By Ashagrie G. Abdi, AFJN Intern
This article was first published in our April-June Newsletter
After the downfall of Zaid Barre, Somalia’s President from 1969-’91, the struggle for power resulted in a civil war that claimed many lives. According to some reports, an estimated 350,000-1000,000 Somalis have died as a result of conflict, drought and the failure of government since 1991. While there have been attempts to create a viable central government in Somalia, all have failed despite the involvement of the US, the United Nations (UN) and the African Union (AU). The consequences of the crisis have become far-reaching: from piracy to extremism. Piracy grabs the attention of the international community more than Somalia’s political problems because it threatens one of the main ocean trade routes.
In any case, when it comes to both piracy and Somalia’s political problems, understanding and finding solutions is a continuing challenge for the international co€mmunity. Theresa Whelan, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, said: “the root causes of Somali piracy lie in the poverty and instability that continue to plague that troubled country and addressing these causes will be a lengthy, complicated and difficult process.” The question is not whether the process is lengthy and complicated, but rather: why is the international community complaining about the process and the nature of the problem when they have no a concrete plan on which action can be taken?
On December 7, 2006, the UN unanimously passed a resolution [Re 1725/2006] authorizing the Inter-Governmental Development Authority (IGAD) and the AU to establish a protection and training mission in Somalia. In 2007, the AU established the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which is ongoing today.
In the same month that the UN Security Council authorized the regional forces mandate in Somalia, the Ethiopian government unilaterally sent its own troops into Somalia to fight the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a group that promotes Sharia law and fought to form a rival administration to the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia. Within a short period of time, the ICU lost its control of the capital Mogadishu and other areas and finally dispersed. In 2008, the Ethiopian government decided to withdraw its forces from Somalia, declaring its mission fulfilled.
After Ethiopia’s withdrawal, al-Shabab, a militant group that became powerful after the dispersal of the ICU, managed to control a large part of the southern part of Somalia. Al-Shabab has confined the TFG to Mogadishu where it is under the protection of the AU Forces, thus limiting its ability to spread governance outside the capital.
Neighboring countries Ethiopia and Kenya see al -Shabab as a threat to their national security. Kenya accused al-Shabab of cross-border raids and the kidnapping of aid workers. In October 2011, the Kenyan government sent around 2000 troops into Somalia to fight al-Shabab. Soon after, Kenyan troops drove al-Shabab out from some of the territories it occupied. A month later, it was reported that Ethiopian troops crossed the border to join the Kenyan troops.
This year, the UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution requesting the AU to increase its troop levels for AMISOM (Resolution 2036/2012). In the meantime, AMISOM, Kenyan and Ethiopian troops are gaining the upper hand over al-Shabab.
What remains to be seen is a real peace plan for Somalia. So far all attempts have not yielded significant results. Previous and present governments are accused of nepotism, corruption and ineffectiveness. In addition, it has been stated that the TFG has become overly centralized. Thus, it does not fit the social structure and demands of the Somali people.
The military engagements with the militants show the militants want a protracted war. Protracted war will further destroy Somalia and might create more extremists. Furthermore, it may eventually destabilize the relatively peaceful and self declared “Republic of Somaliland”. The recent clash between forces from Puntland (an autonomous region of Somalia) and al-Shabab militants could send a signal.
Lasting solutions will come from within. It is time for a dialogue between different Somali stakeholders, including moderate extremists, for a sustainable peace. Military solutions might bring a short-term stability, but not a lasting peace. For example, negotiation put an end to the extremist militant Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Northern Ireland, and now there are even efforts being made by the US and the Afghan government to talk to the Taliban, proving that military might alone is not enough.
Finally, the international community should not get carried away by the military successes of 2012. Military action, though it has not immediately brought the desired solution, has diffused the power of the militants and lessened the threat that the neighboring countries and the international community have been complaining about.
With the current delicate military upper hand against the militants, unless the international community takes a decisive and comprehensive step, any sudden withdrawal of Kenyan and Ethiopian troops would leave a void that AMISOM, limited in number and mandate, cannot fill. AMISOM is in Somalia based on a periodic extension of the mandate. The question is: how long will the international community remain in Somalia? That is uncertain. What is certain, however, is that if the international troops were to leave Somalia before a stable government based on consensus is created, there would be more suffering, violence and extremism. Moreover, any effort after that would start from zero.
By Ashagrie G. Abdi, AFJN Intern