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It's Not Too Late For Somalia
A Somali woman holds Somalia's flag earlier this month in the town of Kismayu. The troubled country, which has had no central government since 1991, may now be ready for talks between competing factions.
Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan, Citizen Special
Mogadishu, January 22, 2007 – Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi of Somalia's transitional government states that his government, having defeated the Islamists, will lead Somalia to a new future. Its actions, however, belie that hope.
For example, the speaker of the transitional Parliament, Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden, has been ousted because he had contacts with Islamists. But as the European Union has stated, the Somali government's foremost need, if the country is to regain peace, is to include people who can help it reach an agreement with the Islamists.
The government also shut down and then imposed stringent guidelines to muzzle a radio station that sought to appeal to all Somalis. It was started in 1999 by Ali Iman Sharmarke, a former Somali-Canadian, with associates Ahmed Abdisalam Adan and Mohamed Elmi. The moves show that the government seeks to crush its opponents rather than to unite Somalis peacefully.
The transitional government defeated the Islamists last month because of Ethiopia's military help. Then the U.S. bombed Somali Islamists, saying it was hunting suspects in the 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people.
But Ethiopian armor can only help the transitional government control cities, and only for a limited time. It cannot help the government bring peace and security, win back Somalis who have seceded, or gain legitimacy and support within Somalia.
Somalia , since 1991, has been without a government. Inter-clan warfare, murders, extortion, floods, famine and the tsunami killed hundreds of thousands of Somalia's nine million people. Two regions of Somalia, Somaliland and Puntland, broke away. Two million Somalis were displaced internally (now the number is close to half a million).
A million Somalis sought safety in 61 countries. Canada, which has the largest contingent, Western Europe and the United States gave them a new life. Their remittances help relatives survive in Somalia, or in neighboring lands.
A quarter of a million Somalis languish in refugee camps in Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Eritrea. Victimized there by fellow Somalis and host country thugs, many trudge back to danger in Somalia even as others flee. The United Nations has rated Somalia's Human Development Index as the world's lowest. The per-capita gross domestic product is $240 per year.
Somalia owes its misery to colonialism and internal divisions. The United Kingdom and Italy conquered parts of Somalia in 1886 and 1889. Only on June 26, 1960, did the British and Italian parts of Somalia become independent as one country.
Though Somalis share the same language, religion and race, clan division has been Somalia's curse. There are four main clans, a middle one and then the low-caste. The clans, and their subclans, are often at each other's throats.
Nine years after independence, president Abdirashid Ali Shermarke was assassinated. Army major-general Mohamed Siyad Barre grabbed power, ruled ruthlessly for 21 years and invaded Ethiopia's Ogaden region. In the war that followed in 1977-1978, the Somalis were hammered.
In April 1988 the two countries signed a peace agreement. Ethiopia, however, kept attacking parts of Somalia and providing military assistance to its Somali satraps.
A revolt ousted Barre in January 1991. Somaliland broke away in 1991 and Puntland broke away in 1998. Southwestern Somalia also broke away but is weak. Warlords carved up what remained and used militias to extort, kill, rape and plunder.
The $15-billion in arms that the Soviet Union and the United States had supplied to their client states fuelled inter-state and militia wars.
The United Nations, Arab League, European Union, African Union, and a regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) have sought to promote reconciliation in Somalia. The UN imposed an arms embargo on Somalia in January 1992 and sent a U.S.-led force. The UN Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM) became the UN's largest peacekeeping operation, numbering 33,000 troops and civilians.
But after heavy fighting, U.S. president Bill Clinton recalled U.S. forces when two U.S. helicopters were shot down and Somalis dragged corpses of American soldiers in the streets. UN personnel withdrew in 1995.
Canada also got a black eye. In 1993 Canadian Airborne Regiment members tortured 16-year-old Somali shepherd Shidane Arone to death. The Canadian government disbanded the regiment.
The 13th international peace initiative for Somalia in Djibouti (May-August 2000) produced a Somali Transitional National Assembly (TNA). Somaliland, Puntland and some factions rejected the pact because it included Barre's ministers and criminals.
In 2002 Kenya organized another conference, which led to the Somalia Transitional Federal Assembly (TFA) and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in August 2004. Internal dissension hobbled the new government, however, and it remained in exile, only venturing into small cities in Somalia because it felt insecure in the capital, Mogadishu. It enjoyed international backing but lacked support within the country.
The Somali Islamic Courts Council (SICC) had played no major military or political role. But exasperated by the lawlessness, extortion, rapes, kidnappings and murders in southern Somalia, the Islamists fought and defeated the warlords in summer 2006 despite U.S. aid to the thugs. For the first time in 15 years peace and security reigned in southern Somalia. However, the Islamists' rigidity also disillusioned many Somalis.
The Islamists and the transitional government entered into unity talks that failed. The transitional government sought supremacy, though it lacked support in Somalia. And the Islamists wanted to be in control, ignoring that their base was narrow while the transitional government represented broader segments of society.
Now the transitional government rules parts of southern Somalia with Ethiopia's help. But Somalis resent Ethiopians and Americans. The country is likely to remain violent and divided.
However, if the African Union sent peace-keepers while the United Nations, the European Union and North America provided economic support conditional on the transitional government seeking an agreement with other factions and promoting human rights, justice and development in Somalia might be salvaged.
Past interventions did not work but this time it might. The Somalis are weary of the destruction. Many have returned from Canada and elsewhere to try to rebuild their country. The Islamists had intervened precisely to restore a semblance of law and order.
The challenge now is to restrain Ethiopia and the United States and prod the transitional government to negotiate with Somali factions to seek peace.
If the Somali factions agree on a provisional government, southern Somalia might at last be able to attain security, even if the reunification of Puntland and Somaliland remains distant.
Canada should take the initiative in urging the transitional government and the UN, the African Union and the European Union to work together for that goal, which would be a major step forward for the country.
Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan is a former Ottawa Citizen editorial writer. He retired recently after 10 years as a member of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, deciding refugee asylum cases including dozens from Somalia.
SOURCE: The Ottawa Citizen