Somalia: The Ethiopian Factor III

Greater Somalia

Continued from: ‘Somalia: The Ethiopian Factor II

The Nationalists:

The wave of nationalism that had engulfed the Somali population during the 1977-78 Ogaden war has now somewhat diminished. Despondency and the inability to regain the Western Somalia have, to some extent, extinguished the flame of pan-Somalism. Vicious clan rivalries paved the way towards the speedy erosion of unity and peace. Tribalism, cronyism, nepotism and all sorts of ill-feelings engendered by the poor performance of the Somali regime soon brought about the implosion of the government. Now decades later, that flame has been rekindled. The notion of a Greater Somalia that had remained dormant over the years has now been resuscitated back to life with the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in 2006. As in the Ogaden war, almost three decades earlier, hundreds of thousands of Somalis contributed men and money in order to expel the invading forces. Sentiments ran high in the capital city and even many estranged Somali youth in the Diaspora returned home to take part in the battle for the liberation of Somalia.

The nationalists harbour a profound dislike for the Ethiopian government because of the latter’s repeated incursions into the Somali territory. The nationalists wish to wage war against the Ethiopians, provided that they have the means and a leader strong enough to muster popular support, in order to liberate the Western regions of Somalia. But despite their vehemence and zeal, the young Nationalists often lack the political profundity and the abstruse knowledge that defines the dynamics of the centuries-old Somali-Ethiopian conflict. In addition to that, they are not yet fully prepared to sacrifice their lives for the cause, or a handful of them are – and this is the differentiating factor between them and the Islamists. And where the Nationalists are propelled by patriotic sentiments, the Islamists march forth with a spiritual strength and are obliged by a religious conviction – that the Islamic Caliphate must dominate the land.

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Somalia: The Ethiopian Factor II

The Ogaden

Continued from ‘Somalia: The Ethiopian Factor’

The Geographical Dispute:

There is a deep wound in the heart of the Somalis that continues to bleed profusely and nourishes the long-held distrust in Ethiopia and her policies. That the North Eastern Province (NFD) and the Ogaden regions are part and parcel of the Somali state is a notion deeply ingrained in the mind of the Somali population in its entirety. And as the years slowly roll by, under the shackles of black colonialism, the lingering hopes of the Somalis imprisoned in those regions also continues to fade. Prompted by foreign meddling and proxy wars that, to this day, continue to shape the political decisions of the region, the protracted cross-border raids between Somalia and Ethiopia have existed for a very long time. There have been several explosive skirmishes at the border between the years of 1960-64 and the flames of the conflict that erupted in the region at that time were doused with a ceasefire between the two countries. But this did not kill the lingering notion of pan-Somalism and the Somali man’s persistent struggle for Greater Somalia.

In the run up to the 1977-78 Ogaden war, the Soviets, having given up on the Somalis, deemed that the ground was fertile enough in Addis Ababa for the establishment of a Marxist-Lenin state and thus transferred their interests to Ethiopia, immediately ordering them to expel the Americans who have been at the time giving substantial military aid and advice to the Ethiopians. Soon the Soviets began pouring in state-of-the-art weapons into the Ethiopian capital. As a result, Somalia withdrew from the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union and soon after that, expelled all Soviet personnel from the country. To take advantage of the situation, the United States, having been expelled from Ethiopia, decided to weigh in on the other side and offered support to Somalia, though it soon withdrew the offer shortly after that.

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Somalia: The Ethiopian Factor

Some of the Somali regions that share a border with Ethiopia have been in a state of turmoil over the past few days. In the shifting patterns of this prolonged war in Somalia, the escalation of violence in the regions of Galguduud, Hiiran, Gedo and Bakool has illuminated some of the underlying geo-political dynamics that are at play in the volatile region of the Horn of Africa. More than 400 Transitional Federal Government (TFG) soldiers, accompanied by up to 300 Ethiopian forces, raided the town of Baladweyn, Hiiran, in order to bring an end to the Islamists’ rule in the region; in Galgudud, hundreds of Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama (ASWJ) rebels attacked Cadaado, the region’s business hub which is governed by a tribal administration, with military equipment and reinforcements readily supplied by the Ethiopian government; in the border towns of Yeed and Ceel Berde, Bakool region, the Islamists are fending off the Ethiopian troops’ aggressive incursions; in the South-Western region of Gedo, TFG troops buttressed by the Ethiopian might and men wrestled the region’s capital, Beledxaawo, from the iron grip of the Islamists. But while the Transitional Federal Government has its own reasons for driving out the Islamists from the region, what are the motives that underpin the Ethiopian involvement?

