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Can the war in the South facilitate the Disintegration of Somalia?

By Ali H. Abdulla
Tuesday, January 15, 2008


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The Transitional Federal Government, TFG,  and the Union of Islamic Courts, UIC, are both oblivious to the dangers that the country faces in these difficult times. They both fail to anticipate the potential disintegration of the country into clan fiefdoms if the current situation continues unabated for a long time. They fail to realize that Somaliland and Puntland may become blueprints for a multitude of cantons based on clan affiliations. While Somaliland seeks an outright break, Puntland, which portrays itself as an administration within the Federal system, may also seek a separate state if foreign companies prospecting for oil in the area are successful in that quest.


The limited visions of the leaders of the UIC and the TFG make them unable to appreciate their combined roles in the current tragedy that the country faces. The main excuse of the UIC  to continue the fight in the South is the presence of Ethiopian troops in the country, while the main excuse of the TFG  for the presence of these troops is the need to stabilize the country. These are diametrically opposed views that can only lead to a prolonged conflict that may speed up the balkanization of Somalia.


While every Somali with an iota of national pride resents the presence of foreign troops on our soil, it seems that the UIC uses this sad phenomena as a pretext to destabilize the fragile TFG which, in the opinion of the World Community, seems to be the last hope Somalia has for a stable government. While I am not fond of the TFG and its structure, it seems to me that having something to build on is better than having nothing at all. The government of Siad Barre was bad, but its collapse caused the Somali people untold suffering. Many may disagree with me on that, but we need to extricate ourselves from the dark abyss that we have put ourselves in by approaching the matter in a pragmatic manner and finding a solution for this chicken-egg dilemma.


Pragmatic politics is based on give-and-take, and unless the UIC gives something and the TFG follows suit, the impasse may continue for a long time, and time is not on the side of the thousands of suffering Somalis. The UIC can  probably save the country if it accepts negotiations with the TFG on condition that the Ethiopian troops be withdrawn after a cool-off period in which both the UIC and the TFG stop their military operations to allow the replacement of the Ethiopian troops by international peace-keeping forces and avoid creating a vacuum that the weak TFG would not be able to fill. As we all know, international troops cannot be deployed in a conflict zone. There is also a need for both sides to acknowledge the concerns of the other party for a win-win outcome.


Somalia is like a rope being pulled from both ends by the UIC and the TFG. It is difficult to predict the eventual winner in this thug-of-war between the two sides. Regardless of the winner, it is the Somali people who are the real losers in this protracted and ugly conflict. As our Kenyan brothers say " When elephants fight, the grass suffers".


One of the most persistent dangers that the country faces now is the relentless and persistent push of the Somaliland leaders towards balkanizing the country with the help of foreign elements such as a Welsh MP, who recently embarrassed the prime Minister of Britain, Gordon Brown, by asking the Prime Minister to welcome the president of Somaliland, Dahir Rayale, to the British Parliament in a question and answer session. It is interesting to note that Rayale and his delegation probably sat in the public area of the Parliament reserved for on-lookers. While Brown did rebuke the MP indirectly by referring to him as a friend of Somaliland, he did promise help for Somaliland. Somaliland sympathizers seem to have clutched on this ambiguous promise and interpreted it as a British readiness to eventually recognize Somaliland forgetting the fact that Britain is one of many countries in the world, and these countries are represented in an international body known as the United Nations through which such matters are settled. Nevertheless, the manner in which this incident was engineered by the Welsh MP is rather disturbing and shows the potential damage that foreign meddlers can cause.


For the last four years, Somaliland leaders have embarked on a military strategy of occupying territories unsympathetic to their secessionist cause by force, hoping that  such occupation would eventually speed up their recognition. It seems that they have forgotten that their argument for secession is based on a peaceful and stable Somaliland. Invading other territories contradicts that argument and can potentially undermine the peace and stability enjoyed by the people of Somaliland who are still recovering from the conflict between the previous regime and the SNM forces.


While recognition for Somaliland is difficult, the never-ending conflict in the South may eventually help the secessionists fulfill their dream. The secessionists use the conflict in the South as a yardstick in their quest for recognition by portraying Somaliland as an oasis of peace and stability, and portraying the South as a raging inferno. A handful of foreign sympathizers continue to relentlessly repeat this fact hoping that it would eventually bear fruit. They sometimes appeal to the self-interest of a major country, whose name stands for unity, to help them break-up a poor country that has suffered from world neglect for the last 17 years.


I hope that the TFG and UIC leaders will broaden their visions and wake-up to the danger that foreign meddlers such as the Welsh MP pose to Somali unity and integrity. I call on the UIC leaders to take the first step in this complicated standoff.  Ethiopia is an enemy, but we have the world community on our side to evict them peacefully from our country if we follow the right approach. In my humble opinion, the right approach is peaceful negotiation and the willingness to compromise for the sake of a country that faces balkanization.

Ali H. Abdulla

E-mail: [email protected]

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