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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2786

Ongoing anarchic conditions in Somalia

By Asif Haroon Raja

Historical Background

Somalia is located in the Horn of Africa and is bordered by Djibouti to northwest, Kenya on its southwest, the Gulf of Aden at its east, and Ethiopia to the west. It gained independence from Italy on July 01, 1960 when Italian Somaliland and British Somaliland joined together to form the new nation of Somalia. Following a series of sectarian and clan clashes, a 1969 coup headed by Mohamed Siad Barre ushered in an authoritarian socialist rule that managed to impose a degree of stability in the country for two decades. With the regime's overthrow early in 1991 following CIA sponsored coup by warlord Ali Mehdi, Somalia descended into turmoil, factional fighting, and anarchy. Mehdi failure to share power with another equally powerful warlord Farah Adid became the main cause of clan infighting. Since then, Somalia has been functioning without a national functioning government and the country has been torn apart by warring clans and their militias.

Hundreds of thousands have died as a result of the conflict and famine and Somalia is viewed as a failed state. Somalia is almost 98% Muslims but most are moderates. The Islamists are now at the verge of taking over power for the second time and the current transitional government backed by USA and Ethiopia which is confined to Mogadishu only will collapse, just as 13 previous transitional governments did. The first takeover by the Islamists led by Islamic Courts Union (ICU) was a very brief one for six months in 2006, viewed as the most peaceful periods in modern Somalia history. The ICU regime was toppled by US inspired Ethiopian invasion and reverting Somalia to chaos and anarchy.

Republic of Somaliland and Puntland.

In May 1991, northern clans declared an independent Republic of Somaliland. Although not recognized by any government, this entity has maintained a stable existence, aided by the overwhelming dominance of the Ishaak clan and economic infrastructure left behind by British, Russian, and American military assistance programs. The northern regions of Bari, Nugal, and northern Mudug comprise a neighbouring self-declared autonomous state of Puntland, which has been self-governing since 1998, but does not aim at independence. Tensions between the two lands over border issues in the Sanag and Sool regions occasionally erupt into armed clashes between the local militia.

Earlier UN Peace Missions.

The United Nations involvement in the humanitarian relief efforts in Somalia was transformed in April 1992 by civil conflict and the Security Council's establishment of UNOSOM-I to monitor a ceasefire in Mogadishu. In August 1992, the mandate and strength of UNOSOM-I were enlarged so as to protect humanitarian convoys and distribution centers throughout Somalia. In December 1992, after the situation in Somalia had further deteriorated, the Security Council authorized member states to form a Unified Task Force (UNITAF) to ensure the safe delivery of humanitarian assistance.

The Task Force was spearheaded by 7 FF from Pakistan Army which did a commendable job in winning the hearts and minds of people of Somalia. Instead of allowing it to continue with its good work, USA decided to establish UNOSOM II in March 1993 which was tasked to back its favored warlord Ali Mehdi and to hound the most powerful warlord Farah Adid. This was a big mistake since it led to escalation of inter-clan fighting. While Farah controlled south Somalia, Mehdi had sway in north Somalia. As the situation went from bad to worse because of flawed policies of USA, the UNOSOM II was withdrawn in March 1995. American troops abandoned Somalia in mid 1995 as it had done in Afghanistan.

Attempts at a Sustainable Peace Process.

The UN Secretary-General established the United Nations Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS) on 15 April 1995, to help advance the cause of peace and reconciliation through contacts with Somali leaders, civic organizations and the States and organizations concerned. A series of peace talks failed to achieve agreement on a new Somali government until August 2000, when Abdiqassim Salat Hassan was elected transitional president by various clan leaders at a gathering in Arta, in neighbouring Djibouti. Transitional national government (TNG) tried to bring the ICU under its ministry of justice but before the plan could be implemented the TNG fell.

