Ethiopia Pulls out of Somalia Quagmire
- News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
[It's been fascinating (as Spock would say) to follow this as it plays
out, one of the most underreported stories of our times.--DC]
Troop pull-out leaves government on brink
SOMALIA'S fragile government appears to be on the brink of collapse.
Islamist insurgents now control large parts of southern and central
Somalia -- and are continuing to launch attacks inside the capital,
Ethiopia, which launched a US-backed military intervention in Somalia in
December 2006 in an effort to drive out an Islamist authority in
Mogadishu, is now pulling out its troops.
Diplomats and analysts in neighbouring Nairobi believe the government
will fall once Ethiopia completes its withdrawal, and secret plans have
been made to evacuate government ministers to neighbouring Kenya.
That may happen sooner rather than later. A shipment of Ethiopian
weapons, including tanks, left Mogadishu port last month as part of the
withdrawal. Bringing the equipment back to Ethiopia by land would have
been impossible -- analysts believe Ethiopian troops and their Somali
government allies control just three small areas in Mogadishu and a few
streets in Baidoa, the seat of parliament. There are now estimated to be
just 2500 Ethiopian soldiers left inside Somalia, down from
15,000-18,000 at the height of the war.
Somalia's overlapping conflicts go back, at the very least, to 1991, the
year the country's last recognised government was overthrown. Men and
women who were children then have since given birth to a second
generation of Somalis who have known only war.
But analysts believe Somalia is now in the midst of its worst ever
crisis. The ongoing conflict, which has claimed the lives of at least
9000 civilians and forced more than 1.1 million to flee their homes, has
combined with devastating droughts and rocketing food prices to create
one of the world's worst humanitarian catastrophes.
Almost half the population -- 3.2m people -- are in need of emergency
aid (the figure has almost doubled in the last 12 months). One in six
children is thought to be malnourished.
"This crisis is broadening as well as deepening," said Mark Bowden, the
head of the UN's humanitarian effort. "It is now the world's most
Violence and insecurity have made it almost impossible for aid to get
through, and 24 aid workers have been killed in Somalia so far this
year. A recent shipment of food aid needed a military escort to navigate
Somalia's pirate-infested waters. But within hours of the food being
unloaded in Mogadishu's port most of it was stolen by gun-toting gangs.
Oxfam, Save The Children and 50 other aid agencies working in Somalia
last week said the international community had "completely failed Somali
As the crisis worsens thousands are trying to leave the country every
week. Around 6000 people are now crossing the border into Kenya every
month -- despite the Kenyan government's decision to close the border.
Some are arriving at the overcrowded Dadaab refugee camp in eastern
Kenya, which is now one of the largest refugee camps in the world with
nearly 250,000 people.
Others try to leave by sea, travelling to the northern town of Bosasso
and paying $100 to people smugglers who ram more than 100 people onto a
small fishing boat and set sail for Yemen.
Many do not make it. Smugglers last week forced 150 people off the boat
three miles off the Yemeni coast. Only 47 made it to shore.
Attempts to find a political solution have stalled. The UN claims
progress has been made, citing an agreement signed in neighbouring
Djibouti by the Somali government and the opposition Alliance for the
Reliberation of Somalia (ARS).
But the deal has been signed only by the moderates on each side: Prime
Minister Nur Adde and the ARS's Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.
President Abdullahi Yusuf, a former warlord who controls the
government's security forces, has refused to get involved. Sheikh Hassan
Dahir Aweys, the hardline Islamic leader of another faction of the ARS,
has denounced the deal, as have the leaders of the insurgents, a group
called Al Shabaab.
Since the deal was struck in June, the level of violence has increased.
Few Somalis will weep if the government falls. In most respects it is a
government in name only. Few ministries have offices, let alone civil
servants to fill them. There are no real policies -- and no real way to
Worst of all, this government, which is backed by the United Nations and
funded by Western donors including Britain and the EU, has been accused
of committing a litany of war crimes. Its police force, many of whom
were trained under a UN programme part-funded by Britain, has carried
out extrajudicial killings, raped women and fired indiscriminately on
crowds at markets. Militias aligned to the government have killed
journalists and attacked aid workers.
The government's fall would mark the end of a disastrous US-backed
intervention. For six months in 2006, Somalia was relatively calm. A
semblance of peace and security had returned to Mogadishu. The reason
was the rise of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), a loose coalition of
Islamist leaders who had driven out Mogadishu's warlords.
Hardline elements within the UIC vowed to launch a jihad against
Somalia's traditional enemy, Ethiopia. The US viewed the UIC has an
"al-Qaeda cell" -- a belief not shared by the majority of analysts and
Ethiopia, with the support of the US, sent thousands of troops across
the border to drive out the UIC. It took just a few days to defeat them.
Their leaders fled towards the border with Kenya, while many of the
fighters took off their uniforms and melted into Mogadishu.
Within weeks, an Iraq-style insurgency had begun, targeting Somali
government and Ethiopian troops. Al Shabaab began laying roadside bombs
and firing at Ethiopian troops from inside civilian areas.
The Ethiopians responded by bombarding residential areas. Hundreds were
killed and hundreds of thousands fled Mogadishu. Human rights groups
accused Ethiopia of committing war crimes.
The US must now be wondering whether it was all worth it. Western
backing for the unpopular Somali government and US support for the
Ethiopian intervention has created a groundswell of anti-West sentiment
The Islamist leaders they were so keen to oust are the same ones they
are now engaged in negotiations with. US officials have met both Sheikh
Sharif and the more hardline Sheikh Aweys in an effort to find a peace deal.
Meanwhile, in Somalia, the Islamists taking control of towns and
villages across the country are considered far more extremist than
Aweys. "They are real international jihadis," said one Nairobi-based
diplomat. "The Americans' fear of al-Qaeda in Somalia is becoming a
9:24pm Saturday 11th October 2008
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Skipper: Professor, will you tell these people who is
in charge on this island?
Professor: Why, no one.
Skipper: No one?
Thurston Howell III: No one? Good heavens, this is anarchy!
-- _Gilligan's Island_, episode #6, "President Gilligan"