Warlordism, Ethiopian Invasion, Dictatorship, & America's Role

by Abdi Ismail Samatar, February 13, 2007


The American sponsored UN Security Council Resolution on Somalia in December 2006 prepared the grounds for an Ethiopia invasion of Somalia. This resolution authorized the deployment of an African Union force, excluding Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti from participating in the force due to their conflict of interest in Somali affairs. Despite such a clear instruction from the Security Council the US government gave Ethiopia the green light to invade Somalia. The aborted visit to Mogadishu, under Ethiopian occupation, by the America Assistant Secretary of State for African Affair, US air bombardment of southern Somali villages, and the confirmation that US and UK forces and mercenaries have worked with Ethiopia over the last year all attest to Washington's collusion with Addis Ababa from the start. These American direct actions and those of its proxy once more demonstrate the disregard the world's dominant power has for international law. Such an affront sends the message that might is right no matter how illegal its application. In addition to the American/Ethiopian aggression against Somalia, warlords who have terrorized the Somali people, before the Union of Islamic Courts drove them out, have returned with Ethiopian blessing. These developments completely discredit America's claim of being the friend of democrats in the Third World. This short editorial examines four concerns: a) why the American government endorsed Ethiopia's illegal invasion; (b) why does it support the deeply sectarian and corrupt Somali transitional government which it loathed until recently; (c) why is it silent about the return of the warlords on the backs of Ethiopian tanks if its rhetoric on democracy has any validity; (d) and what all of this might mean for the Somali people and American image in the region.

Genesis of the Problem

The Somali saga began about 37 years ago when a military coup ousted the last democratically elected government on October 1969. Somalia which was up to that time Africa's most democratic country succumbed to a military coup. Military rule undermined and ultimately destroyed the nascent democratic institutions as well as the functioning quasi-meritocratic public services. Moreover, the regime developed an elaborate sectarian system which further politicized genealogical difference between communities as it divided citizens into friendlies and enemies, and rewarded its allies while it punished whole communities it considered anti-regime. This war against many segments of the population eroded public confidence in state institutions and the rule of law became the rule of the man with the gun. The military regime turned the state into the people's enemy and most denizens became estranged from public affairs. Disaffected Somalis failed to organize a national movement to remove the dictatorship from power. Instead they became the foot soldiers of estranged members of the elite whose agenda was driven by personal ambition rather than a national cause. Opposition members of the elite turned to force as their preferred method of confronting the regime and mobilized the population on the basis of genealogical identity rather than civic belonging or a political program. The net result of the opposition's strategy was to play into the hands of the regime by adopting the same tactic. Such a genealogy based political mobilization also fractured the various elements of the elite into enemies rather than allies. As a result, the regime's life span was extended for almost a decade due the weakness of the fragmented opposition. When the regime finally collapsed under its dead weight no national political front existed to hold the country together under one authority. The first Prime Minister of the post-military government instructed the remnants of the national army to surrender to the sectarian militias and this was in effect the final act of literally killing the Somali state.

Warlords and Dictators as proxies

With the collapse of the state in January 1991, Somalia became the first country in modern history to become stateless. Consequently, lawlessness gripped the country and roaming militias terrorized the population. A little over a year after the regime disintegrated, violent confrontations developed between two competing factions in Mogadishu which ultimately led to one of them using food as a weapon against vulnerable population in southwestern region of the country in the vicinity of Baidoa. Farmers in the region were unable to cultivate their fields due to the fear induced by gangs and with warlords blocking food shipments to the region thousands of people began to slowly waste away. By the time the news media took note of the problem an awful famine was in full swing and tens of thousands of people were deliberately condemned to death through starvation. The United Nations which had a small contingent of peace-keepers was unable to clear bandits off the roads in order to deliver food aid to the needy. Life conditions became so ghastly that the first President Bush was moved to act and ordered thousands of American troops to enter Somalia in order to open the roads so emergency food aid can urgently get through to the people. The troops were able to accomplish this task with relative ease and as a result tens of thousand of lives were saved. By contrast, rebuilding Somalia's government from scratch was more difficult, even under the best of circumstances, but the US/UN force had ill-defined mandate and solicited bad advice regarding the causes of Somalia's disintegration. American/UN agenda of rebuilding the government was incoherent and led to a fiasco in which 18 American soldiers were killed by the militias of one of the warlords of Mogadishu. By then a new American President, Clinton, was so shaken by this singular event that he evacuated US forces from Somalia. Other nations who had contributed troops to the campaign and the UN followed and Somalia was left to the warlords.

