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Nigeria: Outside View - Marshall Plan for Africa?
Lagos, August 9, 2006 – While a serious setback for the international counterterrorism effort, the growing power of the so-called Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) in southern Somalia also constitutes an opportunity to adopt new, more effective counter terrorism strategies.
The time is ripe for rethinking the counter terrorism approach toward the Horn of Africa region, as U.S. diplomatic and military efforts have failed to deprive the international jihadist movement of an enclave in stateless Somalia. Indeed, the worse case scenario seems to be unfolding before our very eyes. Within the Islamic Courts hardliners with historic ties to al-Qaida are reportedly pushing aside more moderate leaders, just as the UIC secures unquestioned authority over the one-time capital city of Mogadishu and its port and extends its control to other parts of southern Somalia.
The countries of the region, the U.S. and its Middle Eastern allies have good reason to work together in a strategy of containment. The conflict in Somalia can no longer be viewed as a localized problem, as the UIC is a threat to regional stability. At the heart of the Islamic Courts, there are leaders who come from an organization, Al Itihaad Al Islamiya, which has collaborated with al-Qaida against U.S. interests, including the 1993 Black Hawk Down incident in Mogadishu and the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.
To achieve its vision of a pan-Somali Caliphate comprising all of Somalia and ethnic Somali communities in neighboring Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti, Al Itihaad has in the past carried out with al-Qaida support terrorist attacks and military raids inside Ethiopia. There are reports of fighters from anti-Ethiopian government movements supporting the Islamic Courts militias in their campaigns to consolidate control of Mogadishu. Al Itihaad has also sought to mobilize support among ethnic Somalis in Kenya's Northeastern Province.
Both Saudi Arabia and Eritrea need to pay special attention to the jihadist game plan for the Horn of Africa and the long term implication for their own stability. Al-Qaida and its allies in the Horn of Africa region have sought to gain a jihadist foothold there, and in the past have specifically targeted Eritrea as a launch pad to Yemen and Al Qaida's ultimate prize, Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia's generous charitable contributions to the well-being of needy Somalis are often channeled through Somali organizations closely associated with Al Itihaad and the Islamic Courts, with the result that the charitable giving is manipulated by the Somali jihadists to create a base of popular support for their cause.
Ethiopia is the only regional power capable of militarily containing the Islamic Courts. Ethiopia has intervened militarily in Somalia in the past and has defeated Al Itihaad in direct combat inside Ethiopia. Ethiopia also cultivated a coalition of Somali clan-based political factions to act as a counterforce to Al Itihaad.
The Horn of Africa countries, working through the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), have helped clan-based factions to establish a Transitional Federated Government (TFG) as a way of restoring a central government in Somalia. The TFG was created in Kenya in 2004 after lengthy reconciliation talks hosted by the IGAD, which is comprised of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda.
A confrontation between the TFG and the Islamic Courts seemed inevitable, though, as the man chosen to be TFG president, Abdillahi Yusuf Ahmed, has been a fierce opponent and vocal critic of Al Itihaad and other Islamist groupings. The Islamist movement was bound to block the establishment of the TFG in the Islamist stronghold, Mogadishu, and in such circumstances, a weak TFG has been forced to set up its seat of government in the town of Baidoa. Africa Union dispatch of peacekeeping troops to Somalia to support the establishment of the TFG is long overdue, and now it seems that if troops are to be sent, their mission would more likely to be combatant than peacekeeping. In light of the military ascendancy of the Islamic Courts, the outlook for meaningful implementation of governing institutions by the TFG has dimmed considerably.
In this context, the breakaway Republic of Somaliland in the northern part of the country remains one of the few important bulwarks against the growing power of the Islamic Courts. However, Somaliland has not received any diplomatic recognition since the former British colony declared its independence from a stateless Somalia in 1991. A policy of effective containment would appear to require that the international community finds creative ways to shore up the military power of Somaliland and promote its economic revival even while the African Union refuses to grant recognition to Somaliland.
These developments demand a robust policy of containment designed to blunt the military threat posed by the Islamic Courts. A more comprehensive, long-term solution must include a sustained effort to address the developmental needs of this region, whose people have for decades suffered from the effects of interstate war, civil conflict, and environmental degradation. It behooves the United States to work with the countries of the region, its friends in the Middle East and North Africa, and the international community to launch what might be characterized as a "Marshall Plan" that can help to stabilize economic and political conditions in the Horn. A realistic plan that holds out the promise of prosperity can lead to a common regional vision and serve as an alternative to jihadist totalitarian "solutions" and outdated and destructive ideologies of armed struggle.
The ideological and cultural nationalist struggles of the region often mask an ingrained sense of scarcity and victimhood that will take much effort to overcome. To create an entirely new vision will require a substantial investment of capital, intellectual as well as material. It will take building institutions that help to integrate local economies, and it will take substantial investment in physical infrastructure and human resources. Special attention must be paid to developing employment opportunities and the entrepreneurial capacity of the region's youth, especially young men, who are vulnerable to recruitment by partisan militias.
Gregory Alonso Pirio is president of Empowering Communications, Hrach Gregorian is president of Institute of World Affairs.
Source: Daily Champion (Lagos)