Khadija Osoble Ali
The sudden defeat of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) by the
Ethiopian army and their U.S. backers proved easier then expected.
A reported 15,000 Ethiopian troops and U.S. aerial bombardment
succeeded in installing the Transitional Federal Government,
two years after its formation in neighboring Kenya.
the ICUs military defeat, the war is far from over.
Three issues are very important to examine as the crisis in
Somalia continues to unfold. First, can the transitional government
survive without the presence of the Ethiopian or American
troops? Second, how much does the foreign troops presence
help or hurt the governments legitimacy in the eyes
of its people? Third, how willing is the United States to
support a government that has no popular support base?
in the region believe that the United States has directly
or indirectly supported this operation because of the Islamists
alleged al-Qaida associations and the assumed provision of
safe heaven for al-Qaida operatives. The recent military air
raids in southern Somalia confirm U.S. involvement and suggest,
unfortunately, that the Bush Administration has chosen yet
again force over diplomacy.
Approach Increases Animosity
While the Bush Administration and the Ethiopian regime may
have legitimate concerns vis-à-vis the ICU, invading
a sovereign nation and killing innocent civilians does not
justify this agenda. The military approach will only increase
animosity between Americans and the Muslim world. In Somalia,
this military aggression escalates tensions with neighboring
Ethiopia and re-ignites anti-American sentiments throughout
the country. It has the potential to prolong the Somali conflict,
increase the humanitarian crisis and increase the likelihood
true that the ICU, unlike the transitional government, enjoyed
popular support though they were far from perfect. The ICUs
hard negotiation style dragged the reconciliation
process and disappointed many of their early supporters. Their
military expansion to areas controlled by the transitional
government and their decision to engage the powerful U.S.-
backed Ethiopian army were suicidal and politically immature.
The ICU lost a golden opportunity to bring a lasting peace
the transitional government seems to be following suit by
imposing martial law, ceding all power to the president. Parliaments
unanimous approval of this law was unsurprising to Somalis
since the parliament generally acquiesces to presidential
mandates. Moreover, those who followed the Intergovernmental
Authority on Development (IGAD)-sanctioned Embagathi reconciliation
process that produced the transitional government know full
well that most of the members of the parliament and the government
have been handpicked by Ethiopia. Not only is the emergency
law counterproductive, it indicates the transitional governments
unwillingness to reconcile with all parties in this conflict
which is the only way they can regain their legitimacy to
govern. The transitional government can only win the hearts
and mind of the Somali people and the international community
through its deeds but not through force.
Diplomacy is the only option. It is still possible to prevent
the rise of an insurgency in Somalia. Consequently, the United
States and the transitional governments performance
over the next few weeks will have a substantial impact on
the direction of the Somalia crisis.
States and the international community have a moral obligation
to play a positive role in helping Somalis help themselves.
The U.S. should refrain from all military operations and encourage
the transitional government and its Ethiopian counterparts
to stop hostile actions. Furthermore, the United States should
press the Ethiopian government to withdraw its troops from
Somalia. This will provide the transitional government with
an opportunity to win the confidence of its people--an understandably
difficult task under the present circumstances. To assist
in this effort, an African Union peacekeeping force must be
deployed as soon as possible.
Administration must also understand that with the complex
political structure in Somalia, clan-based loyalties determine
support for either the ICU or the transitional government.
The present crisis has the potential to ignite long dormant
clan conflicts. While the U.S. officials may view the ICU
as religious extremists, members of their clans view them
as their fellow clansmen. Aggregating them together under
the umbrella of extremism, therefore, clearly alienates many
clansmen who are not extremists.
The U.S. should encourage constructive dialogue between the
transitional government and all parties involved in the Somalia
conflict. The U.S. should support a democratic process for
building the institutions necessary for a sustainable peace.
This will reverse a tradition of warlord leadership and hierarchical
to dispel the notion that the transitional government is a
puppet government for the Ethiopian and American regimes,
it is imperative that an inclusive and broad-based government
be fashioned. In its present form, the government is viewed
as externally imposed with little popular support and legitimacy.
Lasting peace and security can only be achieved if this government
transforms itself into an entity genuinely committed to national
unity and reconciliation.
should revisit its policy on Somalia since it is merely fuelling
the historic animosity between the two countries. It is in
the interest of the Ethiopian government to have a strong
united Somali government that is accountable to its people.
government must remain positively engaged in Somalia. But
only through diplomatic means can the U.S. fulfill its obligation
to end the suffering of the Somalia people and reduce the
violence spreading within and beyond the Horn of Africa.
Osoble Ali, a former member of the Somali Transitional National
Parliament and a Minister of State from 2000 to 2002, She
is a doctoral student at the Institute for Conflict Analysis
and Resolution at George Mason University and a contributor
to Foreign Policy In Focus.
Editor: Emily Schwartz Greco, IPS and Emira Woods, IPS