Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

A Light at the End of the Tunnel, Somalia Edition

Posted in Somalia by Dan on December 19, 2009

Over the last couple of decades, Somalia has frequently been categorized as the most fragmented, decentralized, and chaotic state the world has to offer.  With three out of eight million Somalis needing emergency aid, and with 1.5 million Somalis displaced by clan, tribal and religious infighting, it is quite difficult to refute this claim.  Add a pathetic excuse for a national government to the mix and Somalia certainly seems like a country that is beyond help.

Heck, even if the international community were willing to help, there is absolutely no guarantee that the assistance would reach the people who need it the most.  Coupled with warlords to the north and Islamic insurgents to the south (Al’Shabab) and the prospects for improvement are slim…if not nonexistent.

But despite all of the violence and governmental ineptitude that has pervaded Somali culture since the early 1990’s, there is a silver-lining that could gradually lift the country out of the abyss.  Coincidentally, this silver-lining could stem from a terrorist blast at a graduation ceremony that killed 22 people.

Sound strange?  It shouldn’t, given the indiscriminate and gruesome nature of the attack.  The incident has resulted in such rage from the population that ordinary Somali citizens have protested with unified demonstrations on the streets of Mogadishu.  This is not exactly the type of response the terrorists were hoping for.

While this latest atrocity was certainly a blow to Somalia’s Transitional Authority- a government already weak and ineffectual compared to Al’Shabab- this bombing could have the effect of rallying segments of the population against Somali jihadists. I understand that this article is quite skeptical of this prediction, but it should at least be considered…and possibly exploited. After all, three years ago, many in the United States would have laughed at the proposition of Sunni tribes turning against Al’Qaeda in Anbar Province; a geopolitical move that quickly spread across the country. Cultural differences aside, how is Somalia any different?

Like Iraq, Somalia is a society that is heavily decentralized according to tribal and clan affiliations. Similar to the Iraqi Government only three years ago, Somalia’s TFA is unable to cement firm control over the capital city. Perhaps the biggest parallel between Iraq and Somalia is historical experience; the citizens of both countries have been forced to deal with extensive political violence for decades. With all of these similarities, a Somali-version of the Awakening Movement may not be that far off. Sure, the situation is depressing now- it has been for the past two decades- but bombings like these tend to create fissures between the mass of moderate Muslims and the most extreme fringe of Islam.

Cross your fingers.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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11 Responses

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  1. warfa said, on December 19, 2009 at 6:51 am

    Al Shabaab can only thank USA and Ethiopia for its birth and for its control of most of Southern and Southern Somalia in a relatively short time. No one has ever heard of them before until the American support for the warlords in 2006 and their subsequent backing for Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia and occupation of the capital Mogadishu in January 2007. Under the current circumstances, no amount of support to “president” Sheikh Sheriff and his phantom transitional government will fix Somalia’s intractable crisis.

    Most of the leaders and fighters of Al Shabaab are ironically from the north of Somalia, notably Somaliland, an area Westerners love to call a rare oasis of peace in an otherwise turbulent Somalia. It might be so outwardly, but, in the eyes of Al Shabaab, it has committed two unforgivable sins: first it declared secession in 1991; and secondly it allowed itself to be an Ethiopian vassal. Al Shabaab has been behind a number of suicide bombings in both Somaliland and Puntland, another northern self-autonomous region also seen as another Ethiopian Bantustan. Since Ethiopia is unlikely to keep its dirty hands out of Somalia, it is only a matter of time before Al Shabaab extends its control to both Somaliland and Puntland. Only then, in a united and liberated Somalia, will Al Shaab’s downfall begin.That is why Soamalis are prepared to put up with their pain because the alternative is worse.

  2. Rocksprings said, on December 19, 2009 at 6:52 am

    Eighteen years of not having a government and eighteen years of horrendous atrocities.How was this allowed to happen? United Nations proving itself incapable or else turning a blind eye to a country unable to get out of the combined cess- pools of politics, culture and religion. It is incomprehensible that after all these years, the UN. is still debating what to do, while hundred of thousands have been murdered. Where are the so-called human rights organizations?

