Monday, April 21

Bringing peace and stability to Somalia

The situation in Somalia has in recent months gone from bad to worse. But the past few days in Somalia have been particularly violent. In Mogadishu this weekend, over 80 people died in fighting between the Ethiopian troops backing Somalia's transitional government and Islamist-led insurgents, according to most estimates (though with people reluctant to venture out and reclaim bodies, precise counts have been difficult to come by).

Yesterday, Mogadishu residents described how Ethiopians executed a number of people - including clerics - in one of the city's main mosques, though the Ethiopian government has denied this. You can read my report here. Whatever happened, this latest round is likely to make Somalis even more hostile to the Ethiopian troops they see as occupiers. And it may well also increase anger at the United States, which is seen as backing the Ethiopians.

As the Economist, more optimistic than some about the current approach in Somalia, puts it:
American officials praise the Ethiopian troops who are still in Mogadishu, Somalia's battered capital, as peacekeepers; most Somalis see them as occupiers.
A recent report by Refugees International makes the point more forcefully:
The role of the U.S. is increasingly problematic. Despite repeated denials of any role in the Ethiopian invasion, the US is perceived as supporting the Ethiopian presence and the reprehensible behavior of Ethiopian troops. Furthermore, the designation of al-Shabab as a foreign terrorist organization, coupled with the heavy-handed bombings of individual targets, further fuels anti-American sentiment. These military actions undermine the diplomatic push for political reconciliation and galvanize extremist elements, reinforcing the very threat that US policy in the Horn of Africa is meant to address.
(In a previous post I mentioned an op-ed by Jennifer Daskal and Leslie Lefkow of Human Rights Watch criticizing the US policy of air strikes on suspected terror targets in Somalia.)

Ken Menkhaus, an expert on Somalia at Davidson College, also warns about the disconnect in US aims in a recent Guardian op-ed.
Unfortunately, the leaders of some of the very security forces impeding and extorting food aid convoys are also allegedly partnering with the US in counter-terrorism operations, giving them a sense of impunity in the face of external criticism. If true, that places an additional obligation on the Bush administration to disentangle and de-conflict its own policies in Somalia, where its efforts at state-building, humanitarian relief, and counter-terrorism all seem to be working against one another.
Clearly, the current approach isn't working. But if the latest remarks by State Department spokesman Tom Casey are anything to go by, it looks like the current approach is what we'll keep getting:
We are going to continue to work with the Transitional Federal Government, with the Ethiopians, with the AU and others who are interested in trying to help bring peace and stability to Somalia and improve the situation in that country and give the Somali people a better future. But obviously, there's a lot of work to be done in terms of being able to finally put an end to the threat that's posed by extremist violence.
The problem is, the violence isn't limited to extremists. Most Somali Muslims are reasonably moderate, but an increasing number are actively resisting the interim government and the Ethiopians, and by extension, the American approach.

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