Somali National Reconciliation Conference

Unhappy with the Arta arrangement, violence fuelled by clan-based faction leaders persisted until 2002, when 21 factions and Abdikassim’s transitional government, the TNG, signed a ceasefire agreement. Peace talks had been sponsored by the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD). Three front line countries; Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya, coordinated their efforts under the supervision of the IGAD Chairman and a Somalia National Reconciliation Conference was held in Kenya with President Daniel Arap Moi from Kenya as coordinator. Some 600 Somali representatives also attended. On 27 October 2002, Somali leaders signed the "Declaration on the Cessation of Hostilities and the Structures and Principles of the Somalia National Reconciliation Process". After a further two years of Kenyan Government led peace talks, a 275-member parliament chosen by clans was sworn-in in Nairobi in August 2004. Professor Ali Muhammad Gedi from the Hawyie clan was elected as Prime Minister and the President of “Puntland” Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed from the Darod clan appointed as Interim President in November 2004 to oversee a Transitional Federal Government (TFG). Being a warlord, Yusaf believed in use of maximum force against opponents with no room for negotiations. Due to his autocracy, the TFG remained extremely fragile and was divided into armed camps, one led by President and Prime Minister, based in Jowhar; the other led by Speaker of parliament and coalition of faction leaders, based in Mogadishu. The TFG drew support from 3-4 main clans in southern Somalia; the Darod, the Dir, the Rahenwyne. Yusaf became an autocratic president with balance of power shifted to his seat.

Establishment of UIC and restoration of short-lived peace

The Islamic courts in Somalia were first set up in mid 1990s. First courts set up in 1997-98 were all Hawiye and their objective was to provide security through Sharia law, prevent clan conflict and provide secure environment for business. The overall idea was to create an Islamic welfare state. A Joint Courts Council was set up in 2000. Of the eleven original courts in ICU, in early 2006, ten were based upon Hawiye sub-clans in Mogadishu. The 11th was drawn from Jareer/Bantu clans. The main opposition group fighting against the government, Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) gave it another name Supreme Islamic Council of Somalia (SICS) under Shiekh Sharif Ahmed, a teacher by profession. Its armed activities in the capital, Mogadishu, confined the TFG headed by Abdullahi to Baidoa.

In late 2005, the CIA paid some of Somalia’s most reviled warlords to fight Islamists but the move backfired. In 2006, the UIC teamed up with clan elders and businessmen and succeeded in driving out the warlords and in establishing an Islamic government in June that year. The Islamists restored peace and harmony in war torn Somalia and achieved impressive results much to the disliking of anti-Islamic forces.. The TFG was confined to Baidoa only.

Ethiopian military intervention and escalation of conflict

The CIA propagated that Al-Qaeda had made its base in Somalia where three senior leaders were residing. CIA then encouraged Ethiopia to invade Somalia in support of weak TFG forces against UIC fighters and promised to provide intelligence and air cover. Ethiopian troops backed by USA invaded Somalia on 28 December 2006. The UIC was quickly defeated in a sweeping offensive and the six-month peace period was shattered. It was believed that the UIC leadership fled into Kenya or to Yemen and the hard-line fighters cached their arms and melded back into their clans leaving the mostly untrained, new recruits to face the Ethiopian troops. Soon after the UIC rout, two US air strikes targeted alleged Al-Qaeda bases in southern Somalia on 13 January 2007 but only innocent civilians got killed. The Somali parliament voted to declare three months of martial law in an attempt to restore order in the war-ravaged state. The invasion sparked an Islamic led rebellion that has killed over 16000 civilians and large-scale displacement multiplied humanitarian problems. Islamic fighters are recruited on voluntary basis from Comoros, Kenya, and other neighboring Muslim areas.

International and regional peace initiatives

The international community has been involved in the diplomatic resolution of the conflict, especially through peace talks under the aegis of the Arab League since 2004. Common ground could not be found through the Arab League initiative mostly due to the lack of trust between the TFG and the Arab League. As the security situation in Somalia continued to deteriorate, the UNSC passed a unanimous resolution (SCR 1725) on 6 December 2006, calling on the African Union and IGAD to provide a peacekeeping force (IGASOM) to help provide training and protection to the TFG and its institutions, including its security forces.

Perceived interferences by some frontline states in the Somali peace process contributed to tension and mistrust between the TFG and the UIC. Both sides claimed the involvement of external players and countries in providing military and other support to one side or the other. These claims resulted in barring the participation of front line States in the IGASOM. This left Uganda as the only potential IGAD member state to contribute troops for the mission since Sudan had its own internal problems and Eritrea was accused of supporting the UIC in a proxy war against Ethiopia. In order to broaden the pool of contributors, the AU passed a mandate on 19 January authorising the deployment of an 8000 strong peace support operation in Somalia (AMISOM) for a period of six months after which it would be relieved by a UN PKO. The AMISOM deployment was endorsed by the UNSC on 20 February.