The Ethiopian regime presents itself as though it had been tirelessly working to restore peace and stability to the troubled Horn. Since the fall of the Siyad Barre regime in the early 90s, Ethiopian involvement in Somali politics had become even more overt; helping Abdullahi Yusuf defeat the Al Ittihad Al Islami, led by Hasan Dahir Aweys in 1994 and then helping him reclaim the Puntland administration from Jama Ali Jama during the mid-90’ or actively being engaged in all the national reconciliation programs and the establishment of the Transitional Federal Institutions to date.

But when Ethiopia, Somalia’s archenemy, states that its policy geared towards Somalia is one which is enveloped in altruism and mutual goodwill for both countries, this raises a plethora of questions and many Somalia remain convinced that there are ulterior motives to Ethiopia’s ‘neighbourly’ gestures. The statement that Ethiopia is working with a benevolent intent – safeguarding the interests of the Somali populations – is, in the Somali mind, oxymoronic and the theory that Ethiopia, whose efforts is cleverly masqueraded as being philanthropic, is preventing – rather than helping – Somalia to stand on her own feet is highly tenable.

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Qat – The Multi-Million Dollar Battle

Somali men fumble through the leaves

It is a busy day here at the Qat stalls located just on the outskirts of the Bakara market. Hundreds of sandalled feet scuttle towards the stalls, in tumultuous excitement, and frantically rummage through the tightly bundled leaves in the hand-woven Qat baskets in order to pick out the moist, tender shoots. Scores of young men and women visit these stalls on a regular basis to purchase Qat – a mild stimulant with a bitter taste that a large number of the Somali population – in Somalia or abroad – is highly addicted to. Under the commotion and the emotional frenzy, tensions often rise and agitated customers as well as vendors seem to always be in a combative mood. But perspiring under the heat, the wide-eyed, and almost anaemic, Qat-sellers appear to be relishing this kind of atmosphere.

‘Hurry up Waryaa! hurry up! this is the cheapest you can get. Hurry up! Qat is almost out of stock!’ screams one seller, as he wipes away the trickles of green saliva dripping down his chin with a grubby handkerchief. Behind him, dozens of young men sit on the concrete slabs, or squat on the floor, unmindful of the staccato rounds of gunfire in the distant neighbourhoods, and gnaw away at the leaves in a surrounding far less salubrious than can be appreciated. This is a very loud and unforgiving place. Bestrewn with dry twigs, discarded leaves and plastic bags, these squalid stalls, adjacent to the old Cigarettes and Match Factory, receive hundreds of customers a day, but they have now become even increasingly populated since Al-Shabab’s closure of KM 50 airport yesterday.

The KM 50 airport was, until now, the largest Qat depot in Somalia. Located in the Lower Shabeelle region, near Afgooye, the airport received an average of 7 plane loads of Qat a day, adding an estimated $1,500,000 a day to the Kenyan economy. The cargo would then distributed to all the cities in Southern/Central Somalia and to individual sellers. The Islamists’ decision to forbid the landing of Qat planes at the airport is by far the toughest verdict, in their long list of punitive measures against the stimulant, to be meted out to the Qat merchants in Somalia, and consumers alike. But how will this decision affect the people of Southern Somalia?

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Roobow: Relationship with Al-Shabab Still Robust

Sheikh Mukhtar Roobow ‘Abu Mansoor’

In a country where the media is as much a weapon of war as the gun, Somalia’s airwaves are rife with rumours; so the news over the last few weeks of an Al-Shabab split was sort of expected. But despite this, the news, reported by anonymous sources, rocked the country, filling the cities with gossip and the public houses with debate. The locals here were deeply divided on the issue but those attuned to the political circles in Mogadishu, however, understood that Somali politics was a messy business – labyrinths of deception and treachery – so they tend to regard every statement with some level of skepticism. I adhere to their wisdom. But as the rumour gained momentum and traveled beyond the city’s limits and into the villages, saturating the airwaves with the news, anxiety soon replaced the frivolous whispers.

If the news was true, then it meant that the predominant influence of Al-Shabab in the Southern/Central regions of Somalia was coming to a rather disgraceful end, particularly, since the Islamists were deemed to have transcended the customary commitment to tribal allegiances with their calls for the implementation of Sharia Law. It also meant that the prevailing sense of safety and stablity in the areas under Al-Shabab administration would soon be jeopardized. But was it true?

