage of advice for many people with the expertise and experience that the court leadership lacked voluntarily offered very helpful technical advice to the courts but their counsel fell uniformly on deaf ears and the resultant unfavorable administrative anarchy persisted to the very end of the UIC’s tenure. Lack of coordination among the activities of the different member courts and the enforcement of different regulations in different quarters increasingly alienated a public that was otherwise overly tolerant and willing to put up with the courts’ many mistakes largely because of the gratitude it felt for the removal of the warlords and the restoration to it of the peace it missed so much and yearned for during the previous 16 years.
To cite but a few illustrative examples of the confusions and counterproductive programmatic activities that distinguished the lackluster administrative system of the UIC, the Islamic court established for the Lower Jubba region unilaterally banned on coming to power the consumption and sale of qat as well as cigarette smoking in the territories under its control. Also a number of Mogadishu’s courts and some in other regional towns ordered, with similar display of disregard for any higher authority, the closure of cinema houses in their areas. These courts not only banned the showing of sex films of which the Somali society strongly disapproved but they also forbade the watching by the youth of sports events on TV. At least one regional court authority banned the airing of songs and music programs over their local radio station. These as well as many other unpopular regulations were put into effect by the different courts with no input in their formulation from, or attempt at correction by, the UIC’s topmost leadership, understandably causing great harm to the UIC’ image and public relations.
Worse than the irritants cited above that resulted from the anarchical nature, lacking in central direction, of the UIC’s unsystematic governance were numerous uncalled for attacks by UIC leaders or by its personnel on the property or the personal dignity of the citizens. In the manifestly free for all administrative anarchy we have already described, individual foot soldiers of the courts took the law into their own hands and dispensed justice as they deemed fit. Militiamen of the courts as young as 15 years of age frequently used a whip on elderly people for sundry trivial reasons, as in the case of a driver who might have failed to see their signal to stop and have thus continued driving in an inadvertent disregard of their authority. These youthful court militiamen also habitually abused anyone they might have seen smoking cigarettes or listening to music. Every court officer became a law unto himself and there was no recognizable higher authority to which the citizens so abused could go to raise complaint against the perpetrators of these noted acts of inhuman mistreatment and to seek redress for the humiliation and physical pain they suffered at the hands of these young militiamen of the courts. Sadly also the unmistakable and loudly expressed public outrage that the primitive indiscretions of the courts’ young soldiers generated had no effect whatever on the UIC’s top leadership and the abuse continued unabated to the very end.
More galling than all these irritants was the sudden and undignified manner in which the UIC banned the consumption and sale of qat in all the areas that have come under the control and authority of its member courts. As we have stated, the court set up for the Lower Jubba had unilaterally banned qat and cigarettes smoking in the territories under its control. Many citizens of the Lower Jubba were naturally alienated by what they saw as an unfair imposition and as an infringement on their rights. When the UIC regime decided to finally ban the qat trade it did this in a shockingly awkward manner that put the UIC in a direct collision course with many of its formerly intransigent and diehard loyal fans.
One day in early November, members of UIC militias manning a checkpoint located at km-18 to the west of Mogadishu, stopped vehicles transporting qat to the city from the km-50 air strip and imperiously ordered the vehicles drivers to bring the loads of qat they were carrying down to the ground and without so much as offering an explanation for what they intended to do, simply set all the vehicles’ loads of qat on fire. On the next day, other court militiamen similarly seized a consignment of qat unloaded at Mogadishu’s international airport and burned it. The act of simply seizing and burning imported qat was the most damaging blunder that the UIC regime committed, one that has no doubt cost it the loss of the support of a large proportion of the population that has given staunch backing to the UIC before that day.
No doubt about it, this sudden seizure of legally imported qat was a gross procedural mistake, an unintelligent and out of character move that revealed the UIC leadership’ sorrowful incompetence, their overall political immaturity and, most particularly, their troubling lack of managerial skills. With the impulsive confiscation and destruction of people’s lawfully imported commodity prior to legally banning the trade in it, the courts made an elemental mistake, absurd and injurious twice over. It was an inexcusable attack on some peoples’ property the retail trade of which constituted the only means of making a living for many more. In addition to betraying the appalling managerial ineptitude of the UIC’s leadership and their lack of familiarity with human psychology, the incident also revealed one other fatal weakness of the UIC’s leaders. They collectively seemed to be surprisingly oblivious, and even insensitive, to the disparaging consequences of their activities and policy decisions.
