Woyanne’s Intervention in Somalia has bolstered extremist elements – The Financial Times
Before Ethiopia invaded with Washington’s blessing, Somalia barely registered on the global jihadi radar. Two years later, the conflict is a significant mobilising force. (more…)
Before Ethiopia invaded with Washington’s blessing, Somalia barely registered on the global jihadi radar. Two years later, the conflict is a significant mobilising force. Videos seeking recruits and financing for Islamist militias fighting the Ethiopian-backed transitional government have proliferated on jihadi web sites. Fighters from Zanzibar, the Comoros islands and as far away as Pakistan have been drawn to the insurgency. Ethiopia’s intervention has bolstered extremist elements that the US and other western powers hoped – against the advice of most experts at the time – that it would contain.
In recent months, hardline al-Shabaab militias have gained control over much of southern Somalia. By contrast, the transitional government that Ethiopia stepped in to install can claim influence over the town of Baidoa and only parts of the capital, where roadside bombs explode daily. Ethiopian troops are bogged down fighting an insurgency that gains strength from their presence, while the government they support shows no signs of becoming more effective. It is a familiar scenario for the US and its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ethiopia however, has announced its decision to cut its losses and withdraw by the end of the year.
This poses near-term dangers not only for long-suffering Somalis, whose plight is barely recorded, but for the world. Somalia is a failed state that has been without effective government now for 17 years. International trade is already hampered by the surge in piracy off its coast. If the al-Shabaab militia are able to seize the opportunity to gain more ground, they could turn Somalia into the breeding ground for international terrorism that the US feared it was becoming back in 2006, although there was little evidence for this at the time.
In the longer term, Ethiopia’s withdrawal could take the wind out of Somali jihadist sails. The al-Shabaab derived legitimacy at home from nationalism, and further afield from their battle against essentially Christian invaders. Once these are gone, Somalis, Islamists included, are all too likely to resume fighting among themselves.
Blame for this debacle is not only Ethiopia’s. Burnt by the UN intervention in Somalia in the early 1990s, western powers were reluctant to back a large-scale peacekeeping operation that would have allowed the Ethiopians to withdraw sooner. If there is any hope, it is that the Somalis can now unite against an extremist form of Islam anathema to their own, and that fellow Muslim states will help them do it.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008