Actions and inactions by Western governments contribute to the current events in Somalia

by Mohamed Mukhtar


Western governments seem alarmed ever since the Mogadishu Islamists repulsed the unscrupulous warlords and attempted to project their authority on Mogadishu and its surrounding areas. The sudden creation of Somali Contact Group and the surprisingly readiness to revisit the arms embargo against Somalia evidence this shock. However troubled, it is important to look at how the actions and inactions of these governments contribute to the current situation that Somalia is in.


Somalia has been hotly debated and speculated upon since the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Some countries, analysts and journalists consider Somalia as a failed country, which terrorist networks use as a safe haven. Others regard Somalia as a state dominated by clan-based warring groups fighting for power and religion is not their main concern. Unfortunately, this debate seems digression at best. If terrorists can operate where there are strong governments such America and Europe, it does not demand an intellect to figure out that international criminals can work where a government is unable to wield its authority. A report published by International Crisis Group in July 2005 noted, “Several Western countries host larger and more sophisticated jihadi networks [than Somalia]”. If there is an element of extremism in Somalia that does not mean Somalis are all crazed fanatics. Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, David Shinn, former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia and State Department coordinator for Somalia, said, “The vast majority of Somalis follow a moderate form of Islam and they are highly suspicious of foreign influence."


A failed country is a matter of great concern but looking back how Western governments have behaved since September 11, they have hardly made any meaningful attempts to help Somalis to reintroduce a functioning government for Somalia. A critic may argue that Somalia’s problem is for the Somalis to fix it. That is true, however, as Afghanistan has shown, a failed country is a threat not only to its own people but can become a threat to the global security. Somalia does not have a viable government that can exert its authority over its borders and once trans-national criminals become established in this country, it is easy for them to infiltrate and expand their operations into other countries in the region.


After America invaded Afghanistan in 2001, it was widely reported that those who were fleeing from Afghanistan might make their way to Somalia. However, instead of helping Somalis to have a government that has power over its borders, Western governments chose to act like a big brother and have stepped up patrols off the Somali coast to watch out any terrorist trying to enter Somalia. And inside the country, rather than enabling Somalis to form security apparatus that can reintroduce the rule of law and go after any terrorist network, Western governments opted for to encourage local allies to set up antiterrorist task forces in return of foreign aid or political recognition.


That has made Somalia to be at the centre of invisible war – mainly covert operations such as snatching operations. The impact and extent of terrorist activities and counter-terrorist measures are hard to tell since they are done in secret. The ICG report observed, “… away from the spotlight, a quiet, dirty conflict is being waged in Somalia: in the rubble-strewn streets of the ruined capital of this state without a government, Mogadishu, al-Qaeda operatives, jihadi extremists, Ethiopian security services and Western-backed counter-terrorism networks are engaged in a shadowy and complex contest waged by intimidation, abduction and assassination.”


Western governments seem to have given their tacit approval Somalia to be a place where Ethiopia and its opponents settle any inherent animosity. How the hostility between Ethiopia and Eritrea has been exported to Somalia is a case in point. Moreover, the failure of successive reconciliation conferences present unchallengeable trend. In 2000, Djibouti held a Somali peace reconciliation conference, known as Arta conference, which enjoyed the support of Ethiopia’s opponents. But Ethiopia neither cheered on that peace process nor welcomed the outcome of that conference, which was the formation of the Transitional National Government.


In fact, Ethiopia started to undermine the TNG through Somalia Reconciliation and Reconstruction Council (SRRC), which was built up around a number of warlords and other faction leaders. The subsequent failure of the TNG led to two years of plodding negotiations in Kenya and Ethiopia’s opponents were not happy with the Somali National Reconciliation Conference in which Ethiopia influence was apparent. In 2004, the SRRC seemed to have emerged the winner when Abdullahi Yusuf became the president of Transitional Federal Government. The outcome of Kenya is gasping for air now and it looks that it is going to follow the same trajectory as the one held in Djibouti since many of the same dynamics, except the undermining is now coming from Ethiopia’s rivals, that were present at the previous government seem to be at play within the current government. This ungodly approval has enabled Ethiopia and its opponents to invalidate each others’ political interests. As a result Somalia is the longest running instance of state collapse in the history of Africa and has become unnecessary threat to Somalis and others.


As far as the recent development of Mogadishu is concerned, nothing Western governments could have done would have forced residents of Mogadishu to support Islamic courts more than when Western governments chose to bypass the TFG and work with unpopular Mogadishu-based warlords who flatly repudiated to team up with the interim government although most of them had been named ministerial positions in the cabinet. In other words, Western governments have encouraged and probably financed Mogadishu-based warlords, who were holding the interim government and the society in general as hostage, to form Alliance for Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism and this was one of the most caustic actions that Western governments have taken. For the last 16 years, in the eyes of Somalis, these pitiless warlords have been local terrorists and have subjected untold distress and adversity on the people. And choosing those callous warlords as an ally inadvertently put Islamic courts in an advantage position and helped the courts to gain popular support. However, this does not mean Somalis are extremists but they need peace and stability like anyone else and if they can get that under a religious authority that would certainly appeal to them.


Soon after the domination of Mogadishu-based warlords came to brutal end, as a knee jerk reaction, Western governments have expressed a newfound willingness to revisit the long delayed arms embargo against Somalia imposed in 1992 suggesting that this move would enable the government to restore law and order throughout the country. Easing the arms embargo is a prerequisite for sending peacekeepers to Somalia. This is the same government that Western governments have been reluctant to work with or even recognise as a legitimate government. This impulsive reaction will frustrate any peace effort to reconcile Somalis or it may even trigger off an all out war within the country or within the region if neighbouring countries are allowed to send peacekeepers to Somalia.


Whatever Western governments did or did not do has already gone to history pages and any mistakes done cannot be undone. Nevertheless, Somalia is facing a critical time, therefore, the best course of actions that Western governments can do are two. Firstly, not to allow regional governments and local groups to massage Western governments’ interests until they may be in accord with these various group interests. These actors do try to misinterpret war on terror in order to further their own agenda. They also know how to masquerade a local issue as an international issue and entice Western governments’ financial and military muscles in order to suppress their rivals. Secondly, to discourage regional governments to use Somalia as a theatre to mangle each other’s interests in order to arrest the prolonged chaos that has enveloped this country since the end of the cold war.  


Mohamed Mukhtar

London, UK
Email:   [email protected]

The opinions contained in this article are solely those of the writer, and in no way, form or shape represent the editorial opinions of "Hiiraan Online"

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