Saturday, May 10, 2008

Too many strategic exits with uncertain futures in the Horn of Africa

It is better to have a bad government-however brutal it may be-than be without one. Somalia may not be the first country in the world to experience two decades of devastatation caused by brutal wars culminating in the death of thousands if not millions of innocent civilians and the displacement of an equal number scattered the world over either as refugees or as internally displaced within its own borders compounded by disease, hunger, and poor sanitation. Of course, the world has been through many heinous wars most notably in Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Mozambique, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Angola, and the list could be endless. Most African wars have been described as 'tribal wars'-where one tribe or clan feels 'enough is enough'-and that time is ripe to take power by force from the clan that dominated politics for so long. In Europe, it is called 'ethnic wars'-where two races compete for dominance as happened after the break up of the former Yugoslavia that pitied Christians against Muslims or Serbs (Christians) against Bosniacs (Muslims).

Somalia is a sparsely populated country bordering the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean yet its roughly 10 million inhabitants are relatively poor besides the thousands who fled to Western Europe, North America, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand. It is a Less Developed Country (LDC); it has incredibly low Natural Increase Rate (NIR); its Crude Birth Rate (CBR) is not something to worry about though its Crude Death Rate (CDR) and Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) are of concern for demographers, international Aid Agencies, and the World Bank. Four decades of misrule has left Somalia a laughing stork, yet, the abundance of natural resources it has could sustain not only her citizens, but many outside her borders. Despite having untapped oil and natural gas, unexploited minerals, and a wealth of fisheries and agricultural lands, the people of Somalia remain a burden to the world donor nations because, a succession of civil disorbedience and negative political practices have continually torn apart this homogeneous race in to enormous tribal segmentations and unparalleled clan rivalries.

For twenty-one years, many in the West saw the rule of President Mohamed Siyad Barre of Somalia as having dictatorial credentials while Somali tribes opposed to his rule felt marginalized despite having ripe grapes in their baskets. Poor governance coupled with tribal mindedness, illiterate governors, mismanagement of the economy, bad ideology like Communism and Socialism and other factors led to the sudden fall of a once powerful nation that was the envy of many in Africa-especially neighboring countries that had a long standing border dispute with Somalia. Today, the same countries that opted for the collapse of Somalia, have become the ears and eyes for a succession of merciless warlords and shadowy transitional governments which they direct at will because they are the providers of the bulk of arms and money needed to advance their modus operandi which include territorial dismemberments, tribal divisions, and unstoppable atrocities.

After sixteen years of bloodshed by anarchic warlords, an otiose Transitional Federal Government (TFG) was born in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2004, with the blessings of the international community. For almost a year, the TFG was unable to relocate to Somalia for fear of reprisals from the Union of Islamic Courts hereafter referred to as UIC. Born out of the amalgamation of eleven minor tribal courts, the UIC routed the West-funded warlords in a matter of months. Poor political strategies, ideological affiliation of some cadres with the dreaded Al-Qaeda, and religious rhetorics at the US, Kenya, and Ethiopia, did not go down well with the poweful forces of democracy and enforcers of 'World Order'.

The President of the TFG, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, a former Army Colonel, was and is too inexperienced to tackle the Somali political debackle-a mess he was party to even prior to the collapse of Siyad Barre's Junta. Since his inauguration as President of Somalia, life has gone from the better to worse for the people of Somalia especially after the incursion of the Ethiopian Army in to Somali soil where the level of violence has doubled since. Many of his previous supporters have joined the ranks of the newly-founded reliberation movements fighting to oust him and repel the Ethiopian occupation. Hussein Farah Aideed, a former U.S. Marines Sergeant and son of General Farah Aideed-the man behind the re-enactment of Hollywood's acclaimed movie "Black Hawk Down"-was the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Interior for the TFG before joining the rebel Asmara Group hosted in Eritrea. The former Speaker of the TFG and a group of rebel Parliamentarians thought to constitute a good forty, are also thought to have established base there. Unfortunately, these former members of the TFG, are guests for President Afewerki who is at loggerheads with the regime in Addis Ababa-a regime headed by his maternal cousin, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia.

Eritrean rebels fought Ethiopia for over thirty years before reclaiming their soverignty in the early ninties. Since reclaiming independence from Ethiopia, Eritrea has fought Yemen over tiny Islands in the Red Sea; almost a million died in a bloody war with Ethiopia over disputed territories; it has made incursions in to Djibouti territory over the last few weeks; and lastly but not least, it is engaged in the Somali turmoil unrestrained.