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Peacekeeper’s Bodies dragged in Mogadishu

Burundian Sodier dragged

The streets of Mogadishu have a long history of brutality. Here the body of a Burundian Peecekeeper, who was apparently captured alive by Al-Shabab fighters after an intense battle yesterday in the Northern districts of Mogadishu, is dragged by children in Baar Ubax, near Bakara market. I was told that he has been dragged for the entire day by children until the body was ripped apart and then finally disposed of in a ditch.

But horrific scenes like these are not as stomach-churning here in Mogadishu as they may seem to the rest of the world. Only a few days ago, dozens of government soldiers’ dead bodies were displayed across Mogadishu’s main junctions. It has become a sort of a daily spectacle, with bodies of slain soldiers often paraded around the city.

Warning! Graphic images…

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Well…The PM Resigns

President Sharif Ahmed (left), PM Omar Abdirashid A. Sharmarke

PM: Oh God! how much longer can I bear this? I can’t bear sitting next to this…!

President: Thank God! Only a few minutes and he’ll be off! Hmm…God the food tastes good – only if I could hire these chefs on my trips…Perhaps I could accommodate them somehow. Of course I can! I am the president…

PM: Greedy bast’rd! he even finished his plate before everyone and now he is eyeing the bananas. Ok – put way this plate – I am the bigger man here. At least the world sees me that way since I officially decided to resign for the good of my country and people. I will be a hero! A hero! Of course they don’t know anything about my settlement Duh!

President: Good riddance! now you can talk all you want about a cabinet reshuffle in Puntland! or even join your boys in Galgala – I know you are all the same.

PM: Dammit! I think I should have settled for more than I did, but, oh well! this should keep me going smoothyl for a while…

Sharif Hassan (left), President Sharif Ahmed

Sharif Hassan: Feel a lot better now don’t you Mr President?

President: Aah! Indeed,indeed Mr Hassan. It feels good to breathe freely once again. I was getting slighty hot under this collar…

Sharif Hassan: It is us once again Sir! The road is now clear and no more such burdensome obstacles I can assure you

President: well, hope you have our next ploy planned out then…

Sharif Hassan: Very well Sir! Very well indeed…you need not worry about anything Sir!


Duplicity and Disenchantment: The Collapse of the TFG

 

Somali President, Sharif Sheikh Ahmed

‘It is the President who is causing all this trouble surrounding the government and if this government collapses, it is he who is responsible!’

Mohamed Weheliye Waqaac, MP

For the last few weeks, and the last few days in particular, Mogadishu has been in mired in disarray. The curtains of confusion have been raised and the residents here were entertained to a remarkable show: a political tug of war between the Somali President and his Prime Minister! In a bitter dispute that is threatening to break up the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG), the Somali President, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, called on lawmakers to pass a ‘vote of no-confidence’ regarding the Prime Minister, Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, in order to bring about a ‘change’ that would propel the government in the ‘right direction.’ In turn the Prime Minister, who is vehemently opposed to the President, denounced the attempts by the president as ‘nonsensical,’ stating that there was no need for changing the existing structures of the government. Indeed, the banality of the political landscape in Mogadishu has received its much-awaited makeover with a squabble at the highest level.

Amid the upheaval, the members of the parliament, with a 296 out of 300 majority, passed a motion last Thursday calling on the government to appear before the Parliament for a vote of confidence on Saturday in order to stay functioning. The Prime Minister, who decried the decision of the parliament, must win up to 276 votes of confidence in order to retain his position, otherwise he leaves empty handed. In this whirligig of Somali politics, however, it appears that the session was cancelled today due to reasons not revealed to the media and when a group of angry MPs decided to stage their own parliamentary session, AMISOM forces have managed to disperse them by force.

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Eid in Mogadishu: Fear Overshadows Celebrations

Ali M. Rage, Al-Shabab spokesman, leads Eid prayer

 

Somaliland Press:- In one of its rarest occasions, the city of Mogadishu today felt like a city of peace and calm rather than the deadly war zone that it has become renowned for over the last few decades. The thunderous roar of mortars and rockets and the rapid exchange of gun fire remained eerily muted this morning, and as if to honour the blessed occasion of Eid, the city remained silent. The frequently pounded Bakara market, though still healing from yesterday’s heavy shelling, closed its doors to business and public and a steady trickle of people, young and old, made their way towards the prayer site. Reveling in the rare moments of respite from the barrage of mortars that have recently pulverized much of the city, a multitude of men and women moved at aـ leisurely stroll while ecstatic children, blowing multicoloured balloons and whistles, trailed the footsteps of their parents, merrily frolicking on the streets. Their radiant faces displayed, for once, that long lost look of innocence, delight and happiness.

