Violence Unlikely to End in Somalia
by Liam Bailey
Since February 1,300 people have died in the fighting in Somalia's capital Mogadishu, mostly civilians. The violence has been ebbing and flowing since the Ethiopian military helped the Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.) forces to oust the Union of Islamic Courts (U.I.C.) in December 2006.
The U.I.C had swept to power in Mogadishu and most of southern and central Somalia, mid-2006, replacing 15 years of widespread anarchy with their brand of socially restrictive calm. Now they have gone, the capital is facing an insurgency of their remnants, which is responsible for much of the violence.
However rival clans jostling for power; the cause of the anarchy before the U.I.C. took control, have returned to take up their part in the current violence. Adding Ethiopian troops to the mix, which are said to be deeply hated by most Somalis, as well as one clan's predominance in the government and its ill-advised policies, we can only hope the current violence doesn't last another 15 years.
Most of the 1,300 dead have been civilians. In fact so many civilians have been killed that reports in the press are calling their "massacre" a "war crime," because of the heavy shelling and air-strikes in populated areas by Ethiopian and government forces. According to the same reports, the U.S.'s logistical and direct support of the Ethiopian and T.F.G. actions makes them equally guilty of any war crimes. An example of just how, either indiscriminate or grossly careless their methods for dealing with the insurgency are came on April 25, when Mogadishu's S.O.S. children's hospital was struck in an Ethiopian mortar attack.
Some believe the pounding of civilian areas is a deliberate and determined effort to intimidate the families of those involved in the fighting. Whatever the reason, according to U.N. estimates the government and Ethiopian shelling of civilian homes and hospitals has led to an estimated 340,000 people fleeing the capital and camping on the outskirts of Mogadishu -- in areas recently affected by severe flooding after prolonged droughts. This has sparked fears of a cholera outbreak among the refugees with 40 confirmed cases as of mid-April, with that and other diseases killing 593 people.
The latest fighting ceased on April 27 after nine days. There were yet more reports of dozens of bodies rotting in the streets with the fighting too intense to safely retrieve them. This is a situation that will only help outbreaks of disease spread like wildfire and with the situation on the ground too dangerous for any serious humanitarian efforts, the death toll could escalate rapidly.
The lull in fighting since Friday allowed the dead to be retrieved and a small contingent of aid workers into the capital with food, medical supplies and blankets for the refugees -- although some of the refugees have taken advantage of the calm and returned to their homes.
The guns falling silent also brought claims by T.F.G. leader Abdullahi Yusuf that they had defeated the insurgents, but "Western" diplomats speaking on condition of anonymity said that although the insurgents had been weakened and were lacking ammunition they had not been defeated. Most analysts predict that the trend will continue: the insurgents will lie low, regroup and re-emerge with a fresh, even more intense wave of attacks.
This fear can be seen in Ethiopia's latest way of dealing with the fighting. Reports by UNICEF and international journalists tell of Ethiopian and T.F.G. forces doing house to house searches and arresting dozens of men of fighting age -- whether they are known combatants or not. Those reports went hand in hand with reports of a decentralized Guantanamo in the horn of Africa, holding hundreds of young African males without charge or adequate legal representation -- pending interrogation and possibly torture.
Another trend that is continuing in Somalia is the low likelihood of a permanent end to the fighting. The African Union has taken charge of pacifying Somalia, but the proposed 7,000 strong A.U. force is still only 1,500 Ugandan troops. Although, how even 7,000 African Union troops are supposed to quell an insurgency that 20,000 well funded, armed and trained Ethiopian troops are struggling to keep at bay is beyond me. Perhaps that is why the other countries have been reluctant to honor their pledges, although officially, a lack of A.U. funding and equipment is making the deployments difficult.
Richard Kavuma of The Uganda Observer told me via e-mail:
"The Ugandan Defense Ministry appears convinced that the other countries like Nigeria, Ghana and Burundi will eventually make good of their promise.
"Each time there are reports of intensified fighting, the army comes out to stress that the Ugandan troops are not involved or affected. That, for me, shows that they are conscious of the fact that Ugandans are watching that space and would not like their soldiers to be killed needlessly.
"I think therefore, it all depends on if the Ugandans can remain safe.
"If the U[ganda]P[eoples]D[efense]F[orce] registers high numbers of causalities, then they will put pressure on other countries to speed up deployment."
Speaking to the press, Ugandan commander Katumba Wamala said of the lull in fighting:
"It's not yet a time to celebrate. Once they [the militiamen] come out [and] surrender, their lives will be protected. If that is not done, then we could have a situation where those small groups become a source of insecurity."
The latest path the government is taking, if anything makes an end to the violence less likely. The T.F.G. has appointed two of the warlords responsible for much of Somalia's anarchy between Siad Barre's ousting in 1991 and the U.I.C taking power in 2006. Abdi Hassan Awale, popularly known as Qaybdiid was appointed national police boss, and Mohamed Dheere, mayor of the gun-infested capital.
Dheere was the self-appointed local governor whose forces secured Jowhar, 90 kilometers (55 miles) north of Mogadishu, as a temporary base for the interim government in 2005, after it was born out of tortuous peace talks in neighboring Kenya. Qaybdiid was one of the last of a group of U.S.-backed warlords to surrender to the U.I.C. advances.
These people may head powerful militias but rival clan militias are playing their part in the insurgency because of the dominance of President Abudalahi Yusuf's Darod clan in the T.F.G. These appointments will only heighten the clan's role in the violence.
Richard Kavuma of The Uganda Observer told me his view of the appointments:
"I think this is a catch 22 situation. The ex-war lords are dangerous if outside government; but they are hard to satisfy when inside."
The other government attempt to end the violence that is also having the opposite effect is attempting to disarm the capital. Until Somalia's clans are given more of a say in the running of the country, none are going to give up their arms and accept the domination of their rivals. Put simply: unless something drastic changes in Somalia, I am afraid that the violence could last longer than 15 years.
Liam Bailey writes regularly for the Palestine Chronicle, Arabic Media Internet Network and is an advanced blogger on the Washington Post's Postglobal. He runs the War Pages blog and can be contacted by E-mail.
Liam Bailey's articles on Somalia