Complex Road To Somali Peace

Even if by some miracle the Hawiye clan and others show up to the rescheduled conference on 19 July, not much will be accomplished – not least because the conference has no intention of addressing the problem of government make up and policy

Africa News Update

With the national reconciliation conference in Mogadishu halted and rescheduled shortly after it began thanks to failure to attend and nearby mortar shelling, the country’s fate – already marked by 17 years of anarchy – rests in understanding the intricacies of the conflict’s numerous players and their divergent interests.

The first day of a much-awaited national reconciliation conference in the Somali capital Mogadishu on 15 July was postponed shortly after the initial introductions were made, as top opposition leaders failed to show up and mortar rounds came uncomfortably close to the venue.

Former warlord Mohammed Ali Mahi organized the conference in the capital, but quickly adjourned the gathering, postponing it until later this week, in hopes that other players in the conflict would attend.

Somalia has suffered 17 years of civil war and near anarchy since the fall of dictator Siad Barre in 1991. An estimated 300,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

Thirteen transitional governments have come and gone, and the latest, the 14th, is a weak authority that has only gotten this far due to Western backing and interference. The interim government was
set up with help from the UN in 2004.

In June 2006, Islamist militias took over Mogadishu, forcing the allegedly US-backed warlords underground. For the following six months, Islamists under the organization of the Islamic Courts Union, took control of the capital and much of the country for what was to be a six-month period of relative calm for the first time in 16 years.
Somalia’s brand of Sufi Islam is moderate, and most of the Islamic courts are said to be so as well, though a few groups certainly have extremist leanings.

With the help of Ethiopian troops (supported by the US), Somali transitional government troops wrestled control from the ICU. What has ensued since then has been a repetition of the ongoing anarchy and violence that has characterized the country for so long.

In April, transitional government deputy prime minister Hussein Mohamed Farah Aideed (a member of the powerful Hawiye clan) accused Ethiopian troops of committing “genocide” against the Somali people in Mogadishu, illustrating the complexity of the relationships among the multitude of players in the conflict.

After all, it was only with the support of Ethiopian troops that the transitional government’s troops managed to push back the ICU. Ethiopian officials, for their part, are quick to mention that they have US backing for their mission in Somalia. But the situation is far from black and white.

Certainly, Aideed had at first welcomed Ethiopian troops in Somalia, but with the ICU pushed back and Ethiopian troops still on the rampage in the capital, the Hawiye clansman changed tact.

Earlier in April, a four-day violence spree between Ethiopian soldiers and anti-Ethiopian forces left hundreds of civilians dead and thousands of others wounded. Tens of thousands of people fled their homes.
The EU has even called for an investigation into Ethiopian abuses in Somalia.

Such a relationship between Ethiopia and Somalia was doomed from the start. Somalia has an ongoing dispute with Ethiopia over the Ogaden, a predominately ethnic Somali region in Ethiopia. In the late 1970s, the two countries fought the Ogaden War over control of the region. The ICU wished to unite this territory – and other ethnic Somali territories in Kenya and Djibouti – into a Greater Somalia, while the transitional government has taken pains to downplay such
nationalist sentiments.

Further complicating the regional balance of power is Eritrea. Ethiopian and Eritrea have fought a border war that ended in 2000, and now the two countries are using chaotic Somalia to fight their own political battles. When the ICU began to win large swathes of the country, it was rumored, though never confirmed, that Eritrea was arming the Islamists, while Ethiopia was backing anti-Islamist forces.

But few had high hopes for the conference, which had been postponed a number of times this year already. On 14 July, the day before the conference began, an Islamic militant group reportedly threatened disruption, sentencing to death anyone who attended, according to AP, citing a militant website.

The day of the conference, mortar shells landed some 300 yards from the conference venue, wounding three people, according to news agency reports.

While the conference is intended to bring together Somali elders to allow them to discuss clan disputes and work towards a peaceful settlement, the continual violence, interference in the conflict on the part of Islamic militants, Ethiopia and the US, and clan rivalries rendered the conference a mute gesture at best.

The Hawiye clan is necessarily a major player in the peace process, but getting its members to sit down to talks is complicated. The clan itself is divided into some 19 sub-clans, which often find themselves in bitter battles for power. In the end, it appears that the sub-clan leaders could not decide who would represent the clan at the reconciliation conference.

Even if by some miracle the Hawiye clan and others show up to the rescheduled conference on 19 July, not much will be accomplished – not least because the conference has no intention of addressing the problem of government make up and policy.

And in the meantime, the Islamists have not been dealt any final blow, and for now they still earn much public support despite reported popular concerns regarding the partial and sporadic imposition of Sharia precepts by ICU gunmen from certain extremist Islamist courts during their period of control.

Despite these qualms, the local population is largely outraged at the Ethiopian presence, and the six months of relative calm ushered in by the Islamists last year have them thinking that perhaps this would be better than the unrelenting violence that has seen so many civilians caught in the crossfire.

And it is this fact that policymakers should be wary of – this fact that should guide the next moves. The government’s reported illegal arrests and beatings of civilians believed to be somehow connected with Islamic militants is seen as an outrage that serves only to sway public opinion against the transitional authorities and closer to the Islamists.

It is a grave mistake to bar the ICU – even the more extremist Islamist elements – from taking part in the conference.

(Copyright ISA)


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