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Editorial: Savagery in Somalia

Thursday, March 22, 2007

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THE brutal fighting that took place yesterday in their capital, Mogadishu, no doubt sent cold shivers through Somalis who long only for the return of peace. The fighting is a wake-up call to rival faction leaders that the country once again finds itself on the threshold of another decade of violence and terror.

The barbaric mutilation and burning of two dead uniformed soldiers — it is still not clear if they were Somali or Ethiopian — was horrifically reminiscent of the treatment meted out to the dead crew of the US Blackhawk helicopter in 1993 when Washington sought to intervene decisively in the bitter battles between the warlords.

Such savagery is unacceptable. It is, however, the consequence of years of anarchy in which the rule of gun and drug-crazed thugs have triumphed over the values of a poor but civilized society. The ouster of the short-lived Islamic Courts government by the interim Somali government backed by the Ethiopian military offered the country a new start. It was always inevitable that Islamist fighters, once they had recovered from their overthrow, would begin a guerrilla campaign. This need not, however, have been a serious challenge to the interim government. While the Islamic Courts had brought peace at last, for which every Somali was grateful, their disorganization and their increasingly proscriptive measures rapidly led to their loss of popularity.

So how in such a short period of time has the hope of a new beginning become so degraded? In part, it is because of the suspicion with which Somalia has become infected. Nobody doubts that the Ethiopians intervened at the behest of the Americans. The long-standing rivalry between Mogadishu and Addis Ababa over the ownership of the Ogaden region meant that the presence of the Ethiopian military on their capital’s streets would inevitably be unwelcome to most Somalis. Ethiopian promises that their troops would go home “within two weeks” were not believed and, as it turns out, the troops did not go home in two weeks.

The African Union force that is only now deploying in its peacekeeping role has yet to inspire local confidence. Somalia’s own military, such as it is, has not received the whole-hearted backing of the warlords. Had it done so, the best men from their private armies would be joining the Somali ranks now. They are not.

Put bluntly, the warlords do not trust each other and are therefore not yet prepared to give whole-hearted support to the interim government which they themselves agreed is only way forward. So long as the Somali government remains weak, the Ethiopians will have reason to remain and popular unrest will continue to grow. Such anger will see a return to factionalism and the reappearance of warlordism and anarchy.

There are alarming parallels with Iraq and America’s direct intervention. Somalia’s suspicious rivals need to have the vision to appreciate that their own interests, to say nothing of that of all Somali citizens, will be best served by peace and stability. They must renew their commitment to work together in the interim government and give the Ethiopians no further reason or excuse to remain.

Source: Arab News, Mar 22, 2007