Somalia’s transitional government (TG) claimed the victory when the shelling of Muqdisho (Mogadishu, the capital) by the Ethiopian army during the recent ten-day confrontation with supporters of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) came to an end on April 27. But even one day earlier the interim prime minister, Ali Mohamed Ghedi, announced that the fighting was over and that “we have won it against the insurgents”. The fact that the next day the Ethiopian army unleashed on the north of Muqdisho –” “the hiding place of the ICU militias”, according to some media reports –” one of its most devastating raids, and that the head of the African Union called for additional African Union (AU) ‘peacekeepers’ shows that the conflict was still raging. But that did not discourage Ghedi or his colleagues from making further claims of victory.
Nor did the fact that some members of the international media and NGOs had already dismissed their claims as unfounded, the raids as war crimes and the Ethiopians and the TG as “US stooges” bent on backing its ‘war on terrorism’ in the Horn of Africa. Undoubtedly the TG was encouraged by the continued support of Western governments and their allies worldwide, by the silence (and by implication complicity) of members of the Arab League, the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) and the AU, despite the fact that Somalia is a member of each of these bodies. As an American professor quoted in the Arabic daily al-Hayat has pointed out, the international community tied its hands by backing a government (the TG) that enjoys no local support whatsoever.
The professor, who is an expert on Somalia, was also quoted as saying that the TG is “a total failure and that is the essence of the matter.” He added that “nevertheless, the Western leaders cannot retract and it is in their interest not to draw the attention of the international community to Somalia.” But, in any case, “most of the international media and the international leaders have undoubtedly set aside the Somali issue,” he said.
It is true that the international community and media have on the whole ignored the Somali conflict, concentrating their attention on Darfur (Sudan) instead. But the indiscriminate bombing by the Ethiopian army of Mogadishu, which in a short time destroyed many of its buildings, killed thousands of its inhabitants and injured many more, and forced most of them to flee, could not fail to draw attention to the mayhem. However, that attention was very little compared to the concentration of the West on Darfur, despite the fact that a UN agency pointed out that the Somali conflict is far bloodier and more costly.
Germany was only major power to acknowledge the seriousness of the bombings, by means of an official letter sent by Walter Lindner, its ambassador to Somalia, to Abdullahi Yusuf, the TG president. The letter, which was made public on April 25, condemned the indiscriminate use of air strikes and heavy artillery in densely populated areas of Muqdisho. It also condemned the rape of women, the blocking of urgently needed food and humanitarian supplies, and the bombardment of hospitals. But Germany was only commenting because, as the current holder of the presidency of the EU, it was embarrassed by the seriousness of events in Muqdisho, which had been widely publicised. But it did not exploit its presidency of the EU to propose action or even official censure by the EU of Ethiopia and the TG. The fact that it merely sent a letter is an indirect indication that Ethiopia and the TG do not need to take Germany’s concerns seriously.
Nor do they need to heed the statement by Sir John Holmes, the UN humanitarian affairs chief, on April 26, simply because he accused all sides to the conflict of being responsible for what he described as war crimes. “The rules of humanitarian law are being flouted by all sides… all factions are equally guilty of indiscriminate violence in a civilian area,” he said. “Civilians in Mogadishu are paying an intolerable price for the absence of political progress and dialogue and the failure of all parties to abide by the rules of warfare.” The UN refugee agency also made a statement on the situation in Muqdisho but did not apportion blame for the mayhem. “At least half of the capital is deserted, slowly turning it into a ghost city,” it said.
The UN agencies should have put the blame on Ethiopia, whose force of 20,000 in Somalia is responsible for the destructive bombing, and on the TG, which invited Ethiopia to intervene and takes part in the fighting, although its 5,000 troops can only play a relatively minor role. But the bombing by the Ethiopians is assisting the TG’s troops to carry out its clan and anti-Islamic war on the ground and inside the city to make sure that supporters of the ICU and their allies do not escape the lethal bombing.
But the UN agencies should have put the main blame on the US, which encouraged, and finances, the invasion of Somalia by the Ethiopian army. One reason that they will not do so is that both the UN security council and the secretariat are determined to avoid any criticism of Washington’s role in the Somali conflict, and of the TG, which it backs. At the same time they are happy to censure Sudan in connection with the unrest in Darfur and impose sanctions on it at the behest of the US government. In fact it was the security council which in December passed the resolution that sanctioned the despatch of the Ethiopian army into Somalia.
One of the consequences of the interference of the US and UN in Somalia is widespread anger among Somalis at both, and the Somalis’ determination to support the Islamic Courts Union come what may. Clearly, Somalia faces a protracted conflict and illegal continued intervention by the US and its allies.