To mark the occasion of Eid, thousands of Mogadishu residents made their way towards Maslax, a Siyad Barre-era military compound now occupied by Al-Shabab. Though the stadium was the usual spot for Eid prayers, as it is large enough to accommodate the thousands of residents, it was abandoned in the last hour for fears that Amisom forces might shell the congregation in retaliation for the attack at the airport that killed several AU and government troops. The Islamists, however, have organized several locations in and around Mogadishu to accommodate the influx of residents rushing to the congregational morning prayers that marked the end of the fasting season and the beginning of family reunions and splendid feasts.

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Mogadishu: The Imminent Fall

Maj. Barigye Ba-Huko

The voice of Major Barigye Ba-Huko, the African Union spokesman in Somalia, hit the airwaves yesterday evening. Denouncing the attempts by Al-Shabab to overthrow the Somali government along with the AU troops as a mere ‘dream,’ Major Ba-Huko challenged the Islamists fighters to be braver and take on his well-trained soldiers.


‘Let them come and fight us. They know we are at the airport and I challenge them to come there instead of hiding inside the residential areas.’

 

Not more than 48 hours had passed when Ba-Huko’s imprudent dare turned into a grim reality. Al-Shabab has, a few hours ago, carried out another daring attack on the Somali government and the African Union troops stationed at the airport. Two cars, tailing one another and loaded with explosives and armed fighters, infiltrated the government-controlled territory and quietly made their way to Adan Adde International airport, passing by dozens of government bases and hundreds of armed soldiers along the way. They carried neither passports nor tickets and boarding passes; what they carried, however, was a firm conviction in their breasts that, after their operation, they would die as ‘glorious Martyrs.’

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Somalia: Legitimizing the Illegitimate

Al-Shabab Parade

 

As I type this, a fierce battle is underway in the northern districts of Mogadishu. The rapid sound of machine guns and other firearms combined with the loud reverberations of tanks firing and mortars exploding can be heard from miles away. Since the beginning of Ramadan, there has been no respite from such daily battles, but as the month of fasting comes to an end, the battles here have become increasingly intense, particularly in the last few days. And with the ever changing formations of the battle lines and territorial boundaries that define the authority of the warring sides, the battle for Mogadishu, and eventually Somalia, has entered another new neighbourhood.

After a series of co-ordinated attacks yesterday that targeted the Ugandan forces in the vital artery of Makka Al Mukarrama and Shangani district, the Burundi forces in Boondheere district as well as the Somali troops, the Islamists seem to be getting ever closer to achieving their goal. At around evening the loud sounds of heavy artillery fire echoed throughout the city and the sparks of fireworks glowing against the setting sun could be seen from every corer of the city. After several hours of the rapid exchange of bullets came the deadly silence. In this bullet-scarred city, where the gun wreaked havoc for nearly three decades, the sound of a gun has become a part and parcel of life. Silence, especially after a fierce battle, often signalled that something ominous was in the air. People immediately scampered to safety, and not before long, the mortars made their daily rounds, tearing apart the tin-roofed ramshackle buildings and huts. In response to the attack, Amisom began shelling the residents. Soon the news hit the airwaves that up to 23 people were killed and dozens more injured. And though up to 230 are reported dead this month alone and more than 400 injured, the numbers are far greater than that. Estimates here are at around 500 killed and more than a thousand injured.

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Somalia: The Instinctive Truth

You would never imagine the serenity that surrounds the beautiful Mogadishu skyline in the early hour of the morning. Standing at the balcony this morning and watching the rays of the rising sun shimmer across the great blue ocean, plunged me into a reverie that looked, well, more presumption than a possibility. There was no rattle of gunfire in the background or the sounds of mortars landing or even the clamour of voices in the crowded streets of Mogadishu. Everything seemed peaceful and calm; a feeling that is hard to come by in this part of the world. A gentle breeze whistled through the silent streets, playfully breathing life into the old cardboard boxes and plastic bags lying around in the dust. Even the melodious notes of the chirruping birds seemed to be quite in harmony with the tranquil setting for once.

