By Bill Fletcher Jr.
Somalia is an orphan of the Cold War. A toy played with by the Soviet Union and the U.S., Somalia was invaluable during the heated contention between the two superpowers. Converting to an ally of the U.S. in the mid 1970s after years of proclaiming itself to be an example of "scientific socialism" on the East Coast of Africa, the regime of Siad Barre was in actuality an authoritarian client state held together through repression and US support.
The end of the Siad Barre regime coincided with the end of the Cold War, and as Somalia collapsed into clan-icide violence, most of the non-African world could have cared less for what was unfolding. The disintegration of the Somali state was countered roughly a year ago with the rise of a movement called the Union of Islamic Courts, a Taliban-like movement indigenous to Somalia that proclaimed an interest in ending the violence and unifying Somalia through a right-wing Islamist philosophy.
Regardless of one's opinion of the Union of Islamic Courts (and I happen to not have a favorable opinion of them), there was a several month reprieve from much of the criminal violence. As I noted in an earlier commentary, there was also no evidence of ANY connection between the Union of Islamic Courts and the Islamic fascists of Al Qaeda.
The decision of the Ethiopian government to invade Somalia, allegedly in support of the very isolated Provisional government of Somalia and in opposition to the Union of Islamic Courts, was a fateful one, and one that we in Black America should not avoid discussing. It is evident now that the Ethiopians, despite their alleged concern regarding supposed Somali separatists and Eritrean agents, would never have invaded Somalia had they not received a green light from the Bush administration. Shortly after the invasion, U.S. forces attacked an alleged Al Qaeda base in Somalia, but, once again, no proof was ever offered regarding who was being attacked. What did become public, however, was that civilians were among those killed in the attack.
Somalia is at war, once again. After an initial routing of the forces loyal to the Union of Islamic Courts, a vicious guerrilla war has unfolded, and it appears that the Ethiopians are being drawn in deeper and deeper.
Rather than approach the chaos of Somalia as a political problem, the Ethiopian government, like their Bush administration puppet-masters, have treated it as a military problem. The intervention completely ignored long-term hostility between the Somalis and Ethiopians, and assumed that through sheer military force, decades of distrust could be removed and stability introduced. Quite the opposite has taken place.
As has too often happened in the post-apartheid era, we in Black America are strangely silent regarding events in Africa, and in this case, in Somalia. When there are no white people directly involved, we seem to lose our bearings or feel that it is not up to us to comment one way or the other. But here is a situation where the USA has decided to further muck up a very complicated regional issue through encouraging an invasion. Should not we, in Black America, be concerned about this? Should we not be prodding the Bush administration to pull back from further ridiculous adventures that tear apart already fragile situations?
Somalia, much like Darfur (in the Sudan), is a situation that demonstrates the absolute need for an effective African Union. Somalia represents a country-specific crisis, as well as being part of a major regional tension.
The forces within Somalia have been unable to resolve their clan-icide and need external honest brokers to assist. The Ethiopian invasion was/is not assistance, but rather more akin to kerosene on hot coals.
The Somali crisis is also a part of a regional tension that involves conflicts between Ethiopia, Eritrea, the Sudan, Djibouti and Somalia. The U.S. has displayed little interest in helping to resolve these crises, though it did play a role in the north/south civil war in the Sudan (probably due, at least in part, to the oil in the southern Sudan). Encouraging the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, rather than paving the way toward regional reconciliation, was an act of recklessness that could result in the expansion of the fighting. The recent attack on the Chinese oil facility in Ethiopia by the Ogaden secessionists may be a new act in this on-going and potential escalating drama.
The voice of Black America through our various vehicles, including but not limited to the Congressional Black Caucus, the NAACP, etc., must be turned up to speak out on these issues. We should also offer whatever support we can to those organizations that are seeking peace, justice and regional solutions to these on-going conflicts. As we are seeing in this globalized world, there are few conflicts that are any longer local.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a long-time international and labor activist and writer. Currently serving as a visiting professor at Brooklyn College-CUNY, he is the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum. He can be reached at [email protected]