Ironically, President Afewerki is not only host to the Somali Asmara rebel group, but to a variety of liberation movements fighting to break away from Ethiopia most notably the Ogaden National Liberation Front, the Oromo Liberation Front, and a group that represents the Amhara-an ancient tribe that ruled Ethiopia for centuries before the emergence of Colonel Mengistu Haile Miriam in a bloody coup in the mid-seventies. Known for his terror brigade that annihilated millions of innocent Ethiopians and the atrocious and forceful relocation of enemy tribes to environmentally hostile lands, Colonel Mengistu murdered the "Star of Christianity"-His Royal Highness, Emperor Haile Selasie, an Amhara and had him buried in his grandiose palace where his footstool lay. The remains of the Emperor have been reburied in a golden mausoleum in the heart of Addis Ababa by the current regime of Meles to appease the aggrieved Amhara. An ardent supporter of Communism, Mengistu went to war with Somalia in 1977-78 over the disputed Ethiopia-occupied Ogaden region claimed by Somalia. With reinforcements from the former U.S.S.R, Cuba, Yemen, and other Eastern European countries that constituted the Warsaw Pact Forces, Somalia's unaided army withdrew from the vast territories it had earlier reclaimed or captured from Ethiopia. Somalia's withdrawal gave rise to the creation of the current TFG President of Somalia, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, and to Meles Zenawi, the sitting PM of Ethiopia, who found safe havens at the clash of these two antagonistic forces. Yusuf crossed border to Ethiopia after his failed coup attempt against strongman Siyad Barre while Meles and Afewerki sought refuge in Somalia where they were hosted by Siyad Barre.

Somalia's TFG is in a dilemma as it has never ruled a portion of the country with the exception of the City of Baidoa that serves as its headquarter. Smaller than the Vatican, the City of Baidoa has of late become a target for the well-armed guerilla forces of Al-shabab-the armed-wing of the resistance movement against the TFG and the Ethiopian occupation. Parliamentary members of the TFG have voiced their deepest concerns at the increasing level of violence gripping the city and the rampant increase of Al-shabab incursions in to the heavily fortified city guarded by the Ethiopian and TFG forces. Thus, many of these parliamentarians may pretty soon be left with no other alternative but to seek refuge either in Kenya, Eritrea, or Ethiopia where their safety can be guaranteed until the violence subsides.

Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia's Prime Minister and mastermind of the Somali occupation, feels his Somali project is a fiasco and that he is contemplating a strategic exit sooner or later. Likewise, he is to exit Ethiopia's political scene as his re-run for the his nation's Premiership is almost impossible because it would contradict Ethiopia's constitution and also anger the opposition who are bitter at his previous political mismanagement and adulteration of the laws of the land that he swore to uphold when he came to power. Unless he opts to use force to cling to power and quell civil disturbances, the Ethiopian constitution has no room for him come what may 2009.

Likewise, Somalia's President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, is to pack up and leave office in 2009 unless re-elected by parliament for a second-term. Until then, regardless of reconciliation successes between his administration and the many forces with diverse opinions opposed to his rule, what Somalis pray to see, is a strong government that will enforce law and order and reunite Somalia. Whether it will be a refurbished TFG with an all-inclusive government, or the militant al-shabab, or a new administration with multi-faceted ideological foundations, what the future holds for this tattered nation, is in real essence, hard to predict. But what had been predicted by one educated Somali academic about the future of Somalia is clearly emerging in piecemeal: so many poor Ethiopians are settling in the autonomous region of Puntland and and in the breakaway state of Somaliland; the country has become so ungovernable such that it is only the Ethiopian directional compass that can give it a true bearing and heading no matter how deviant that direction might lead; division of mind and conflict of ideology tends to favor Ethiopia's wrong dimensions; every single income from the port, airport, and other tax revenues is being collected for Ethiopian coffers; Somalia has become part and parcel of Ethiopia with administrative dictations coming from the headquarters in Addis Ababa; and that its governor is General Gabre-the Tigreyan General in charge of overseeing the TFG's social activities and political measures.

Even with the exit of Meles and Yusuf and most probably Afewerki in 2009 and beyond, a bleak future awaits the beautiful people of the Horn of Africa. How to bury the hatchet, pick up the pieces, and embark on a new collective strategy will be hard to accomplish. Suspicion, hatred, and gerrymandering will prevail for generations to come.

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