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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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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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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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: 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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Quotable Quotes:


I am optimistic that these numbers will be raised now – especially now – because these people have provoked the world more than before. And I can assure you they have invited a lot of problems for themselves,” he told journalists in Uganda

Yoweri Museveni on his decision to send up to 20,000 troops to Somalia to “eliminate” the hardline Islamist group, Al Shabaab

The president did not answer critical questions like: What are our objectives in Somalia? What are the key success indicators? What is the timeframe of our intervention? What is our exit strategy? Without answers to these questions, I am inclined to believe that we have deployed blindly into a troubled country, a factor that is likely to vitiate against success.

TMC News on Museveni’s intervention in Somalia

African leaders are daydreaming. You can’t solve Somalia’s problems by sending in more troops. With its devastating effects, the culture of using military might has been tried but failed. Now it is the time to nurture the culture of dialogue.

Zakaria Mohamud Haji Abdi, the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia, on the solution to Somalia’s crisis.

Military approaches have only helped to radicalize more youths and exacerbate fundamentalism in Somalia. The international community needs to realize that its current and previous policies on Somalia have largely strengthened religious extremism and Somalis’ distrust of the West.

Kisiangani Emmanuel, a researcher at the South Africa-based Institute for Global Dialogue, said the international community needs to signal a willingness to accept any government that is acceptable to Somalis — including insurgents — regardless of the affiliations of its leaders.

Somalia: The Blurred Perspectives of Peace

The menacing sound of rockets whistled past my window and exploded, a few seconds later, with a thunderous noise. It is a common occurrence here in Mogadishu. Every day dozens of rockets and mortars claim the lives of innocent civilians living in areas often far away from the battle fronts. Despite living in a hotel protected by large slabs of concrete, the power of the explosion threw me to the ground. Soon the pervasive smell of gunpowder filled the corridors of the hotel. It was a harrowing experience, and though I had expected my journey to be very dangerous, the moment of explosion completely dismantled my determination. For a while the whistling sound continued, as I lay flat on the ground, followed shortly by large explosions. Once the hailstorm had subsided and things appeared normal again, I went out in response to the neighbour’s loud bellows of rage.

Outside the shattered tin-roofed house, Amina Hussein, a nurse at the local clinic, screamed her lungs out. Rummaging through the debris and gesticulating wildly, Amina had to be restrained by a group of women standing nearby. And as the crowd consoled the grief-stricken nurse, I peered into the destroyed house. Through the ruins, and illuminated by the sun’s rays seeping through the small openings, I was confronted by a horrific scene. Digging through the rubble along with some helpers, we quickly uncovered the four bodies. The nurse’s husband and three children, lying peacefully next to each other, were all covered in blood. Dressed in what seemed like a colourfully embroidered frock, the state of the youngest daughter, no more than five years of age, was perhaps the most shocking. Shrapnel had completely punctured her delicate body while blood slowly trickled out of her beautiful face.

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