Somalia: Legitimizing the Illegitimate
September 8, 2010 4 Comments
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.
The news of Al-shabab’s foray into the Shangani district, a government stronghold in Northern Mogadishu, was received with joy in the parts of Mogadishu under the control of Al-Shabab, and with trepidation in the areas under the government.
But while the battle for Mogadishu took place in the North of the city, another battle, on a smaller scale but equally damaging to the government, took place near the presidential palace. Hundreds of angry government soldiers, protesting about the lack of payment, took up arms to the picket line and closed off the main street that passes through Soobe junction and runs all the way to KM4. For several hours the road remained closed while Amisom forces watched the event from their bases nearby. Some soldiers went even further and totally abandoned the government, following a shootout that left one soldier dead and another seriously injured. It is said that many of the soldiers were contacted by their former comrades who were now seeking sanctuary in the safety of Islamist controlled territory.
Though the preparations for Eid are in full swing in the capital, yet there are lingering fears that the places of congregation would come under heavy shelling from Amisom. The Islamists often rally thousands of people to their congregational Eid prayers in Mogadishu and elsewhere and the people here seem to be quite willing to attend. A few days ago they had a military parade, where they exhibited, as if to terrify the government, hundreds of newly trained ‘Mujahideen’.
But with a government that is manifestly negligent of her population and a supposedly peacekeeping force that has taken to raining down BM rockets and 120mm mortars on innocent civilians in the market, it is not hard to understand why the subtle song of Al-Shabab is becoming increasingly melodious. Considering Amisom’s rancorous shelling blitz to be a revenge for the dead Ugandan soldiers, many of the local elders and tribal leaders have begun kindling a spark of nationalism, inciting the population to take up arms against the ‘ruthless enemy.’
Inside the government headquarters also, another battle raged on. Sheikh Sharif, whose declining political virility has only been surpassed by his peremptory pose on the ground, and his senior officials regularly come under criticism from the parliamentarians for their lavish travels abroad. The Prime Minister has also come under fire recently and his future in the Somali government looks uncertain. The disgruntled MPs, who live in a heightened state of fear after the Muna Hotel attacks, often convey their scathing remarks over the local radio stations, amplifying the suppressed whispers that are threatening to undermine the legitimacy of the government.
The real bone of contention, however, is the role of Amisom forces in Mogadishu. What some of the MPs and tribal elders are claiming is that the people of Mogadishu do not have a choice! Their choices, they say, are made for them, compulsorily, by politicians and western countries whose personal interests exceed those of the public they claim to serve. Masqueraded as legitimate interests for the greater Somali population, the Somalis here consider much of the Transitional Federal Government’s actions as a means of providing legitimacy to Amisom’s shelling campaign. What the TFG has done quite unequivocally is present the African Union forces, whose indiscriminate shelling has debilitated the population, as the benevolent benefactors of peace when in fact they are a little more than what a local radio journalist here calls the ‘illegitimate heirs’ to the Somali throne.
There is not a shred of doubt in my mind that if left to their own volition, instead of forcing an illegitimate political will upon them, the Somali population would prosper and these illegitimate heirs [Amsiom troops] would be the last thing the Somali population chooses.
But while the journalist’s sentiment is shared across the globe by many Somalis, and particularly those in the Diaspora, could it be that the very people who oppose the government’s illicit affairs are unwittingly, through lack of awareness, legitimizing the illegitimate?