Solution to the Quagmire in Somalia

November 27th, 2006

By Fikru Helebo | November 27, 2006

Back in the summer months when I was trying to understand what was going on in Somalia after Mogadishu was taken over by radical Islamists, I started visiting some Somali web sites to read what Somalis were thinking about what is happening in their homeland. The sense I got was that many of them were willing to give the Islamists a chance. I posted a representative sample of their opinions along with my own comments here.

One of the opinion pieces I came across at that time was an article by Amina Mire, a cousin of the leader of the Islamists, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys. In her article, the feminist Mire argues that what Somalis needed the most at this time is a sense of security in their own country and she was prepared to give the benefit of the doubt to the Islamists, even though she is convinced that Somali women will not fare any better under Islamic Sharia law.

In an email conversation I had with Mire after reading her article, she related to me that the central reason for the lack of political stability in Somalia in the last 16 years was Ethiopian interference in Somali affairs. She also seemed to attribute the ills of Somali society such as warlordism and the consumption of the mild narcotics khat (tchat) on Ethiopia. While I agreed with Mire that interference by the Meles regime was, indeed, one of the reasons for the political instability in Somalia today, I indicated to her that the premium that Somali society places on clan loyalty over and above everything else is the main culprit.

The regime in Addis Ababa has been using this weakness in Somali society to its advantage and, unfortunately, to the detriment of Somalia just as it has been using ethnic differences to divide and rule Ethiopians. Unfortunately, Amina Mire did not take kindly of my argument and she blasted me as being a proxy to the Ethiopian regime. Now that the Islamists have expanded their sphere of influence in Somalia in the last three months and they are gearing themselves to take on the Ethiopian-backed groups in Somalia, namely the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) based in Baidoa and the Puntland autonomous regional government, I wonder what Mire now thinks about the prospect for a secure Somalia with the radical Islamists, backed by Eritrea and a host of foreigners including jihadists, unwilling to compromise with the TFG.

The Addis Ababa regime also has not shown any willingness to compromise with the Islamists. It recently declared that the Islamists pose “a clear and present danger” to Ethiopia and that its military has finished preparations for war with the Islamists. Such declaration is uncalled for as there is no imminent threat of an attack on Ethiopian territory by the Islamists, at least not that I can detect. The talk of crushing the Islamists of the summer months has dissipated, but this declaration is still a provocative move and will not help to reduce the heightened tensions.

Meles has a proven track record of talking the talk but not walking the walk when dealing with his opponents. Therefore, all his talk about being committed to a peaceful resolution of the current Somali conflict should not be taken very seriously. If he wants to be taken seriously, especially by Somalis, Meles needs to start taking tangible steps to demonstrate that his regime is abandoning meddling in Somali affairs by genuinely seeking a broad-based solution to the quagmire in Somalia as outlined in this balanced presentation by Amb. David Shinn, a former high ranking US diplomat, in a remark before the Somali Institute for Peace and Justice in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA on November 11, 2006.

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