It should have been obvious to the UIC leaders that the act of banning qat would meet strenuous resistance from the public and would create enemies for them since the qat trade was the sole source of livelihood literally for hundreds of thousands of families. As soon as news of the burning of qat on the second day reached the city, thousands of angry demonstrators whose means of earning their daily bread depended solely on the trade in qat expectedly took to the streets to violently protest this unfair, cruel and perverse measure that amounted to a denial of livelihood for them. The incident also had other unhappy and sad consequences. For the high-handed means that the UIC’s forces used to quell the spreading violence caused the death of at least one person and the injury of an indefinite number of people. This incident took place at a time when thousands of Ethiopian and TFG troops were menacingly poised for an attack on the UIC, making this error all the more absurd and inexcusable.
The UIC’s unbelievable dumbness and lack of tact was adequately illustrated in an answer that one member of its top leaders gave to a question that one irate reporter put to him. The reporter asked this leader if he did not appreciate the error that the UIC’s authorities committed with the act of destroying people’s property before decreeing and publicly announcing the ban on qat, whereupon the court leader angrily shot back his response, awkwardly and shamefacedly declaring that there was no need for such a legislation or announcement of a specific date on which the prohibition of qat would take effect since consumption of qat and trade in it was already banned in the Quran 14 centuries earlier!
B. Diplomatic and Political Blunders of the UIC
The second flaw, which observers saw in the UIC and to which they have partially attributed the UIC’s final demise, was the hopeless political immaturity of its leaders who, in the context of the administrative anarchy we have described above, indulged in the commission of indefensible political and diplomatic blunders. The low level of the UIC leaders’ political sophistication can be judged from the triviality of the causes that made the UIC leaders act the way they did.
In their struggle against the alliance of Mogadishu’s warlords, the UIC achieved a spectacular victory. They subsequently also scored successive and equally impressive triumphs in the Middle Shabelle region, in Hiiraan as well as in the Central Regions, in their astonishingly effortless conquest of the southern port city of Kismayo and finally in the neighborhood of Bu’ale when they clashed against the regrouped and formidable forces of the former leader of the Juba Valley Alliance who had successfully eluded confrontation with the UIC earlier by evacuating Kismayo shortly before the advancing UIC army arrived in that city. In the estimation of the young and inexperienced members of the court’s leaders, these easy victories clearly smacked of divine intervention in their favor, a happy and most reassuring happening tantamount to Allah’s pleasure with the UIC and blessing of the cause it championed. They saw in the UIC’s early victories the unfolding of a miracle auspicious for the future of their movement and a credible divine signal beaconing it to glory and illuminating the way to greatness for the UIC.
With this belief in the actuality of a divine force backing them, it became easy for the UIC’s youthful to conclude that their movement was destined to prevail over all man made obstacles thrown in its path. A strong but false sense of self-assurance and self-delusion began to thoroughly pervade the strongly animated general membership of the UIC organization. Not only the ordinary members of the UIC movement were so affected but in time the leaders also came down with this fast spreading infection of self-deception, a number of them even getting persuaded, with varying degrees of gullibility, in the indestructibility of their rag tag militia forces.
This most simplistic and indeed dangerous viewpoint was most particularly associated with about half a dozen or so of rather young and easily impressionable members of the UIC’s leaders, known as the Shabaab, who have grown progressively susceptible to the force of this delusion and began to flaunt signs of increasing and rather unbecoming resistance to reason and rationality. These youthful Shabaab began to portray themselves and the UIC they led as god sent harbingers of desirable and long overdue drastic changes to the unsatisfactory religious and cultural conditions as well as to the equally shameful political relationships currently obtaining in the Horn of Africa. They even also began to occasionally make bold but unrealistic statements about how they intended to bring the whole region under the control of the UIC. Strongly persuaded of the excellence of their cause and of the invincibility of their militias in consequence of their belief in an invisible divine force that provided military assistance as well as suitable direction and guidance to their movement, the Shabaab began early in the UIC’s reign to make hasty and irresponsible decisions on their own without apprising the higher authorities and to routinely embark on impracticable ventures, thoughtlessly propelling the Union of Islamic Courts to its ultimate downfall.