Humanitarian Situation.

More than 400,000 people fled Mogadishu in February 2007, which constituted sixth of the city's population. It was the largest population displacement anywhere in the world but displacement of 350,000 from Bajaur in August 2008 came close to that figure. There was mounting evidence that both sides, including the UN-backed government, were committing war crimes. Indiscriminate artillery fire and shelling of heavily populated residential areas caused large-scale deaths and damaged civilian infrastructure, including one hospital. Rotting bodies were seen on the streets for days as it had become too dangerous to retrieve them.

Security Situation from 2007 onwards

From January 2007 onwards, there were frequent attacks on Ethiopian and TFG troops in Mogadishu.. Buildings that housed the troops as well as Mogadishu airport, main seaport, Villa Somalia, State House were subjected to mortar attacks. There was resurgence of inter and intra-clan fighting in Mogadishu and elsewhere in Somalia. The use of roadside bombs, vehicle-borne explosives and suicide bombing increased and so did the spate of high profile assassinations of senior TFG members and supporters.

From March 2007 onwards, the security situation in Somalia worsened further partly due to the forced disarmament and ‘mopping up’ of certain radical groups including the Al Shabab under Aden Hashi Ayro, Jihadists, freelance and local militia in Mogadishu by the Ethiopian Armed Forces (EAF) in support of the TFG. Other Islamic groups that cropped up were Alliance for Re-liberation of Somalia-Djibouti (ARS-D), Alliance for Re-liberation of Somalia-Asmara (ARS-A), Ogaden clan Militia, Ahl-al-Sunnah wa al-Jamaa group. Ethiopian military intervention was resented by all these Islamic groups. Attacks by the EAF galvanised the resistance from certain sub clans of the Hawyie clan and provided a focal point for insurgent groups to rally moderate Somali’s, local militia, freelance elements and warlords to their cause.

On 21 March 2007, TFG forces supported by EAF commenced operations in Mogadishu with the aim of disarming militias and to ‘mop up’ insurgents. This initiative resulted in heavy fighting within Mogadishu and caused thousands of civilians to leave the city for safer areas. A subsequent ceasefire between the EAF and Hawaii clan elders was broken on 29 March when the EAF resumed their offensive against militia strongholds in Mogadishu. Another fragile cease fire was brokered on 01 April 2007 between the Hawayie clan elders and the EAF mainly to collect and bury the dead.

EAF reinforcements approximately 1500 in strength arrived in Baidoa on 02 April for further deployment to Mogadishu. The 10-day ceasefire was again broken on 10 April when fighting resumed in Northern Mogadishu between the TFG/EAF forces and the Somali armed Islamist elements. Heavy exchange of artillery, mortar and machine gun fire resulted in the deaths of a number of civilians and armed personnel estimated to be more than 1000 with over 4000 casualties. The TFG government reiterated that the fighting would continue until the Islamist insurgents were completely defeated.

The coastal city of Kismayo, 500 kilometers (310 miles) south of the capital, was besieged by the Marehan clan and it fell on 23 April after a bloody clash between the pro Yusuf Majertain clan. Both sub-clans were from the Darod clan and claimed that the fighting was clan based rather than anti-government. Elsewhere, new clashes occurred in first half of April 2007 between forces of the self-declared Republic of Somaliland and the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland over the bordering regions of Sanaag and Sool.

The fighting culminated on 26 April 2007 with Prime Minister Gedi claiming victory over the insurgents. However, the AMISOM commander stated that the extremists were still hiding in the city and that declaring victory may be premature. AMISOM started patrolling in the city covering the air and sea ports and Villa Somalia. Talks between the President and Prime Minister with the Habr Gedir leaders, who supported the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), made good progress, particularly after the appointment of Mohamed Omar Habeb ‘Mohamed Dheere’ from the Hawyie Abgal clan as the Mayor of Mogadishu and Abdi Hassan Awale ‘Qaybdid’ from the same clan as Police Commissioner. The Mayor, supported by the police took heavy handed actions in Mogadishu by destroying illegal roadside markets and removing women’s veils and burning them, both in the name of security.

