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The Battle for Mogadishu

A Brief History of Misguided Domination

by Heikal Kenneded
Friday, April 01, 2011

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A fierce battle is raging for control of Mogadishu while
the blood of its residents is indiscriminately shed on its streets and neighborhoods.  Reminiscent of its predecessors, the interim Transitional Federal Government (TFG) backed by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is waging a desperate war against the hardcore Islamic militants, Al Shabab.  The notion, however, war is the ultimate resolution to win the hearts and minds of the city’s residents is not only flawed but historically futile and dangerous.  For in attempting to win back the country’s sovereignty in general and Mogadishu’s dignity through war, the TFG (now mostly run by the country’s last resort, the Somali Diaspora) will only hasten its expiration date and end up in the same history pages as previous regimes who appallingly failed to unite the country but rather pushed to its demise.  This article examines the lessons learned from Mogadishu’s recent past failed conquest that might apply to current and future governments that wish to use only force in the control of Mogadishu and the country in general.

Throughout the world, Mogadishu became synonymous with war, chaos and unsurpassed intransigency to be ruled by one dominant force.  There are two main reasons for these misguided perceptions.  One is that those who tried to conquer it never paid much attention to the ancient city’s past history.  Since the early days when world traveler Ibn Batuta visited in Mogadishu circa 1331, he described the city as "an exceedingly large city with merchants who exported to Egypt and elsewhere the excellent cloth made in the city.”  Mogadishu has always been a center of commerce and civilization that defied the repeated aggression and colonization of foreign superpowers, including the Portuguese, the British and the Italians.  Different cultures and sub-cultures peacefully coexisted throughout the city’s history, where they flooded into the city from the farthest edges of the county in order to shed-off their past misgivings and sought a final belonging.

Second, the sole use of overwhelming force has never been won the freedom and sovereignty of any country.  Like all tragic cities, Mogadishu is cursed with ineffectual leaders who use force to subdue it instead of finding other means to cajole her into submission.  In other words, those who quite often yearn to be its saviors eventually see to its demise.  Take for example, Siyad Barre’s fervent revolution to rid the country from corruption, tribalism and retrograde mentality (dib-u- socodnimo), until he became so entrenched in his absolute power and consolidated his forces to decimate the country from all intellectuals and potential leaders that he saw Somalia to its current dismal state.  He was immediately followed by another ruthless warmonger, M. F. Aideed whose manic fervor for war and bloodshed bordered beyond madness that he finally plunged the entire country into a protracted civil war, which forever changed Mogadishu’s historical coexistence temperament.  In fact, when the rest of the world tried to rescue the city from its fateful precipice by using military power, the U.S. Marines under the umbrella of the United Nations suffered a humiliating strategic trounce after they miserably failed to stop the chaos in the city or subdue the ragtag militia of General Aideed, but they immediately withdrew from Somalia in defeat.  In 1996, General Aideed himself was finally gunned down in the same battlefields where he killed many others.

In result, Mogadishu’s misfortunes took a worse turn when marauding warlords who emerged from the brunt of the civil war divided the city into several medieval fiefdoms, rife with checkpoints to abuse and pillage the city’s vulnerable residents.  During these dark days when the warlords (with comical names like: Qanyare, Yalaxow, Caato, Finnish, and Qeybdiid) became the de facto rulers of the city, they financed themselves by engaging in various crimes ranging from drug dealing, looting, kidnapping, and entering contracts with foreign countries to dump their nuclear waste in the Somali coasts.  Ironically, most of these incorrigible warlords currently occupy in the seats of the so called Somali Transitional Parliament as “honorable” MPs, where they recently extended their soon to expire mandate for another three-years so that they can maintain their grip to sabotage the potential birth of any legitimate government in the country. 

Arta, Djibouti, in 2000, ten years later when the Somali nation state collapsed, the first transitional government headed by Abdiqasim Salad was established in Djibouti.  Mr. Salad’s pious demeanor belied of his mischievous past, as one of the most corrupted underlings of the Siyad Barre regime.   Instead of working towards peace and reconciliation in accordance with the platform instituted in the Djibouti peace conference, he had other secret, grand ambitions to advance his sub-clan by resettling them in the country’s most fertile land of the Juba River, where they claim to be the predominant clan of the inter-reverine  (Juba and Shabelle) communities and enslave the actual natives of the land, up to this today.   The short lived regime of Abdiqasim Salad lorded over a landscape of repression, corruption and unprecedented land grab by force. 

As though the country had not seen enough suffering through the hands of governments invented outside of the country, another foreign concocted Somali peace conference in Kenya resulted in the coronation of yet another callous military man, Colonel Abdullahi Yusuf and his kleptomaniac prime minister, Ali M. Ghedi.  These implausible pair committed one of the most sacrilegious national crimes in the country’s history by allowing Somalia’s sworn archenemy Ethiopia to freely march in the streets Mogadishu in order to defeat the Islamic Courts who capriciously imposed Sharia law in the country.  An unprecedented humanitarian disaster of epic proportions followed as soon as Ali M. Gedi rode into Mogadishu on the back of Ethiopian tanks.  Indeed, future historians will note down that the Ethiopian invasion in Somalia was the last straw that saw to its total collapse, beyond repair.  

Furthermore, Mogadishu suffered yet another humiliating defeat led by one of its purported saviors who emerged from the struggle to rid the country from the occupying Ethiopian forces – Al Shabab.  These latest Islamic militants are allegedly financed and used by illusive foreign elements that have other global jihadist interests beyond Somali borders and wish to render the country into a breeding ground for terrorists.   In their distorted efforts to reclaim the country, this radical Islamic group kills, tortures, destroys and desecrates the graves of the country’s most revered religious leaders.  But if the history of Somalia is any guide to us, their end is near and they will eventually test the wrath of their own making.

The important lesson that can be drawn from these brief historical anecdotes is that Mogadishu is a city that can only be understood through its historical context, location and civilization but it cannot be conquered under the muzzle of the gun, especially by foreign forces who pound with rockets on its residents.  Regardless of how significantly the TFG and its AMISOM packers advance against the Al-Shabaab militia in the battlefields of Mogadishu, they are bound to reconcile with the fact that in the end they will be seen as oppressors but not liberators, like their predecessors in the past and that’s a dangerous territory to be boxed in. 

An Open Letter to Prime Minister M. A. Farmaajo, I implored him not to rush into war and instead urged him to adopt policies that strengthen governance and conflict resolution strategies.  These would have been tangible tactics for advancing peaceful negotiations and bringing the country closer to any semblance of order.  Unfortunately, the TFG led by Sheikh Sharif and PM Farmaajo is mainly focused on the imminent expiration of their government’s mandate and seem to be doing anything to leave their mark by defeating the Al-Shabab militia.  Nevertheless, to succeed on the asymmetric battlefields of Mogadishu’s streets requires not only unsurpassed political prowess but also a wide range of negotiation skills to draw closer all stakeholders that have a genuine interest of the city’s welfare.  But amassing foreign troops into the city who only care for their financial gain rather than liberating the country from tyranny is simply a non-starter.

Heikal Kenneded
[email protected]
Washington D.C.


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