The UIC’s young leaders also began to brusquely dismiss the reasonable warnings they received about the harm to befall the nation from their adventurism as, at best, only ill conceived propositions and, at worst, as most objectionable acts of cowardly defeatism. For instance, when advised to seek accommodation with the TFG, which was liable to receive strong assistance from the international community in case of a military confrontation between the TFG and themselves or if they were counseled to exercise caution in their stance with respect to Ethiopia’s support for the TFG and to avoid the use of needlessly antagonistic language in their diplomatic pronouncements, the deluded Shabaab leaders of the UIC responded that, on the contrary, the Ethiopian troops would flee as soon as they heard news of court militias moving in the direction of their positions and that the Somali soldiers in the employ of the TFG would in all likelihood revolt and refuse to fight for the TFG against the divinely blessed forces of the UIC. The appearance of the word Jihad in their policy proclamations became ever more frequent, with the elderly and relatively moderate elements of the UIC’s leaders generally directing their anger against the Ethiopian soldiers that were already present inside the country while the rash and youthful Shabaab usually lashed out against the Ethiopian state proper, at times even threatening to take the struggle to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. These ill-considered and tactless declarations of the Shabaab wing of the courts’ leaders relentlessly drove the UIC to the edge and to its ultimate self-destruction.
Yes, it was the younger members of the UIC’s leadership, generally known as the Shabaab, who wrought havoc upon their Islamic movement largely because of their youthful miscalculations and infantile bravado. But, we would be ethically remiss if we merely heaped blame upon the Shabaab and failed to mention any of their many positive attributes. Among the many groups associated in the UIC, the Shabaab were by far the most principled and least motivated by clan concerns or by the pursuit after personal glory and interests. The Shabaab were the conscience of the UIC movement, and the driving force behind its accomplishments as well as behind its not so positive measures. Without doubt, the Shabaab wing was the most diversified of all the UIC’s member groups in terms of clan composition. No member of the UIC’s other groups could with any degree of fairness claim freedom from motivation by such self-seeking concerns as the desire to advance the position of one’s own clan vis-à-vis other clans, the chase after personal power and/or the expectation of pecuniary returns from their involvement in the enterprise that was the UIC. Plain idealism and purity of intentions typically formed the foremost distinguishing mark that set the Shabaab apart from all the other groups of the UIC’s general membership. The Shabaab could, therefore, not be faulted for self-centered intentions or for lack of idealism.
As has always been the case with all bygone human groups that happened to eschew mundane interests and instead dedicated themselves whole-heartedly and steadfastly to a pursuit after the realization of higher, spiritual, otherworldly and non-temporal ideals or to the tasks of expediting the advent of these messianic and eschatological goals, the Shabaab grew increasingly anomalous in outlook, needlessly impervious to the advice given them by outsiders, no matter how sound or helpful, and inexplicably opposed to giving human rationality a role in the formulation of their programs. They became given to day dreaming, growing extremely arrogant and entirely scornful of the many time honored practical strategies suggested for its adoption that might have been indispensable to the successful attainment of the objectives they allegedly sought after. The result was their growing ever more crazed in outlook and their sporting of a needlessly intolerant Robespierran like sense of self-assurance, close mindedness and firmness of conviction in the rightness solely of their own perception of reality and of the wrongness of the opinions of all those who differed with them.
This mental failing of the Shabaab grew over time into a mixture of paranoia and sheer hubris that caused them to be suspicious and scornful of the purposes and integrity of all but themselves, not sparing even their elderly and less impetuous colleagues in the UIC’s leadership whose opinions and motives they privately derided and on occasion also openly found fault with. The Shabaab’s inappropriate audacity and manifestly detrimental exploits must, however, of necessity and more accurately be seen as an ill-fated case of good intentions tragically gone wrong. There is in fact a very valuable lesson to be learned from the manifestly tragic consequences that the Shabaab’s otherwise self-less aims have resulted in for the UIC. It is a lesson that bears testimony to the veracity of the wisdom contained in the old saying that advises us to use continuous self-examination in all our endeavors since “the road to hell is often paved with good intentions”! Is an astute wisdom applicable to all occasions and for all seasons that the Shabaab should have taken into account but have unfortunately failed to pay due attention to.
III. Debt Accruing to the UIC from its Truly Marvelous Accomplishments
Despite its, as we have seen, numerous and rather daunting weaknesses that brought about its final undoing, the UIC nevertheless made landmark achievements that have benefited almost everybody but the UIC. Like the wick of an oil lamp that burns itself gradually to ashes in the course of giving needed light to its users, the UIC movement dazzled the world and delivered invaluable services to friends and foes alike, to in the end sadly self-destruct and perish because of congenital but otherwise imperceptible flaws of its own. Commenting on the amazingly heroic exploits of the British Royal Air force in the effective aerial combat they engaged in over the British skies against attacking German war planes, the then British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, was said to have stated something to the effect that never in the history of mankind have so many come to owe so much to so few! The same can be said now about the UIC, which has tarried very briefly but has departed with so many owing so much to it.
