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Islamism As A Political Tool In Somalia
Another Road Pump to Reconciliation?
The takeover of the Al-itihad al-Islami of Mogadishu in June, 2006, and later expansion of its control over much of the south, has been but a great frustration for those seeking peace and reconciliation in Somalia. Warlordism, the question of “Somaliland”, the occupation and hegemonic control of parts of the deep south of Somalia by marauding militia from the central regions of the country have been the main obstacles to peace and reconciliation since the collapse of government in 1991. Not to mention that none of these phenomena have ever been seriously addressed, if at all, in those 14-plus so-called reconciliation conferences that the nation witnessed over the last 16 years. Rather, these issues had to be left for the ensuing authority to deal with, as if these were not some of the essential road blocks to social and political reconciliation in Somalia, and which had to be resolved as a matter of priority, if an effective national government had to be restored. For instance, all these questions have only lingered on to haunt the current Transitional Federal Government (TFG), as they did the previous Transitional National Government (TNG).
All these issues have been but products of the particular brand of political elitism in Somalia, which, lacking political ideology, political organizations, political structure or even programs, tends to seek power and maintain it through the use of clanism. For political purposes, clanism involves the setting of clan(s) against clans for land grabbing and hegemonic control, with a view to attaining or holding to national political power. These political maneuvers have been driven and masterminded by strongmen, dubbed “warlords”, “faction leaders”, or, sometimes, regional “Presidents”, such as you have in “ Somaliland” and “Puntland, exploiting intra and inter-clan conflicts”. The TFG is only a product of the temporary meeting of minds between those strong men, or the lack of it, as we have witnessed in the Embagathi process or since the resultant inception of the TFG, in the fall of 2004. “ Somaliland”, interestingly, contributed to the failure by staying absent. Essentially though, the failure of those reconciliation efforts has been inherent in the processes which sought to bring them about. Those so-called processes were marred by a host of counterproductive elements and issues.
1. Those processes or conferences have invariably sought reconciliation between individuals and personalities deemed to symbolize regional or clan entities, as ugly as the latter may sound. Those same strongmen have decided who participates in those conferences—invariably held in foreign capitals—in the name of clan representation. Thus, the solution has too often been sought from men who have themselves been part of the problem.
2. Those processes have all but sought to impose national government from the top down with out due regard to the political, constitutional, institutional and structural issues which brought about the ongoing process of state disintegration and absence of government.
3. In addition to those causative factors, these processes have often ignored the contemporary political and social realities; and have, at least temporarily, swept the prevailing problems and obstacles under the carpet. The question of “ Somaliland”, warlordism, and regional clan hegemony have been but some of those. Not to mention again that the ensuing authorities have invariably been but a product of the same political culture, structure and agents of the failed past of the Republic. Hence, there have only been efforts at re-animating the past rather than seeking solutions to avoid the repetition of the things of the past. Both the Arta Conference of 2000 and the Embagathi Conference of 2002-2004 have been but a perfect example of this re-animation of the things of the past.
4. As one among these phenomena and a product of the process of disintegration, the “ Somaliland” edifice contributes to this failure in two ways. (a) It seeks to flee the scene of disintegration, thus denying the nation an opportunity for complete reintegration. Not that it can stand as a politically independent, economically viable or socially cohesive entity, as its advocates claim. (b) It also seeks to reinstall the same structures of old by the political agents of the past—with all its clan-centric political orientations and hegemonic tactics. It has, therefore, been a major obstacle to national reconciliation.
5. The lack of political organizations and a socially sensitive, principled grass roots movement(s) to reconstitute government in Somalia, as an attempt to remove and replace all of the above factors has often been ignored as a reality; and voices to bring this to the fore have often been suppressed by those forces who have had a vested interest in the past and its begotten current dynamics.
The onslaught of the so-called Islamist movement, currently personified in the leadership of Mr. Hassan Dahir Aweys, Sh. Sharif Ahmed, Ayrow and Hassan Turky, is but an opportunity for these new strongmen to fill the power vacuum, initially in the Capital. It represents a smart, if ambitious and, perhaps, a naïve, attempt to use Islam as a political ideology and a springboard for creating a national political movement and organization—components, indeed, missing in the processes of political reconciliation in the past. Smart? Yes. Not so fast, though! Because, in their attempt to fill the vacuum in all these respects, they have also become a party to the conflict, and have put Islam—the most sacred institution the nation shares—in the center of issues that may divide the nation yet again for decades to come. In the meantime, many Somalis of average intelligence who have become disillusioned with Somali politics and processes of reconciliation in the recent past, and who have the inclination to endorse anything labeled “Islamic” are in support of the Islamists. In addition, some highly educated Somalis have warmed up to the initiative of the Islamists—some mainly because they may have naively perceived an opportunity for this movement to succeed as a nationally unifying one. But there are also opportunist politicians only using it to oppose the TFG or other regional, personal or clan entities. The Islamists have also been obtaining support from a host of countries in the region opposed to Ethiopia’s influence with the TFG or from other parts of the world in protest of what they perceive to be the Bush Administration’s policies towards the Middle East.
