By Beth Tuckey
As Ethiopia continues its troop withdrawal in Somalia, the international community is holding its breath in hopes that the transition is peaceful. After two years of U.S.-backed occupation of Somalia, Ethiopia finally recognized that its presence could not deter the Islamist “threat” and that in fact, its actions have strengthened some of the more extreme sects of the Union of Islamic Courts. Interestingly (though perhaps not surprisingly), the withdrawal has prompted jubilation among residents of Mogadishu who have long advocated against the Ethiopian presence in Somalia. A ceremony is being held to mark the change of the guards, and U.S. leaders are somewhat at odds over what to do next.
When Ethiopia initially announced that it would pull out of the country, many analysts feared that it would spur further infighting between the interim government and the Islamic movement. Although the interim government is nearly defunct, so far, the empty bases have done nothing but encourage Somali citizens who hope that they may now return to their homes in Mogadishu. At a ceremony in Mogadishu on January 13th, Ethiopians handed over security operations to the interim government, the moderate Islamic opposition, and the weak African Union (AU) force – a move which may strengthen cooperation against the extreme insurgent militias.
On the U.S. side, the government has circulated a resolution at the UN Security Council encouraging the establishment of a UN peacekeeping force to take over the AU presence. In the past, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has said that there are few countries willing to send peacekeepers to Somalia and that the situation is past the point of resolution. AFJN will be following the resolution closely, to see how it might impact the Somali people.
Bush Administration policy in the Horn of Africa has been nothing short of irresponsible, as it has conducted military strategies aimed at fulfilling its own interests in oil and counterterrorism. Fortunately, the United States will see its own change of the guards in just under a week’s time. President-elect Obama should follow the advice of the Senate expert on Somalia, Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), who said on December 22nd in Djibouti that:
“With the security and humanitarian crisis deepening, the expansion of the Shebab terrorist group, the announced withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Somalia, and a fragile peace process, it is critical that the incoming Obama Administration take immediate steps to develop a new, comprehensive strategy for Somalia and the region. Disjointed policies in Somalia have often undermined one another, ultimately proving counterproductive. Moving forward, we must address direct threats at the same time that we confront the ongoing humanitarian and human rights crisis, supporting legitimate governance institutions, promote accountability and rule of law and work to undercut the appeal of violent extremism. The current situation is not just a disaster for the people of Somalia and the region. It is a direct threat to America’s national security.”
Ideally, with a new U.S. administration and a Somalia security force that is multilateral and coordinated, the Horn of Africa will see a new peace. Somali citizens must be allowed to choose their own future and decide for themselves who is best to govern their territory. It is a job for the people, not international governments or institutions.