Somalia: Continued Conflict or Possibility of Peace?

Grim tales of humanitarian emergencies and
violence now dominate where once there existed some hope for Somalia’s
future. The fragile transitional government and its Ethiopian backers now face
a violent insurgency, and the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate
with every passing day. These factors and others prompted Foreign Policy
to rank Somalia
as the third least stable state in the world. Yet although Somalia seems
near to regressing into collapse, a few hopeful signs have emerged.

Just as many observers had feared, the defeated Union of

Islamic Courts, a group that just months ago controlled of most of Somalia, has
begun an Iraq-style insurgency against occupying Ethiopian forces. These
attacks generally take the form of targeted bombings, although some recent
attacks have involved gunmen, including one attack on a Somali police station. It
has also attempted assassinations on the prime minister and other important
Transitional Federal Government (TFG) officials, so far wounding the presidential
spokesman and killing a district head.

The Ethiopian peacekeeping forces have not made any friends
through their retaliatory attacks, many of which have killed civilians. They
are further unpopular due to their house searches and seizures of weapons
caches, and the Islamic Courts, the powerful Hawiye clan and now the United
Nations Security Council want them out of the country as soon as possible. The
first two groups have even refused to meet for reconciliation conferences until
the Ethiopians leave, which may further delay or even block the already overdue
reconciliation conference. Another condition of the Islamic Courts, that the
conference take place on neutral ground (i.e. not Mogadishu), could also prove

The humanitarian situation has become even more desperate.
As food stores dwindle due to poor rainfall and increased displacement of
farmers, the acute malnutrition rate has climbed over 15% in some parts of the
country. An outbreak of diarrhea has made the shortages felt even more,
especially among children. Even worse, pirates on the coast have hijacked a
number of ships making food aid deliveries, jeopardizing that source of

Although the increased incidence of attacks and terrifying
state of health seem causes for worry about the future of Somalia, other aspects
give reason for optimism. In early July, the African Union peacekeeping force will
see an increase in its numbers, as Burundian troops join the 1600 Ugandans
already stationed in Somalia.
The force has successfully disarmed some of the former warlords and has not
been targeted by the insurgency since the uproar after killing four Ugandan
soldiers, which makes it at least a partial success. The government is also
training policemen in Puntland, the relatively stable autonomous region. It is
hoped that the piracy will stop once the police and peacekeepers are in place,
as it did when the Islamic Courts were in power. Large aid packages contingent
on the peacekeeping forces’ deployment will also soon begin to arrive.

On the reconciliation side, the Transitional Federal
Government plans to discharge those fighters captured and pardon insurgents not
“involved in international terrorism”. It just released 64 Islamists on
Wednesday, demonstrating its commitment to clemency. This offer might not have
been possible if the Union of Islamic Courts and its sponsored insurgents had committed
major atrocities (other than an alleged use of 400 child soldiers) as other
rebel forces in recent African civil wars have. Thus insurgents may be able to
be integrated into a new Somali government, and true reconciliation may be
possible. Furthermore, most of the Islamic Courts leaders are moderates and
will be willing to take part in a moderate Muslim government. Although the conditions
may seem dismal now, there still exist reasons for hope after 16 years of

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