Warlord terror became the order of the day since 1995 and numerous attempts to form a national government failed. A most promising effort in this regard was in the neighboring state of Djibouti where representatives of nearly all Somali civil society groups were invited in 1999 excluding warlords. The conference successfully led to the establishment of a Transitional National Government (TNG). However, the Ethiopian government which had supported many of the warlords, particularly Mr. Abdullahi Yusuf, and supplied them with weapons over the years was not happy about the prospect of a civic order and worked against it from the start. The combination of Ethiopian sabotage and Somali leaders' incompetence and venality destroyed this precious chance. At one point the Ethiopian Foreign Minister told the TNG's Foreign Affair chief that Ethiopia will be able to support the Somali government on the condition that their ally, Mr. Yusuf, was appointed as prime minister. The Ethiopian minister was not pleased when he was told that the responsibility to appoint and confirm the PM rested with the president and parliament. In the meantime, Ethiopia used its diplomatic influence in Africa and elsewhere to call for yet another Somali reconciliation conference with the pretext of forming an "inclusive" government while it continued to supply the warlords with weapons. The proposal was accepted by the Intergovernmental Agency on development (IGAD) and there started another reconciliation process in which the mediators (Kenya and Ethiopia) openly favored the warlords. After two years of pretentious negotiations the conference was brought to a conclusion without any reconciliation among Somalis. The Ethiopian government successfully attained its goals of wasting the remaining time of the TNG's tenure, enabled the warlords to appoint more than two-thirds of the members of parliament, and finally succeeded in having its clients selected as president and prime minister.

American policy, during the long two years of negotiations in Kenya, was characterized by indifference at best and tacit support for warlords' domination of the conference. In the main, the US representatives in Kenya watched the process from the sidelines and seemed disgusted with the quality of the output in the form of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG). For nearly two years after the formation of the TFG the American government remained disinterested in the affairs of the TFG. Instead it financed the formation of "anti-terror alliance" which consisted of the very warlords who have tormented the population for over a decade. America's objective in supporting the warlords was to hound three people accused of being involved in the attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and who were presumed to be hiding somewhere in southern Somalia. The warlords' contract with the CIA also included capturing or killing those who were considered radical Islamicists. America's warlord project backfired as the majority of Mogadishu's population sided with the Muslim leaders and routed the warlords. American policy makers panicked with the formation of the Union of Islamic Courts (UICs) and the liberation of Mogadishu and surrounding region from the tyranny of the warlords. Shortly after UICs took over Mogadishu senior American policy makers began to speak about the "internationally legitimate" government of Somalia and actively used America's diplomatic and other resources to bestow respect on what it previously considered decrepit operation. Meanwhile, Ethiopia activated its propaganda machine and accused the courts of trying to establish a fundamentalist regime which it claimed will endanger its security despite the fact that Somalia did not have an army. It immediately dispatched a "protection" force for its client Somali government holed in the regional center of Baidoa. As the Courts spread their reach into most parts of southern Somalia, Ethiopia increased its troop presence in Baidoa into several thousand heavily armed units. The US government encouraged this invasion and used its diplomatic muscle to shield Ethiopia from international criticism. The united American-Ethiopian propaganda machine completed the demonization of the courts as a fundamentalist organization in cahoots with Al Qaida. This joint effort led to US government sponsoring a resolution at the Security Council, 1725, which mandated the deployment of an African Union force in Somalia aimed at protecting the TFG and stabilizing the country. Other countries in the Security Council insisted and prevailed that those countries who share a border with Somalia must not be part of the African force. America and Ethiopia were worried that the Courts might overrun their client in Baidoa before the African Union force was in place. Consequently, Washington gave Ethiopia the green light to take on the Courts and openly invade Somalia, contrary to the tenets of the UN Security Council Resolution. Ethiopia's invasion of Somalia was accomplished four weeks after the UN resolution was passed in violation of two UN Security Council Resolutions. Attempts by some members of the Security Council to demand Ethiopian withdrawal was blocked by the American government. While most analysts knew that America was implicated in the invasion, it was the use of American airpower against villages in Southern Somalia in early January 2007 that confirmed how deeply the US was involved. About 73 nomadic individuals and their livestock were killed by the air raid and no one openly condemned this aggression, including the AU. More recently, it has been discovered that American, British, and hired mercenaries supported the Ethiopian invasion.

