Christmas in Somalia
African Safari heads off for a much-needed break in the land of the free coffee, casting an anxious glance over its shoulder at Somalia. The Ethiopians love to do stuff over Christmas (not Christmas, according to the Ethiopian calendar, which places the birth of Christ on Jan 7) and their withdrawal, if it turns out to be more than smoke and mirrors, could lead to fresh carnage in Somalia while the rest of us are trying to regain a grasp on sanity.
Numerous scenarios are being discussed for what happens next in the Horn of Africa’s most lawless country. For what it’s worth, I reckon the pull-out will eventually take the heat out of the insurgency.
Ethiopia’s withdrawal will lead to a massive power vacuum, which the feeble Transitional Federal Government and African Union mission will fail to fill. The result will be an immediate sort out of the clans and the settling of scores in a bloody period of fighting.
The question then is to what extent the Islamist forces can coalesce into an organisation as capable as the Union of Islamic Courts which controlled most of Somalia for six months in 2006. That requires some hatchets to be buried and cheeks to be turned – and Somalis don’t have a good record in that department (unless you include burying hatchets in cheeks). If the Asmara and Djibouti factions of the courts and the Shabaab can manage that (and if the reports that I’m hearing about a general moving to the centre are true) then it might be possible for a new administration, one that encompasses a representative portion of Somali society to come to the fore.
There are some big ifs here. Notably whether the Americans and Ethiopians could possibly let this happen.
Shashank at Somewhere in Africa touches on the key problem that underlies all our dealings with this shattered, broken shell of a country..
The main problem, one that few commentators grapple with convincingly, is whom to hitch your wagon to in Somalia?
But if there is a lesson to be learned over the past two years, it has to be that the outside world cannot pick sides and expect Somalis to accept it. Hitching our colours to the TFG at a time when the Islamists were bringing a degree of peace and stability to Mogadishu was a sure-fire way to ensure that the interim government would fail.
Far better to let Somalis decide who they want in charge and then come in with aid and support on the back of that. If they can’t decide, then we have a problem. We may not like everything the Islamists stand for, but to artificially support an institution that is despised by many Somalis is just a recipe for disaster and one that pushes moderates into the hands of West-hating extremists.
This is a more sophisticated analysis than that of a friend, who reckons bricking the whole place up and allowing the last man standing to be president is the only way to proceed, but I guess the point is the same.