Engaging Somalia Via The Road Least Traveled

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The report card is in, and the end of the year accumulative grade indicates miserable failure. Worsening conditions for the ailing nation of Somalia, costly quagmire for Ethiopia and political wild-goose chase that produced a new hotbed of Anti-Americanism in the Horn for the US.

So now is the time for all, especially for Washington, as the most influential contributing force blamed for the current humanitarian catastrophe, to ponder the mistakes made, opportunities missed, and ways to constructively reverse course toward order and lasting peace.

Framing the right policy hinges not only the objective analysis of the current situation, but the political dynamics that paved the way for the Washington-backed Ethiopian invasion and the subsequent occupation of Somalia.
A year has passed since the Ethiopian invasion that drove the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) and installed the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Mogadishu and the situation in Somalia is horrifically grimmer than any other time in Somalia’s modern history.

According to the UN observers, the situation there has deteriorated to become Africa’s worst humanitarian crisis, dwarfing Darfur in severity. Approximately 1 million Mogadishu residents, fleeing the ever-increasing violence, had become internally displaced persons (IDPs), compounding the problem to put 1.5 million, mostly children and women, on the verge of starvation.

The rationale driving the "pre-emptive war" and the subsequent “regime change" was for Ethiopia to protect its national security concerns, and for Washington to continue its global war on terrorism and pursue three fugitive international terrorists that ICU was suspected of providing safe haven to.

In retrospect, the highly sensationalized heavy-handed initiatives and reckless rhetoric by certain radical elements within the ICU, have, on their part, given credence to all the charges.

Intoxicated with their swift defeat of the CIA-backed warlords and their counterintuitive ascendance to power, ultraconservative members of the ICU started to infringe in people’s freedoms and haphazardly implement socially regressive and sometimes brutal policies. These individual freewheelers shut down movie theatres for playing Western films and prohibited people from watching soccer matches. They flogged drug dealers and amputated thieves, selecting those with weak clan affiliations.

These acts, though they were not based on ICU policies, would build a case against it in the court of public opinion. Domestically, as ironic as it may sound, the most offensive infringement on these freedoms, which almost endangered the popularity of the courts that brought six months of peace in Mogadishu, came with the banning of khat- a narcotic leaf traditionally chewed for its stimulant effect.

All that notwithstanding, the ICU has taken three objective steps indicating that the moderates on the driver’s seat could have been engaged diplomatically:

First, by not seeking revenge against their enemies after defeating and disarming them and allowing these warlords to retreat to their clan territories indicated that by policy the ICU accepted violence only in self-defense; this even created a rift within ICU, as some were eager to eradicate those they knew were employed mercenaries who wished them the same.

Second, immediately after taking over Mogadishu, they reached out to the international community with an olive branch.

In a 4 page letter addressed to the State Department, the United Nations, African Union, Arab League, and the European Union, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the then Chairman of the ICU has outlined the primary goals and objectives of the courts. Among other things, the letter condemned international terrorism and expressed the courts’ desire to bring peace and order, and its respect for their neighbours’ territorial integrity.

Third, they agreed to sit and negotiate with the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) despite President Abdullahi Yusuf’s reputation as the most brutal warlord who slaughtered more "Islamists" than any other.

Moreover, the peaceful period while the ICU ruled has inspired an unprecedented influx of Somalis of various Diaspora communities into Mogadishu, setting in motion the process of replenishing the technocratic capacity of an ailing nation suffering from a sever case of brain-drain.

Alas, Washington, while viewing Somalia through the prism of the global war on terrorism, was too wary of any Islamist government taking over Somalia, and as such, was credulous enough to accept Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s hyper inflated intelligence which led to the nightmare scenario that many objective analysts have warned against.

Now, what if Washington gave the ICU the benefit of the doubt; what if it refrained from partnering with those who perpetuated Somalia misery and political pandemonium for almost two decades; what if it allowed the repatriation trend continue on its course to ultimately balance the scale.

What if Washington worked with civil societies and Diaspora groups in capacity- building, putting emphasis in three particular areas: peace-building and reconciliation, institution-building and good governance, reconstruction and economic development!

What if, consistent with UN Resolution 1724, Washington refrained from “any action in contravention of the arms embargo and related measures, and should take all actions necessary to prevent such contraventions,” or “any action that could provoke or perpetuate violence and violations of human rights, contribute to unnecessary tension and mistrust, endanger the ceasefire and political process, or further damage the humanitarian situation”!

For start, it behoves Washington to either navigate this ship back to a safe shore by stuffing the genie back into the battle and ending the Ethiopian occupation, or to jump off and allow Somalia to settle its own issues. For, nothing radicalizes the Somali streets more than foreign occupation.

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