August 1, 2006
Somalia: A War With No Purpose
by Sherry Harbert
When news of the latest fighting in Somalia was announced, most Americans recall the events that led to “Black Hawk Down” and the U.S. rapid pull-out soon after. It has given little context to what is happening now and why the U.S. should be concerned.
Kayse Jama, a refugee from Somalia, holds a vital link to understanding the events surrounding the African country. “If the U.S. government does nothing or the wrong thing, it could have huge implications for the future,” said Jama. Jama’s view on U.S. military support of Somalia through the War on Terror is from seeing what militarization has done to the country. He says there are more guns in the country than people. And from the latest reports that even more arms are rushing past its border with Ethiopia, any future peace looks bleak.
“Somalia is very complex,” said Jama. “The divisions seen now began in 1889 when Europe divided Africa into colonies. Britain, Italy and France divided Somalia into five regions. In the 1950s-1960s the liberation movement began.” Jama said once Somalia became independent on July 1, 1960, it immediately found itself enveloped in the Cold War. “I still don’t call Africa as a free continent. It’s still colonized, only the tactics have changed,” he said describing his frustration with how the West and other powers have used Africa as vehicle to battle for power outside their borders and deplete it of its resources.
Jama points to the West’s financial support for friendly governments as the new way colonization works in Africa. “During the colonization, there was little or no infrastructure put in place,” said Jama. “Once the colonists left, the people were desperate for support, but that support came with strings attached.” When Somalia was taken in a military coup in 1969, it switched its allegiance to the Soviet Union. The USSR soon rushed large amounts of military hardware into the country. Moscow was also playing its hand in Ethiopia where it also supplied military hardware. The ensuing battles along the border erupting into new levels of violence when the weapons were easily available and forthcoming.
Jama said Somalia made a tactical move to side with the U.S. over its opposition to Ethiopia, but that lead to more arms, a U.S. military base and support for a repressive government. “For them, it may have been a Cold War,” he said. “But for Somalia it was always a hot war. People were always dying.” Jama said Somali tribes of the past had always skirmished with each other, but without heavy arms, most fights were negotiated peacefully. The heavy arms forever changed the landscape of his country.
Jama points to the U.S. pull-out in the late 1980s as the defining time when Somalia plunged into chaos. “After the Cold War ended, the U.S. left,” he said. “The government could no longer pay its soldiers, so they told them to raid a tribe and get money and supplies that way.” Whatever structure had been in place before, was no dismantled and trampled as the military fragmented to gain their own pockets of power. Once the military split apart, the easy access to huge caches of weaponry fueled the fighting.
More than 20 warlords controlled individual parts of Mogadishu alone during the time the U.S. sent forces into the country. Jama said the U.S. had no understanding of what was happening inside the country when U.S. forces were sent in. “It was a showcase for world policing,” said Jama. But images of a downed helicopter and American bodies dragged through the streets and burned were hardly what Americans envisioned as a peacekeeping mission. Soon troops were pulled out leaving Somalia to implode.
Jama points to September 11, 2001, as a turning point for the country’s new ties to the U.S. “Somalia became a proxy for the U.S. The U.S. offered money to anyone who could point out a terrorist. Jama said the Somali people are wary of the new alliance. It is one of the factors that have promulgated the Union of Islamic Courts over that of notably weak transitional government. Invoking Sharia law, the courts have taken control of much of Southern Somalia, including Mogadishu in June. The BBC reports funding for the courts from Saudi Arabia and Eritrea also add another twist in the fighting between Somalia and Ethiopia. Eritrea and Ethiopia fought a war along their borders from 1998-2000 and still back rebel groups on each side. All the while, Ethiopia is said to have helped Somalia’s beleaguered interim president, Abdullah Yusuf.
“When the warlords couldn’t supply safety, people started to look toward the mosques,” said Jama. “They saw no local courts, so they went to the Islamic Courts. Over the last 10 years, they began building an infrastructure. Business then saw the order and began funding them.” The U.S. has accused the Islamic Courts of ties to Osama bin Laden. Jama said that when word leaked out that the Alliance for Peace, a U.S. backed anti-terror program to counter the courts was behind the government, the people staged uprisings and eventually gave the Islamic Courts their power. Even the Economist and U.S. News & World Report attribute CIA backing of the warlords to counter the Islamic Courts, but the backing has thus failed both militarily and culturally to unseat the Islamic Courts. “The people are behind them because they see them as their best hope,” said Jama. He differentiated between Somali Muslim law and others in the Middle East and South Asia. “Somalis believe in a very open society where women are treated much like the men.” He said for the first time in 16 years, people can venture out on the streets without fear of attack under the Islamic Courts control. “There is a sense of safety, respect, peace and security.”
Jama says the first thing that needs to happen if any peace is to be found is to get Ethiopia out of Somalia. “It’s a recipe for disaster,” he said. “And they wouldn’t have crossed the border without U.S. funding. For the sake of the region, there needs to be quick action.
The U.S. State Department recently issued a statement for all entities outside of Somalia to resist involvement in the fighting. It comes on the heels of reports that Russian weaponry is again streaming into the country. The Bush Administration is pushing for the resumption of talks that culminated in a seven-point framework for peace negotiations with both sides. Referred to as the Khartoum agreement, the provisions seek mutual recognition of the two sides in an appeal to reach a peaceful resolution.
The U.S. Senate introduced a resolution in May expressing support for the Somali people and their efforts to establish lasting peace. But quicker action is needed if any hope of peace is to come in the near future. The African Union agreed in early July to send troops into Somalia to help stabilize the crisis, but noted they would not work directly with the Islamic Courts. The courts in turn oppose any foreign intervention.
All the while, the U.S. should be deeply concerned about the deteriorating events. John Predergast, a senior advisor to the International Crisis Group and former member of President Clinton’s National Security Council, wrote an editorial in the Washington Post, June 7, finding the current approach to Somalia makes U.S. interests even more vulnerable to terrorist attacks. He stated that “Somalia is an al-Qaeda recruiter’s dream with rampant unemployment, travel restrictions, and no government or foreign investment.” He stated it is in the national security interest of the U.S. to be deeply engaged with reconstruction efforts.
For Jama, the interest lies not so much with the U.S., but with the people of Somalia. He hopes for a resolution affecting the entire country so Somalis can get something they haven’t seen in a very long time—peace.
© 2006, Foreign Interest
For more information:
International Crisis Group: www.crisisgroup.org