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Begging the Somali question
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 26 - 04 - 2007

Sudan needs to convince its neighbours as to its good intentions about the Darfur crisis. And, in the Somali capital Mogadishu the fierce resistance to the Ethiopian military presence intensifies, writes Gamal Nkrumah
Efforts to cover over the cracks in the US-inspired occupation of Somalia are bearing bitter fruit. Fighting has intensified in the Somali capital Mogadishu between forces loyal to the Council of Islamic Courts (CICs) and Ethiopian troops "invited" by the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG). Hundreds of thousands have been rendered homeless and the numbers of those dead and unaccounted for is on the rise. The United Nations has estimated that some 325,000 Somalis have fled the city since the arrival of the Ethiopian troops. The humanitarian crisis in the war-torn city has reached gargantuan proportions. Somali President Abdallah Youssef has appealed for calm and accused the militant Islamists of rejecting peace and forcing his government to wage war.
The Ethiopian forces stormed the city last December and violent conflict has raged in the city of two million ever since. However, the scale of the humanitarian catastrophe is forcing the international community to step up efforts to end the violence.
The CICs who took control of the city last year have emerged as the most powerful political force in the country today. There is an ethnic factor at work too. The people of Mogadishu are mainly of the Hawiye tribe, the largest Somali tribe in terms of population. However, the Hawiye are divided into several opposing clans. Be that as it may, the popularity of the CICs is based on its non-tribal nature. The TFG, on the other hand, is made up in the main of rival warlords, from disparate tribes and clans.
Among the Ethiopians, too, there are many dissenters. Indeed, a leader of the CICs now exiled in neighbouring Yemen, Al-Sheikh Sherif Ahmed, appealed to the Yemeni authorities not to deport Ethiopian conscientious objectors who have fled Somalia to Yemen in a desperate bid to avoid being enlisted in the fighting in Mogadishu. The UN claims that thousands of Ethiopian soldiers are crossing the Gulf of Aden into Yemen pretending to be Somali refugees.
It has become increasingly clear that the Ethiopian debacle in Somalia is not popular at home. Indeed, many Ethiopian opposition groups are calling openly for the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Somalia. Meanwhile the Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zennawi insists that the Ethiopian military presence in Somalia is a prerequisite for peace in the Horn of Africa.
The TFG has been accused of fomenting trouble among the different Somali tribes and clans. CICs, in sharp contrast, are seen as working hard to overcome tribal and clan divisions. The chief problem is that Somalia's neighbours -- most notably Ethiopia and Kenya -- believe that their security and well- being can only be guaranteed by a secular Somalia. The two countries were alarmed at the prospects of the emergence of a Taliban-like state in Somalia. Both countries have large ethnic Somali communities and politically energised Muslim minorities -- in the case of Ethiopia, Muslims claim to be in the majority, even though Ethiopian government statistics indicate otherwise.
Western powers instinctively sympathised with the Ethiopian and Kenyan governments. They could not understand the power and popular appeal of CICs and were horrified by the strict promulgation and enforcement of Islamic Sharia law by the CICs. It is under these dire circumstances that the United States-led International Contact Group (ICG) is trying to skirt the underlying problem to focus instead on rebuilding the country and alleviate the rapidly- deteriorating humanitarian situation. But is this not just begging the question? Somalia is shaping up to be another Afghanistan.


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