The very failure of these few men’s strategy to use Islam as a stepping stone to power and control is, first and foremost, inherent in the issues which define their (Islamists) inability to reach a truce with the TFG, not to say that the onslaught of the Islamists has also further divided an already disjointed TFG camp for various—some of them obvious—reasons. Main among these issues are (a) the mismatch of their Shari’a based ideology with the secular orientation outlook of the TFG and (b) the mismatch of their populist oriented, monolithic structure, with the clan based, oddly pluralist structure of the TFG. Needless to emphasize that their structure and ideology will remain two important litmus tests beyond their short encounter with the TFG, if we come to believe that these men mean business in reconstituting Somalia’s future government. Internal political wrangling between the main personalities seem also to be a factor in their failure to reach an agreement with the TFG—not to say that the TFG does not have differences within its folds. However, the differences within the Islamists camp reaches far enough as to reflect differences in their objectives and strategies to attain and maintain national power beyond their agreement, or lack of it, with the TFG.
Spin doctors who claim to be privy to the things going within the monolithic framework of the Islamists categorize the leadership into: (a) “internationalists”, for lack of a better word, who seek to gain power immediately within Somalia, and then immediately transport the movement across the borders to install their Islamist structure and ideology in the Somali inhabited parts of the neighboring countries; (b) “regionalists”, who are seeking to initially limit their influence to those parts already under their control, and use that as a chip to enhance their negotiating power with the TFG. Hence, this also affects their war objectives and strategies. For example, those labeled “internationalists” would not have hesitated to send their troops to Baidoa and beyond, while the “regionalists” would maximize on obtaining political offices within the existing Transitional Federal Institutions; hence, they would rather advocate that Baidoa, the seat of the Transitional Federal Government, does not be attacked. In the meantime, there is agreement between both sides on blaming Ethiopia for undue intervention and bringing about pressure from Arab and Islamic countries to bear on the TFG. But gaining national power does not absolve the Islamists from the need for national reconciliation, because they will inherit the same set of fundamental, active regional conflicts which have so far defied the power of recent rudimentary authorities of Somalia.
Whatever the result of the ongoing contention between the TFG and the Islamists, the sad fact remains that Islam will have become a new factor of division for the nation and the Islamists will have become an additional party to the political conflict, at least at the regional level, if not at the national level—regional such as is the one of “ Somaliland” and “Puntland”. So, there is no wining opportunity for the TFG either, because there will, at a minimum, be one more region controlled by the Islamists with their ideological and structural mismatches, if nothing else. Furthermore, even if, somehow, given the opportunity to take its seat in Mogadishu today, the TFG must seek to address the issues of warlordism, “Somaliland”, some inherent regional problems in “Puntland”, the hegemonic occupation of the Deep South, and yes, the new issue of Islamism. These same questions must, therefore, of necessity all be dealt with in a future home grown process for complete reconciliation. The shortest cut to commencing that process lies in an early compromise between those who currently control the Capital and the TFG. Together they may be able to strike a deal with “Somaliland”, free the people of the Deep South from captivity, and, seriously attend to addressing the region-specific conflicts in the national fracture points such as Kismayo, Mogadishu, Galkayo, Erigavo and Ainabo. That option will also avoid further war and turmoil which had their toll far too long on the people of the Somali Republic.
Other issues involve the question of the minorities which the 4.5 formula sweeps under the rug in terms of equitable representation. Other questions which may be of long term significance include the discrimination against the segregated groups. The Jareers segregation borders on racism. These issues are initially significant in as much as a national declaration could be adopted to be used as a basis for future legislation against the behavior of discrimination in all its forms.
Finally, those advocating Islamism must realize that the national political experience of the people is past the age when raw ideology and naked power could resuscitate the State. The people have had first hand experience of these elements in the socialist regime of President Bare—the last effective government anyone can remember for that matter—but which could not survive its imposed structure and proclaimed ideology. They must also bear responsibility for the consequences to the Faith which has hitherto been the strongest bond among all Somalis as a nation. Furthermore, a regime such as the one the Islamists—at least the “internationalist” wing of the current group—promises can only threaten the security of the region which might, in return, bring about drastic actions from the international community, which can and will only and surely have dire, future consequences for the Republic and its people.