Amid the stillness of the surrounding, the loud clanking of metal coming from a shop across the street immediately distracted me. A young shop owner was receiving a delivery of some stock. Three sturdy men unloaded the goods and carried them on their backs and stacked them inside the shop where the owner had instructed them. For a while it was somewhat pleasant to watch their neatly choreographed movements in the way they organised and unloaded the goods. They’ve nearly emptied the truck when another car, a Toyota 4×4, zoomed in from the distance, horns blaring. The delivery truck was blocking the road and the three men hurriedly tried to unload the last few remaining items in order to clear the road for the approaching car. But they couldn’t manage that in time. The car, which was driving at quite a speed, soon approached and forcefully hit the brakes at the delivery point, still beeping the horn.

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Somalia: The Battle for Hearts & Minds

Ali Jabal, Al-Shabab Governor of Banadir

 

The battle for hearts and minds in Somalia has long been fought and won on the basis of tribe and tribal allegiances. But with the rapidly changing political landscape, particularly here in Southern Somalia, a recent shift in perspective has had a tremendous effect on the Somali population. Today the battle of hearts and mind is fought and won on the basis of religion and the people of Somalia judge the worth of an administration by what it can do to alleviate the suffering of the population or by the number of services they can provide the public; and here there is a great divide.

In the congested streets of the Bakara market, an unusual event took place today. Al-Shabab, the Islamist force waging a bitter battle against the Western-backed Transitional federal Government (TFG), have launched a new ambulance service to help those injured by the bullets and mortars. It is out of the ordinary of a group labelled a ‘terrorist organisation’ to set up an ambulance service, But Al-Shabab seem to be defying the norm.

Unveiling this news service, Al-Shabab’s governor of Banadir region spoke at the scene with assurance that his administration was determined to help a population suffering at the hands of the ‘crusaders’ as he put it. Wearing a white overcoat, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Hussein or better known as Ali Jabal, addressed the amazed public:

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The Ramadan Remedy

Mogadishu Morning

As the sun rises in Mogadishu this morning, it does so with a new spirit and a new prospect. Its luminous rays glow with the promise of hope and suffuse the hearts of these suffering souls with renewed optimism; it is optimism intertwined with some pessimistic undertones. But with the spirit of Ramadan saturating the surroundings of this bullet-battered city with its unique sense of jovialty and peace, some of the long-lost passions of the people have also been revived. Just like in its glory days, when Mogadishu was pulsating with youthful vitality, an animated public move about the city in preparation for the month of Ramadan. Ebullient Mogadishan women fill their baskets with dates in preparation for the holy month and buoyant kids are already counting down towards the Eid festival. All around, the city is bustling with a fertile effervescence and yet has a distinctive aura of tranquillity about it. It is surrounded by a peculiarly soothing ambiance which has somehow managed to remain defiantly placid despite the ricocheting bullets and the menacing mortars.


But while the high spirit appreciably diffuses some of the tensions in Mogadishu, a strong sensation of hostility also seems to pervade every part of the city. Ramadan, as the people of Mogadishu have come to learn, is a month of intense battles. The UN is increasing its international and local personnel in Somalia, though they are still not venturing out into the deadly Mogadishu streets. The African Union troops are positioning their mortars and have promised to increase the war. The mystic Sufis have declared war on Hizbul Islam and Al-Shabab. And the Islamists, on their part, have also vowed more attacks during Ramadan and have promised to defeat the ‘Christian Crusaders’ and the ‘enemies of Allah’ in the path of their holy war.

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Al-Shabab: Christian Organisations Closed

In a press release distributed to the media today, Al—Shabaab, the Islamist force controlling much of Southern Somalia, have closed down at least three organisations working inside the country, stating that they were ‘found to be actively propagating Christianity in this Muslim country’ and that ‘the propagation of the Christian faith is unacceptable in Islam as well as in the Muslim society.’ The press release stated that:

  • The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) was started by the Seventh-day Adventist Church as a way to follow Christ’s example.
  • Diakonia is an organization founded in 1966 by five Swedish churches and the members of these congregations form Diakonia’s support base. The primary goal of this organization is to spread the Christian faith.
  • World Vision is a Christian organization motivated by what they call ‘their faith in Jesus Christ’ and dedicated to spreading the message of Christianity to the children, families, and the communities they work with.

I checked up these claims and looked up the websites of the organisations and here is what I found:

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