Although hostilities in Somalia scaled down, the concomitant humanitarian crisis saw over 400,000 people displaced from Mogadishu into Internally Displaced Persons Camps (IDP camps) or living under trees. The squalid conditions in these camps led to the outbreak of cholera and watery diarrhoea which affected thousands. To escape these conditions, Mogadishu residents started to return to the city but were shocked to find their homes destroyed or looted. Shortages of food, water, shelter and medicines skyrocketed prices for these rare commodities and beyond the reach of most Somalis.

After the collapse of ICU on 26 April 2007, the security situation became somewhat calm. However, the city of Mogadishu has been experiencing a new wave of urban terrorism. The spoilers have resorted to assassinations, suicide bombings and use of improvised explosive devices etc, as tools to achieve their political goals.

African Union (AU) Contingent

The given biased mandate of protecting individuals of TFG, seen as supporters of EAF, made the over all general force structure of AMISOM that much unfavorable. Out of a total of 40,000 strength of Ethiopian troops in Somalia, nearly 10,000 troops were deployed in Mogadishu alone but were unable to secure wholesome peace because of their harsh and brutal policies. However, the Ugandans developed a requisite sense of earning good will of locals. Rather than following the mandate rigidly, they focused on the much needed component of winning hearts and minds of general public. As a result they were able to at least secure peace in areas surrounding their deployment.

At the time of arrival of Ugandan forces in March 2007, the situation was altogether different. The first contingent of 350 Ugandan troops as part of AMISOM was seen as yet another supporter of Ethiopia and was thus greeted with a hail of mortar rounds during an official welcoming ceremony at the Mogadishu airport. The remainder of the Ugandan contingent of 1500 troops subsequently arrived with their heavy equipment some weeks after. Burundi also contributed about 1500 troops to AU. Countries forming part of AU too had serious reservations against the given mandate. Hectic efforts were made to address such reservations so that they send more and more troops to Somalia with out wasting any further time. Burundi also sent about 1500 troops to Somalia. The AU leadership has kept urging the United Nations to take over peacekeeping responsibilities from the Mission at the earliest but could not succeed.

National Reconciliation Congress (NRC)

While the 4.5 power-sharing formula wherein each major Somali clan would have equal representation and the minor clans would have half that representation, was accepted by the participants at the Conference in Mbagathi, some clans and sub-clans, especially the Habr-Gedir Ayr, felt that they had not been effectively represented in the transitional institutions. The TFG also refused participation of the former UIC in the NRC stating that this would be tantamount to resuscitating and legitimizing an extremist group that had been defeated and dissolved. The International Contact Group (ICG) during its meeting of 03 April 2007 agreed that the UIC, as an entity, should not be represented in the NRC, though it could be represented through the clans. While there was significant support for the NRC, several stakeholders in Somalia expressed concern that many organizational aspects of it remained unresolved, including security arrangements, logistics, the selection criteria of the participants and the necessary outreach to the Somali Diaspora.

The TFG was eager to receive peacekeepers under the aegis of the UN. This request was made by Prime Minister Gedi in his speech at the UNSC. The UN repeatedly made the deployment of blue helmets conditional upon a genuine political reconciliation process, which was to officially begin with the convening of the oft-postponed NRC and eventually lead toward national elections.

Both the TFG President and the Prime Minister reluctantly accepted the reconciliation process, although each for a different reason. It was agreed to share power with Supreme Islamic Council. A list of 1,230 representatives was drafted by the TFG, supposedly adhering to the agreed 4.5 clan formula and with additional seats reserved for representatives of the Diaspora and women. Yet the delegates were drawn from already reconciled sub-clans of the individual clans. In addition to the refusal of the Haber Gedir sub-clan to take part, Marehan elders announced on 10 July that they would not participate in the upcoming NRC. Moderate UIC leader Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed based in Asmara, Eritrea refused to attend the NRC as long as it was held in Somalia and the EAF forces were present in the country. His position was shared by other members of the “internal” TFG opposition, including former TFP speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden, who was ousted in January 2007 and who also resides in Asmara, together with the other ex-TFP members.