The Somali public, grateful for the numerous praiseworthy accomplishments of the UIC, continues to refer to the UIC’s short career with lingering memories of fondness and nostalgia, to the TFG’s utmost annoyance. This is not without reason because the masses were the main beneficiaries of the UIC’s considerable achievements. But there are also many other unlikely recipients who have profited from the UIC’s many good deeds and are, therefore, equally indebted to the Islamic courts. We shall make, in the remaining paragraphs of the essay, a brief presentation of the worthwhile deeds of the UIC that have yielded so much benefit to so many.
A. Sources of the Enormous Debt Owed by the Public
1. Restoration of Peace, etc, to the War Ravaged Somali Public
Within a matter of weeks following its victory over the alliance of warlords, the UIC managed not only to restore peace to habitually turbulent Mogadishu but to capably also wipe out criminality in much of Southern and Central Somalia. That alone was sufficient to earn the UIC the deeply felt gratitude of the Somali masses, inside and outside the country. And indeed for the first time in over 16 years, the inhabitants of Mogadishu found reason to once again sing the praises of their political leaders. This time around, we might add, there was no hypocrisy whatsoever involved in the joyful expression by the masses of their satisfaction with the performance of their country’s political leadership. But that was not all that the public had to be grateful for. The UIC opened for everybody’s travel many streets that have constantly been closed to public traffic since 1995, the year in which the reign of UNOSOM ended, once more uniting a divided city torn asunder by civil conflict. Without doubt, however, the jewel in the crown of the UIC’s pacification work, in Mogadishu and elsewhere, was the removal from the streets of cities and from highways in the country the numerous checkpoints at which armed gangs routinely collected money by force from all vehicles using the streets or the intercity roads, frequently even robbing passengers of all the valuables they happened to carry on them. Another thing, which has obviously also endeared the UIC to the Somalis, was the campaign that the courts waged to return properties, which have been occupied by forceful means at the beginning of the civil war and that have subsequently been held by force, to their rightful owners. One other remarkable accomplishment of the UIC was the successful cleanup campaign with which the UIC removed from the streets of the national capital the unbecoming heaps of garbage that have been piling up ever since the collapse of the state and that have not only clogged up the capital city’s streets and have given them an unseemly look but that have also surely done inestimable damage to the inhabitants’ health. All these good deeds were similarly duplicated in all the other cities that have fallen to the rule of the UIC. It is these noteworthy achievements that account for the strong loyalty that the inhabitants of Mogadishu have born for the UIC, and indeed continue to do so even now. This also explains the masses’ indeed remarkable quiescence, their boundless stoicism and willingness to patiently put up with the negative consequences of the administrative deficiencies and political mistakes of the UIC regime.
2. The UIC’s Favor of Not Fighting in Urban Centers
One other indisputable favor for which all Somalis have to be grateful can be seen in the manner that the UIC conducted the struggle against the TFG-Ethiopian forces in the final stages of the conflict. The UIC forces were trounced in the open country by the superior firepower of their enemies’ land forces along with bombardment from the air with devastating effect by Ethiopia’s fighter jets, and yet the leadership of the UIC wisely refrained from engaging the enemy in the streets of major population centers despite their awareness of the ample tactical and strategic advantages over the enemy that such a street warfare afforded their militiamen.
Many erstwhile UIC cohorts have lately begun to fault the courts’ leaders for this policy, maintaining that the downfall of the courts could either have been averted or the enemy would have ended up with at best a very costly and questionable victory if only the courts’ forces have chosen to battle their enemy in the streets of the major towns. This view, however, appears a bit naïve and to a certain extent even heartless because it overlooks the likely enormous physical destruction of property and loss of human lives that would have befallen the cities had the UIC leaders chosen to wage an urban guerilla warfare.
The inhabitants of such cities as Mogadishu and Kismayo who have constantly experienced the terror and devastation of urban warfare during the past 16 years are much better qualified to render judgment in this case than those bemoaning the recent misfortunes of the UIC from their safe and distant locations and, in the event, we have not heard them voice any objections to the UIC’s decision to withdraw from their cities. By evacuating the urban centers and retreating to a wilderness that afforded them no protection against the enemy’s sustained attacks by land or deadly bombardment from the air, the UIC leaders have thoughtfully and nobly sacrificed themselves and have wisely spared Somalia’s population centers an inestimable, though doubtlessly enormous, amount of ruin. The decision to turn away from the attractive option of fighting the better armed enemy in the familiar streets of population centers constitutes another irrefutable debt owed by so many to the UIC.