  3. Sean Brooks said, on December 19, 2009 at 6:52 am

    Some experts are now advocating a “constructive disengagement” as a new approach for the international community in dealing with Somalia: http://bit.ly/6jdksm. Built on pragmatic recommendations, they aim to provide space and time for Somalis to resolve their own political problems without external interference.

  4. Aly-Khan Satchu said, on December 19, 2009 at 6:53 am

    Sitting here in Nairobi and being alert to the reaction of the Somali Community, I noticed a degree of outrage that I had never sensed before. This Attack was barbaric and a clear Tipping Point and the International Community need to feed off this outrage in order to now strike a decisive Blow otherwise things are going to Tip the other way and the ripple effects will be felt well beyond Somalia’s borders.

    Aly-Khan Satchu
    http://www.rich.co.ke

  5. Reigal said, on December 19, 2009 at 6:53 am

    What should be the international response? Get out and for heaven’s sake stay out for a while. This obsession with probbing up a `central’ government even when it exists de jure only is so patently counterproduct yet the west appears to stick with it.

    In fact western and AU support for Sh Sharif is his achilles heel and he may stand a better chance of fighting Al-Shabab as an islamist clannist patriot than as the stooge of the West that he is seen as today. But perhaps the best thing for Sharif to do is hand over power to a strong warlord from the local Hawiye clan like Muhammed Dheere, a man who is pure bone from the neck up but knows how to fight religious fanatics their way.

    Sharif and his Prime Minister Sharmarke, are both thoroughly decent men but also complete and utter weaklings(Sh Sharif is known to get so nervous before meetings he shakes like a leaf, bless)

    Sharmarke is even weaker partially because he is from the wrong clan in Mogadshu unlike Sharif who is a local boy.

    In all out fight between clans and Al-Shaba the clan will ultimately win. It did so in somaliland and Puntland in the North. Absolutely no reason why it shouldnt in mogadshu and its environs.

    So get out and take the AU force with you. One of the more odious side effects of supporting this very dead governemnt was the legitimacy it gives to African gargoyles like Museveni a man whose corruption and hunger for power is sure leading to another Zimambw

  6. Reigal said, on December 19, 2009 at 6:54 am

    Mr Warfa believes Somaliland remaining peaceful and separate is a “worse” alternative than Al-Shabab destroying the place completely beforee taking it over. He then hopes the latter to self-destruct like a baddie alien in a cheap sci-fi flick.

    quite a fantasy that gives you a glimpse of why Somalia is in the shape it is today.

  7. EuReader said, on December 19, 2009 at 6:55 am

    It is rather curious that the Western navies do not stop all the illegal fishing off Somalia’s coast. After all, these operations are run out of western countries and these people CAN be prosecuted for not having any permission from Somalia to fish there.

    It is no wonder that some Somali see nothing wrong in ‘getting back’ at the West by piracy. A poor man is going to think. “Hmmm…. they [the West] steal fish off the coast because we cannot stop them, the [the west] pay no one for our fish. So what the heck, I’ll go and kidnap some Westener’s merchant ships since they can’t stop me!” Quite logical from a Somali poor man’s point of view. “The Western fishing fleets take matters in their own hands, so why can’t I?” he may think, again very logical from his point of view.

  8. Gurrey said, on December 19, 2009 at 6:55 am

    The West and inparticular the US had supported Warlords and criminals for the two decades. The follwing is what has been carried out in Somalia by the US and other countires:

    1- Helping criminal warlords with financial and logistical support, directly or indirectly throuh a third country like Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Egypt, AU and many more.
    2-Dumping toxic waste and illegal fisshing in the Somali Coast
    3-Toppling the Union of Islamic Courts which were peaceful organisation with the support of the people
    4- Supporting the illegal invasion of Ethiopa
    5-Ignoring the massacre and the daily killings commited by Ethiopian Army.

    The US Goverment are still supporting SH. Ahmeds Goverment despite of his competence to govern Somalia.

    Al Shebab are not popular in Somalia, but the unjust policy of the US towards Somalia will make Al shebab stronger and popular.

    The West should stop this policy of devide and rule or supporting incompetent individuals. The Somalis will not accept to be like Saudi Arabia, UAE or Kuwait where one family is in control of everything and no questions asked.