On 11 July 2007 they announced that they would hold an alternative peace conference in Asmara on 1 September. This move on the part of the opposition sent a clear signal that they were unwilling to buy into the TFG-orchestrated process and that the planned NRC would prove to be little more than a show to satisfy the international community. This, coupled with other troubling developments such as the TFG’s poor human rights record and its clear inability to exercise control over the entirety of Somalia’s territory, were sufficient signs for the international community that new thinking was required in order to find a sustainable solution to the problems of Somalia. Gedi was forced to resign after months of bruising power struggle with President Yusaf and Nur Hassan Hussein replaced him in November 2007.

In September 2008, Hussein survived a vote of no confidence after being accused of embezzling state funds. Hussein won international support with his reformist agenda and his attempts to build on a tattered peace agreement with elements of Islamic insurgency. On 14 December 2008, President Yusaf sacked Hussein led cabinet on the plea that it was unable to perform its duties but the premier rejected the move as unlawful. He accused Yusaf of seeking to scuttle a month-old UN sponsored Djibouti reconciliation process between TFG and main opposition group, the Islamist dominated ARS-D. Mahmud Guled was appointed as the new PM. For about a week there were two prime ministers but the infighting came to an end when Guled resigned. Under mounting pressure President Yusaf resigned on 29 December 2008 and handed over his seat to Speaker and acting president Sheikh Aden Madobe.

More than 275 members of parliament have fled to Kenya and are refusing to return for fear of being killed. On 14 February 2009, 414 legislators of TFG approved the appointment of Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke as the new Somali Prime Minister. His father was a popular elected president who was assassinated in 1969. Earlier on, Sheikh Sharif had been elected as president. Both Omar and Sharif are seen as moderates and this move has been taken to prevent takeover of Somalia by hard-line Islamists.

Re-invigoration of Islamists

The Islamists remained united throughout their struggle and succeeded in gaining control over most of Somali territory. By early 2008, CIA managed to draw cleavages between the hard-line and moderate Islamists. An anti-terrorism alliance backed by TFG and Ethiopian troops was pitched against Al-Shabab and its affiliates. Killing of Al-Shabab leader Ayro in April 2008 was seen as a set back for the extremist group, followers of Wahabism. However, Al-Shabab continued with its hit and run attacks and its militia under Abu Mansur achieved a major victory by capturing third largest city of Kismayo on 22 August 2008. Thereon, it succeeded in over running important coastal cities like Marka and Baraare in November and made further gains in Gedo and Galgudud provinces. Seizure of these cities which were under the control of other clans and imposition of harsh laws accentuated fighting between the hardliners and moderates duly fuelled by CIA to weaken the movement. Fighting climaxed when Al-Shabab forces tried to take the town of Guri Ceel in Galgudud, but their efforts were thwarted by Ayr clan and Ahl al-Sunnah wa al Jamaa militias and forces aligned with ARS-A. In this battle, another senior leader of Al-Shabab, Mukhtar Timolji was killed. But takeover of Baidoa by Al-Shabab militia on 26 January 2009 was a huge setback to western backed regime. The anti-terrorism alliance created by warlords and businessmen reportedly funded by CIA failed to create any impact.

In the wake of worsening security situation in Somalia and the threat posed by the Islamists, Ethiopia decided in December 2008 to quit Somalia. After staying for two years, Ethiopia pulled out all its troops by 26 January 2009 vowing not to re-enter Somalia again. With the departure of Ethiopian troops, survival of TFG government in Mogadishu rests on the AU peacekeeping troops of Uganda and Burundi numbering 3000. With Darfur and Congo needing peacekeepers, there is little scope for another contingent coming to Somalia.

Unless it is further beefed up, the AU might wrap up and follow the example of Ethiopia. Overall conditions are not suited for a UN peacekeeping operation. Plagued by fighting and one million people rendered homeless, even basic needs for survival like food, water, shelter have become extremely scarce. 3.25 million people out of Somalia’s ten million population are in need of humanitarian assistance. World Food Program (WFP) is finding it extremely difficult to continue with its relief work in view of lawlessness and one of its aid workers getting killed. Sea piracy off Somalia coast is another problem area which is giving a severe headache to oil-dependent nations. I will be writing more on this in my latter write up.

Asif Haroon Raja is a retired Brig based in Rawalpindi who is a researcher and has authored several books and his articles appear regularly in several national and international newspapers.

- Asian Tribune -

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