Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Seat of the Shah, Part 2

Before reading this, you may wish to review Part 1.

We begin with Our Time Is Now (links reproduced from the original), by newly-appointed Prime Minister of Somalia Mohammed Abdullahi Mohammed, dated December 21, 2010:

Things are changing in Somalia. If we seize it, this moment could be a turning point in our country's conflict.

New leadership in Mogadishu and a sharper focus from the international community is re-energizing the effort to bring peace and stability to Somalia. I took office in October at the request of Somali President Sheik Sharif Ahmed, and the Somali parliament recently endorsed my plan to install a lean new cabinet of 18 ministers. Former President of Ghana Jerry Rawlings now serves as the African Union (AU) high representative for Somalia, bringing a widely respected African leader to the forefront of the AU efforts in our country. The African Union also recently expressed a firm intent to expand AMISOM's troop strength to 20,000 peacekeepers. In the short term, the U.N. Security Council is set, we trust, to authorize an immediate rise to 12,000. The Somali government, the African Union, and the international community more broadly are all committed to seeing our mission through together.

Meanwhile, the consequences for our military struggle have been clear. Earlier this year, our government controlled about a third of the capital, Mogadishu, to the insurgents' equal share. In recent months, however, our troops, in partnership with AU peacekeepers, have established control over territory that is home to more than 80 percent of the capital's population. Our forces have gone from fending off attacks against the presidential compound to actively taking ground from insurgents deep in their former strongholds, sending Islamist rebel-group al-Shabab and their foreign leaders into retreat and disarray.

So, the Islamists are retreating and in disarray?

According to an article entitled Somali Islamists al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam 'to merge', from BBC News dated December 20, 2010, rebel groups are reunifying, and the group affiliated with al Qaeda may be taking over:

The two Islamist groups fighting the weak UN-backed Somali government, al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam, are to merge, according to reports.

The two had been allies but have fallen out over the past year, with Hizbul Islam losing ground.

Some see the merger as a takeover by al-Shabab, which has links to al-Qaeda.

A spokesman for the African Union force which is supporting the government and which has recently gained ground said the move would make no difference.

Maj Bahoku Barigye told the BBC that his troops had often been attacked by both these groups at the same time.

The Islamist groups together control much of south and central Somalia, while the government says it now runs more than half of the capital, Mogadishu.

The reported merger has not been confirmed by the leaders of the two groups, in particular Hizbul Islam leader Hassan Dahir Aweys.

BBC Somali service analyst Mohamed Mohamed says some officials in Hizbul Islam are not happy with the proposed merger, as they oppose al-Shabab's links to international jihadist groups, such as al-Qaeda.

Various armed groups have been battling for control of Somalia for two decades, leading hundreds of thousands of people to flee the country.

The chaos in Somalia still boggles the mind, even if it is improving. From Fleeing Somali women recount tales of terror by Hugh Macleod and Annasofie Flamand, October 7, 2010:

"I was living with my aunt in Afgooye district of the lower Shabelle region when [a] warlord assaulted our home as a reason to marry me by force."

Her aunt tried to protect her from the man but he shot her dead.

Ms Ahmed fled next door to her neighbour's, but the man followed and shot them all. Then Ms Ahmed fled, braving the perilous trip across the Gulf of Aden to reach Yemen.

"This year we have been hearing a lot about forced marriages and rapes," says a member of an aid agency working on the ground with newly arrived Somali refugees in Yemen.

Like most who spoke about the actions of the hardline Islamist al-Shabab and other militias in Somalia, he refused to have his name published, fearing reprisals against his family still living in Somalia.


"Women cannot move or sit outside. They can't even walk with their brother," says the aid worker.

"Unmarried women are forced to marry and if she refuses they say she's a non-Muslim. Many parents choose to send their girls away with relatives and friends so as not to be forced into marriage or raped.

"If a woman refuses a forced marriage, we have reports of them being beheaded and their head sent to their father."

There are some glimmers of hope, though, to support what the Somali Prime Minister writes. From , dated November 26, 2010:

Mohamed Ahmed Noor was under no illusions when he agreed to take on the job of mayor of Mogadishu, capital of Somalia.

He was living in the relative safety of London when the offer was recently made. He sat his family down and told them he may not be coming back.

"I explained the dangers of the job, that I may be killed and that one day they may hear on the news that the mayor of Mogadishu has been assassinated, or killed in an explosion."

Mayor Noor says his family were very supportive, though they still did not agree it was a risk worth taking.



Despite the fact that Somalia has experienced almost constant conflict since the collapse of its central government in 1991, and that the hardline Islamist al-Shabab militia controls significant sections of the capital, Mayor Noor feels that Mogadishu gets a bad press.

"I think there is a misunderstanding about Mogadishu. It is not more dangerous than Baghdad, or Kabul.

"If you compare death rates, or daily accidents in the capitals, on a bad day in Mogadishu you can have 10-20 deaths, but in Baghdad we hear of 50 or 100 casualties in a day. In Kabul it can be more than that."

We now finish with the next passage from Our Time Is Now:

Taken as a whole, these developments present an opportunity for us to break the cycle of chaos and violence that has gripped Somalia and the region for too many years. But this opportunity will not last for long. We as a government must act now to consolidate the gains of recent months. We must deliver the security and stability that the country craves. Above all, we must demonstrate to ordinary Somalis that we can make their lives better. Somalia has seen many false starts and missed opportunities, but this government is determined to succeed where others have failed. We simply cannot allow ourselves to fail, because the alternative is too dark to imagine.

Thousands of Somalis have fled from a reign of terror in the areas where al Shabab today holds sway. Perhaps no single incident reflects the horrors of al Shabab rule more than the recent murder of two teenage girls by militant henchmen, who executed the girls in the street after accusing them of spying. But al Shabab terrorizes Somalis every day. Mothers are forced on pain of death to give up their children to al Shabab recruiters. Any child resisting conscription risks the same fate as 17-year-old Ismael Khalif, whose hand and foot were cross amputated because he wanted to go to school rather than join the terrorist army.

Countless such atrocities have driven Somali public opinion to a tipping point. Our people are eager now to be rid of al-Shabab. In a recent poll, nearly three-quarters of Somalis questioned said they saw the Islamist group as a force of bad, rather than a force for good. Somalis are desperate for peace and a stable government, and we cannot let them down. Clearly the burden to deliver rests with us in the Somali government. We will not shy away from this responsibility.

But we cannot do it alone.

Honestly, though, the best thing our first President of African descent can do for Somalia is leave it along; the worst thing he could do for Somalia would likely be to try to help it.

(I would offer Somalia a trade - we will take their Prime Minister or Mayor of Mogadishu, and they can take our President, but thinking about it, poor Somalia has been through enough.)

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