What is going on in Somalia and where will this new type of conflict, which has assumed a new political Islamic symbol, lead to with the entry of the Islamic Courts as a principal party to it and as the conflict has again attracted the military presence of neighboring countries on the ground? Undoubtedly, this reminds us of what happened in [Democratic Republic of] Congo following the 1997 collapse of Mobutu’s regime when the Congolese civil war attracted the armies of five African states onto its territory. Uganda and Rwanda sided with the rebellion while Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia took the legitimate side of Kabila. This prompted an African journalist to mock the scene in New African magazine, dubbing it the “First African-World War.” There are many questions that I believe can only be understood by looking closely at the Somali scene, which is more like a black comedy, especially as it is a country that is home to harmonious elements yet is embroiled in a civil war. (Somalia’s demographic and ethnic structure shows that it has a population of approximately 9 million who are Sunni Muslims and the majority of whom follow the Hanafi school of thought. The Somali race makes up 85% of the population, and the rest are non-Somalis, Bantu and Arabs.)
The failed state is a term propagated by political thinkers in the West as part of the so-called war on terror. They went further to show its dangers in comparison to the other well-known term, ‘rogue states’.
The state disappeared in Somalia with the 1991 fall of Siad Barre. Upon his departure, the British publication, The Economist, drew attention to the leaders who quietly left the scene with no mention by anyone. It focused on Siad Barre and the Ethiopian President Mangesto Haile Mariam, who also left in 1991. The Economist’s reference indicated a lack of attention to their departures as the world was preoccupied with the liberation of Kuwait and the second Gulf crisis, as well as the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Ever since, Somalia has assumed the badge of a failed state. It is a state that has no institutions, and, if any, they are ineffective due to the existence of parallel institutions that will only deepen Somalia’s wounds due to geographical and historical factors.
If we look at history, Bush Senior, aspiring to form a new order following the liberation of Kuwait and the collapse of Communism and the Berlin Wall, devised Operation Restore Hope. Bush then informed the United Nations of an intervention that also assumed the badge of humanity. The Somalis, however, fought the US presence in their country, adding to the list of nightmares that the American decision-maker suffers from such as Vietnam and the US Marines landing in Beirut. On October 3, 1983 in Mogadishu, 18 US soldiers were killed and the body of one of the soldiers was dragged through the capital’s streets, prompting America’s departure. Somalia toured the neighboring countries 12 times in search of a national reconciliation, the leaders of which were Ali Mahdi and Mohammad Farah Aideed. Somalia failed, while America and the UN left without finishing their song about restoring hope and in contrast, left the country singing a song that was more relevant to the death of hope.
With the failure of the state, the geographical surroundings also had an eye on the situation in Somalia and sought to settle bilateral differences on that land. That began in 1993 when tension heightened between the Islamist regime in the Sudan and the Egyptian regime. Cairo chose to side with Ali Mahdi, Sudan and Ethiopia, whilst Addis Ababa on the other hand oddly decided to support Aideed, whom the Security Council, through one of its adopted resolutions, declared a wanted war criminal, only to later call off this resolution, ultimately setting a dangerous precedent.
Meanwhile, the surroundings gave birth to a new state, Eritrea, which was given as a prize to Ethiopia in 1952. A decade later, Ethiopia annexed it, which triggered the 30-year Eritrean revolutionary war that ended with it gaining its independence in 1991. Both countries took part in a border conflict in 1998, the bitterness of which still lingers today. Such hostility led to a repeat of the 1990s Cairo-Khartoum feud, as Eritrea sided with the Islamic Courts whilst Ethiopia began with military intervention and ended up bombing airports last Sunday.
Here, there also recurs a scene of black comedy. Ethiopia intervened at the request of the IGAD-sponsored Somali transitional government that was established in October 2004 and that could not rule from Mogadishu due to war circumstances, choosing Baidoa as its base. Meanwhile, Ethiopia has been appointed first to fight political Islam on its borders, and here it has its own nightmares to deal with, (the demographic and ethnic map of Ethiopia shows that out of the 74.7-million population, the Muslim Oromo ethnic group constitutes around 45% of the population. A religious map shows that 45–50% of the population are Muslims, whilst 35–40% are Orthodox Christians, whilst the rest is made up of idolaters or those with no faith). Among these nightmares is that political Islam of the neighboring Khartoum regime has placed Ethiopia in a dilemma through the assassination attempt that targeted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 1995. Furthermore, its presence in Somalia may agitate the Oromo or even the people of Ogaden. Ethiopia’s Somali ethnic group makes up roughly 9% of the country’s diverse population.
The recurrence of the black comedy here is that Ethiopia is fighting a war on behalf of others, and so is Eritrea. Both countries represent the poetic image of Beirut drawn by Mahmud Darwish as he said, “I am defending a wall that is not mine.” In addition to America’s 1993 nightmare in Somalia and more recently 9/11, America does not want another Taliban outpost in Africa, which witnessed, as I always said, small-scale September 11 attacks when the US embassies in Nairobi and Darussalam were bombed simultaneously on Friday, August 7, 1998. America is privately and publicly applauding Ethiopia. Ethiopia is applauding the Somali transitional government and interim President Abdullah Yusuf is applauding Ethiopia. Meanwhile, weapons are on their way to the Islamic Courts, and the failed state cannot guard its borders (the Somalian coastal line is around 3,000 kilometers).
What about the possible consequences of the current conflict? It is difficult to answer for the following reasons; the UN will not consider return, the hampered efforts by the African Union in Darfur, Sudan, to which the term failed state certainly does not apply, and also in light of the infamous slow performance of the Arab League, which is already taken aback by the crises in both Lebanon and Iraq, where nobody can claim that it has made any kind of progress.
Until further notice or at least until the near future, Somalia will remain captive to the term ‘failed state’. Undoubtedly however, this has nothing to do with a nation for which the following lines of poetry are fitting:
“A crime was committed by fools,
And punishment befell all other than the offenders.”