Let the Somali people have their say.
By Liam Bailey
Thankfully someone is finally talking some sense in the Somalia crisis. The Uganda Peoples' Defence Force spokesperson in Somalia is advocating that the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) be brought in and involved in talks to resolve the conflict. At last, someone realizes there won't be peace without all the warring parties being agreed. One approach may be to give the Somali force the primary objective of enforcing and supervising the Islamic equivalent of democratic elections. A Muslim once told me that sharia law has to be agreed upon by everyone. The African Union (AU) force should work to achieve a lasting mechanism whereby the people of Somalia can actually start having a say in how their country is run.
The world was shown the power of Islamic militancy in Somalia when the Union of Islamic Courts swept into a controlling position in a matter of months last year. The group was immediately picked up by Bush's radar as part of the War on Terror, because of its imposition of sharia law. The group was almost immediately marred by allegations Al Qaeda members were being given safe haven there. In the main, this was because the courts responsible for their sweep to power followed Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys' teachings of hard-line and western revered Salafist Islam. There was an internal battle between Awey's hard-line followers - and the courts that followed Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed's more moderate teachings of Qutbism.
Most courts were quite hard-line and therefore, in the main, the UIC's rule was extremely strict and harsh, but overall life was better for average Somalis than it had been for years. The UIC achieved a 15 year first in bringing forth order and safety from the carnage and chaos left behind by the ousting of dictator Siad Barre. They did this, however, at the expense of varying degrees of social and religious freedoms, which certainly didn't suit everyone. Indeed, the Somali people may eventually have decided to rise up against the UIC's possible misinterpretations of sharia law. At which times the moderates would have the power to awaken the suppressed rift within the group and destroy it from the inside, giving Somalia a more moderate form of the governance most Somalis prefer - properly managed sharia law. If they so chose.
They never got the chance. The UIC's power lasted only until December 2006 when they were forcibly driven out by advancing Ethiopian, Transitional Federal Government and U.S. special forces. Their rapid retreat led to fears that they were living to fight another way. With the Iraq model sending fiery smoke signals to Islamic militancy all around the world, the UIC's obvious choice against the superior Ethiopian military and U.S. air strikes was to launch an insurgency from the shadows and hills.
That is all water under the bridge; we must now deal with the current situation. First of all, I admire Bush's restraint in sticking to airstrikes and a very small special forces contingent to assist their Ethiopian proxy in driving out the UIC, and also utilizing the African Union to attempt to restore order. AU forces are far less likely to face a massive turn in public opinion against them, as the U.S. has in Iraq, and would undoubtedly have in Somalia. Whether or not this is because Bush needs all the forces he can get for an Iran attack remains to be seen.
Washington has now contracted a private security firm to equip and otherwise support the AU Somalia mission. The AU has its work cut out from the Iraq model, and is already facing fierce fighting and casualties. Even with the contract, the AU mission has nowhere near the manpower or firepower as the U.S is flailing wildly with inside Iraq, and if anything they face an often better armed and more organized force in the UIC. Under the watchful eyes of Bush, and the empty expanse behind those eyes, Somalia is quickly becoming Iraq II.
There is no better way to bring Somalia back from the brink of catastrophic conflict than to give all Somalia's clans tribes and ordinary civilians a say in how their country is run and by whom. Whatever else the UIC can and has been accused of, they are first and foremost Somali Muslims with Somali families. The Union of Islamic Courts will fight to see Somalia governed by Islam, and, from the contact I have with Somali journalists, sharia may well be accepted by the Somali population, provided they have a say in the behavioural and religious codes being modernized to suit today's lifestyles.
The UIC is a strong and fairly unified movement, which has shown it is capable of restoring order to Somalia, whereas the TFG suffers from internal corruption and a lack of control over its forces. This was shown in their reign of power before the UIC uprising: gunmen hijacking food trucks and general lawlessness, bringing all sorts of misery for Somalis. If the AU were to enforce and supervise democratic elections and invite the UIC to join the elections, it would almost certainly stop the fighting from their side, and therefore see an end to most of the violence.
Not only that, it would force the UIC to finally present a unified policy on how they will enforce sharia law and what behaviour they will and won't tolerate, as well as likely punishments for infringements. Elections would also allow any other independents and their supporters to put forward their solutions to Somalia's many problems. Then it is up to the Somali people to decide. Maybe the best result for the Somalia population at large is a coalition government with all major voices represented, i.e. independents making slight but important changes to some of the UIC's stricter rules, or telling the TFG to get the gunmen off the streets. The AU contingent could hang around and make sure all voices continue to be heard and acted upon.
For the AU with its limited resources, enforcing such elections may be within their capabilities. But supporting the warlord Transitional Federal Government at the behest of Bush and the UN, as well as attempting to bring peace and security against a relentless insurgency at the same time, is far beyond the AU's capabilities, or anyone else's for that matter.
*Liam Bailey writes regularly for the Palestine Chronicle and Arabic Media Internet Network. He is an advanced blogger on the Washington Post's Post Global and runs the War Pages blog. You can contact him by E-mail: [email protected]