    The sicide bombing which killed over 23 people including three government minsters were not done by Al Shebab.

    Fistly Al Shebab has denied that they carried out that evel act. Secondly there is no evidence which showed a suicide bomber was blown himself up.

    This evil act was planned from outside Somalia and most likely a bomb was placed there.

    The question we have to ask ourselves is what are the real motives behind these evil killings?
    1- Is it to shift public opinion from Al Shebab?
    2- Is it topre long the AU presence in Somalia?
    3- Is it to lebel Somalia as the second base of Al Qaeda after Afganistan?
    4- Is it finishing the only remaining and educated in Somalia?

    Who ever is behind this evil act, what is likely for them to achieve by killing innocent people.

    Peaceful Somalia is important for the region and the entire world.
    I hope this is achieved through engaging all the parties involved, with out the double standard of the West.
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    mfellion wrote:
    Dec 14th 2009 9:51 GMT

    Reading this article and the posts explains a lot of what is wrong in Africa. Denial of the obvious while the thugs play at government. Meanwhile the fanatics blow up things so they can go to heaven.
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    kbot wrote:
    Dec 15th 2009 10:53 GMT

    It’s hard to analyse somalia, unless you have chewed khat – something that is quite addictive, and in the long term, well bad to say in the mildest terms. Come to the drug users of any “civilised” country, increase their population proportion, give guns to them, and you get a version of somalia.
    Let’s have some reporting of the ways they combat drugs there – sure there is law there – but what else ?
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    DePetris wrote:
    Dec 16th 2009 3:56 GMT

    While this latest atrocity was certainly a blow to Somalia’s Transitional Authority- a government already weak and ineffectual compared to Al’Shabab- this bombing could have the effect of rallying segments of the population against Somali jihadists. I understand that this article is quite skeptical of this prediction, but it should at least be considered…and possibly exploited. After all, three years ago, many in the United States would have laughed at the proposition of Sunni tribes turning against Al’Qaeda in Anbar Province; a geopolitical move that quickly spread across the country. Cultural differences aside, how is Somalia any different?

    Like Iraq, Somalia is a society that is heavily decentralized according to tribal and clan affiliations. Similar to the Iraqi Government only three years ago, Somalia’s TFA is unable to cement firm control over the capital city. Perhaps the biggest parallel between Iraq and Somalia is historical experience; the citizens of both countries have been forced to deal with extensive political violence for decades. With all of these similarities, a Somali-version of the Awakening Movement may not be that far off. Sure, the situation is depressing now- it has been for the past two decades- but bombings like these tend to create fissures between the mass of moderate Muslims and the most extreme fringe of Islam.

    Cross your fingers.

    https://depetris.wordpress.com
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    I Blame the Parents wrote:
    Dec 16th 2009 2:19 GMT

    Come now, if the UN or other Western countries try to help, they will just get blamed for everything that is wrong with the country, just like some posters here are already doing. Somalia is an anarchic mess because its inhabitants have chosen to make it so. No amount of shifting blame to outsiders will change decades of self inflicted mayhem.

    The best the world can do is to let Somalis sort it out themselves.
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  9. mfellion said, on December 19, 2009 at 6:56 am

    Reading this article and the posts explains a lot of what is wrong in Africa. Denial of the obvious while the thugs play at government. Meanwhile the fanatics blow up things so they can go to heaven.

  10. kbot said, on December 19, 2009 at 6:56 am

    It’s hard to analyse somalia, unless you have chewed khat – something that is quite addictive, and in the long term, well bad to say in the mildest terms. Come to the drug users of any “civilised” country, increase their population proportion, give guns to them, and you get a version of somalia.
    Let’s have some reporting of the ways they combat drugs there – sure there is law there – but what else ?

  11. I Blame the Parents said, on December 19, 2009 at 6:57 am

    Come now, if the UN or other Western countries try to help, they will just get blamed for everything that is wrong with the country, just like some posters here are already doing. Somalia is an anarchic mess because its inhabitants have chosen to make it so. No amount of shifting blame to outsiders will change decades of self inflicted mayhem.

    The best the world can do is to let Somalis sort it out themselves.


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