3. The UIC Sparks a Revival of Somali National Unity
Perhaps not properly appreciated by most observers are the stirrings of pan-Somali unity that the UIC has generated but which have not yet had enough time to mature and crystallize. Many who are not intimately acquainted with the clan composition of the UIC’s forces and active supporters but who have only taken into account its birth in Mogadishu or who might have looked at the clan identity of the UIC’s top leaders, especially those who have stolen the limelight, have all gone wrong in judging it to be a single clan or a regional movement.
In fact it is a mistake to view it as such, i.e. as a clan or regional organization, because it in reality has drawn support and volunteers from all the Somali clans and regions of Somalia. The clan composition and political ambitions of the UIC was such that only the defeat of the UIC has saved Somaliland and Puntland from sure collapse. Large numbers of the inhabitants of these territories have either made financial contributions to the cause of the UIC or have volunteered their services to fight in its defense. Many other citizens of these two administrations have also been openly and impatiently beckoning to the UIC to extend its influence to their respective territories. It was probably a realization of the menace that the revival of the Pan-Somali feelings, which the UIC has engendered, presented in the long run to its security not fear, as was announced to the world, of an imminent attack on it by the UIC or for that matter the intention of giving protection to the embattled TFG, that propelled Ethiopia to invade Somalia, with the primary intention of uprooting the UIC movement before it developed strong roots.
B. The UIC Provides Ironic and Unintended Life Saving Services to the TFG!
Strange as this may sound, it is probably the TFG that has benefited most from the rise of the UIC and owes it more debt than anybody else. To start with, it was the UIC that removed the warlords who had denied the TFG access to the national capital or to function as the country’s national authority. Because of their ownership of enormous stockpiles of arms and because of their resolute political opposition to it, the warlords presented not only a great political challenge to the TFG but they were an undeniable menace to its very survival also. Luckily for the TFG, the UIC appeared suddenly and fortuitously on the political stage of the country and proceeded to instantly and utterly obliterate the combined forces of the warlords, serendipitously causing the effective elimination of this menace to the TFG’s security, which was also the greatest obstacle hindering its institutionalization.
The fact of not only defeating the warlords militarily but in effect also dismantling their power bases and reducing them to exiles uprooted from their social and military power bases was the first undeniable favor for which the TFG has become indebted to the UIC. At first the UIC itself appeared to be a new and greater challenge to the TFG, but then the UIC all of a sudden committed a number of fateful diplomatic and political blunders that proved to be of great service to the TFG. For more than two years prior to these occurrences, the TFG strived very strenuously to acquire from several friendly states military backing that would help it overcome the political opponents that have effectively denied it any capability to function as the country’s national authority, but to no avail. But, the TFG’s clearly sorrowful position quickly changed in late 2006 and the harbinger of this happy change of fortunes was none other than the UIC. The dramatic turn of events that has uplifted the TFG began when leaders of the UIC made a few ill-considered statements about how their forces would wage a holy war (jihad) against Ethiopia.
These tactless, unwise and ill-fated declarations of some of the UIC’s immature leaders accomplished in few weeks what the TFG has doggedly chased after but has failed to acquire during the previous two years, namely, to obtain legal license to arm herself and to also convince Ethiopia and the US to come to her aid militarily and to thereby help it defeat its UIC enemy. These few unwarranted diplomatic blunders of the UIC finally convinced the Governments of Ethiopia and the US to militarily intervene in Somalia and to save the day for the TFG.
The TFG’s indebtedness to the UIC does not end with the unintended beneficial fall out from this organization’s undiplomatic behavior. Just as valuable was the amount of renovation that the UIC has carried out during the brief term it exercised authority in Mogadishu on the public infrastructure and on government buildings that have all been inherited now by the TFG. The UIC conducted repairs on Mugadishu’s harbor and reopened it for ships to dock in and it also reopened the city’s international airport after carrying out similar maintenance work on it. Practically all the presently useable government buildings that the TFG found in the national capital, including the official residence of the head of state as well as several ministerial buildings were brought to their current level of habitability by repair work that the UIC has carried out on them. Hence, with all these benefits accruing to the TFG from the 2006 rise and work of the UIC, there can be no denying that the TFG owes an enormous debt to the UIC, ironic and even unintended perhaps but a debt nevertheless!
By Dr. Ali Abdirahman Hersi
E-mail: [email protected]