Supplicant Tyranny versus Autonomous Legacy

Somalia's "internationally legitimate" government came to Mogadishu, the Somali capital, onboard Ethiopian military helicopters and guarded by Ethiopian troops. The Ethiopian invasion brought back the warlords who were defeated by the Courts and the latter took over their former fiefdoms. Some of Mogadishu's roads are once again punctuated with checkpoints manned by young thugs. It is not certain how long the warlords and their fiefdoms will last but it is clear that insecurity has returned to the city and the country. The declaration of martial law by the TFG on January 13, 2007 gives utmost power to the TFG president who is known for his clanistic behavior and dictatorial practices. Such leadership does not bode well for the city and the country, and is unlikely to lead to just peace and stability. The imposition of martial law (the troops enforcing this law are Ethiopian) means that the TFG is no longer a government of reconciliation, if it ever was, as this act forbids public meetings and citizens' attempts to organize political campaigns to challenge the TFG. Subsequently, the TFG ordered that the major radio and TV stations in the capital cease their operation. This draconian law muzzles freedom of expression and association, and is therefore a throw back to the days of the old military dictatorship. Finally, the Ethiopian occupation force and the militias of the warlords have begun to scour the city for people who were opposed to their agenda and others suspected of being against the regime in Ethiopia such as Oromo refugees. The hunt is on and more bloodshed can be expected. Ethiopian military contingents continue to abduct businessmen, professional, and others who are opposed to the TFG and the invasion, from their homes in the dead of night. Senior leaders of the TFG and the majority of MPs are people not known for their public management skills and high ethical standards. Consequently, Somalis can not expect political relief from these leaders who are supplicants of the Tigray regime in Addis Ababa.

The Union of Islamic Courts has ceased to exist as an effective organization and their last refuge in the acacia forests and swamps of south-eastern Somalia was devastated by air raid and shelling of American and Ethiopian military forces. It was clear that the Courts made serious strategic mistakes over the last three months of their tenure induced by the haughtiness of their military wing. Among these blunder were their rigid religious rhetoric and interpretation of Islamic texts, and the absence of serious and effective engagement with credible nationalist and skilled people. But the most damaging affair was their military hot-headedness. Such blind miscalculation suggest that the courts will not recover as an organization, but the message that earned them so much respect and following among the Somalis is more salient today than ever before. Among the principals they articulated were: Somalia's independence, freedom from warlord terror, justice, and respect for the Islamic faith. Whatever were the shortcomings and mistakes of the Islamic Courts, they certainly had an independent mind which was not subservient to other countries or leaders. During their brief tenure the Courts began a process of returning looted property to their rightful owners using Islamic law and without advice from expensive outside consultants. Once the announcement of the restitution policy was announced people came from other regions of the country and from overseas to reclaim their properties. In addition, they nullified the clanist 4.5 formula and articulated the importance of a unified citizenry. The TFG has yet to make any declaration regarding any of these matters or any other vital issue central to reconciliation. Further, the Courts acted as independent Somali leadership which is in sharp contrast with the Ethiopian domination of the TFG. This comparison between the two reminds citizens of the country an earlier time when Somali authorities were accountable to their people and had an autonomous Somali centered domestic and foreign policy.

Two interrelated principals that guided the Courts will have far reaching consequences for the future of the Somali people and their polity. These anchors were common citizenship unmarred by sectarian and clanistic identity, and Islamic values of justice and inclusion. One of the first things that attracted a majority of the population's support was the courts' emphasis on faith and justice and the containment of tyranny. Islam as a foundational principal of community affairs easily dovetailed with common Somali citizenship regardless of genealogical pedigree and that attracted popular support. These twin principals contradict the transitional charter which the warlords wrote in Nairobi and that marginalizes both of these values. The charter grounds public affairs on genealogy rather than common citizenship. Thus, citizens are divided into 4.5 clan units and all public institutions are staffed on the basis of such arithmetic. The immediate and long term consequence of this strategy is to balkanize citizenship and community. Such compartmentalized political order is driven by rent-seeking (corruption) rather than providing an efficient service to the citizens, and has no chance of leading to political stability and economic development.

America's Pledge: A Sectarian Dictatorship

Finally, the American-endorsed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia and the imposition of sectarian warlord-dominated government on the country are unlikely to lead to a democratic development. The U.S. government's absurd support for the warlords in Somalia and an Ethiopian government that is at war with its own people and American leaders' anti-Islamic orientation has deepened that population's antipathy towards the USA. America's instrumental collaboration with other people's terrorists (states and non-state actors) has undermined the purchase of its democratic rhetoric. In essence, the hallmark of America's bankrupt policy is the conspicuous gulf between its democratic rhetoric and its support for thugs, warlords, tyrants, and venal politicians in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere. In the minds of most people in the region American foreign policy and practice has become synonymous with dictatorship and arrogance, and most people believe that those are the core values of the America government. Consequently, the US government has lost the hearts and minds of the Muslim people all over. America's gifts to the Somali people in the last few years have been warlords, an Ethiopian invasion, and an authoritarian, sectarian and incompetent government. Recent discussions of a broad-based government and a reconciliation conference based on the TFG model will not deliver legitimacy for the occupation or produce the necessary peace and common Somali agenda. Supporters of the proposed conference to be held in Mogadishu can not seriously expect a genuine agreement since the capital is under Ethiopian occupation and is dominated by the sectarian militias of the TFG leadership. Participants of such a conference will be handpicked by the Ethiopian occupiers and their clients and therefore will be charade. The alternative positive sum game is a civic centered program which does not seem to be on the cards for now, but this is the only avenue to reconciliation, and through which the people's hearts and minds could be won and which might eliminate all types of terror.

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