Rising violence in and around Somalia’s capital Mogadishu has forced thousands to flee the city for makeshift accommodations and camps along roads and towns outside the capital. Somali-born professor of geography at the University of Minnesota, Abdi Samatar, says the disruption and displacement of thousands of people can be attributed to a complex mixture of forces. He says the violence is being precipitated by an Ethiopian troop presence in the capital that serves as a target for attacks and retaliates against an alliance of Islamist insurgents and home-grown opponents of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG).
“There are three types of violence in and around Mogadishu and the rest of the country. One is violence that is imposed on the public by Ethiopia and the TFG forces. And for instance, over the last two weeks, Ethiopian tanks and armed vehicles have been literally leveling houses and neighborhoods to flush the resistance out. So that’s responsible for the vast majority of the displaced people, which now is estimated at half a million people outside Mogadishu. The second type of violence is one that’s coming from the resistance, whether they are members of the Union of the Islamic Courts or local people who have decided to take this on themselves. Then there is the third type of violence, which is thugs and warlords and ruthless folks who were disabled by Union of Islamic Courts when they took over Mogadishu and who are now back in operation,” he said.
While the recently formed Somali opposition alliance has blamed the Ethiopian occupation for the violence, Addis Ababa continues to send in reinforcements. Professor Samatar acknowledges there have been charges that the outside resistance is receiving support from Ethiopia’s Horn of Africa rival Eritrea, but says proof of these accusations is hard to come by.
“Despite the claims of our (Somali transitional) government that there has been Eritrean involvement, our government has not produced any evidence of Eritrean troops in Somalia itself. But certainly, they are providing logistics, at least to those folks who are in Asmara. Before the Ethiopians invaded Somalia in December of last year, on Christmas eve, Mogadishu and the rest of the region around it were in relative peace for the first time in 17 years. So I think there is some significance to say that there is a coincidence between the occupation, the resistance, and hence, the violence,” Samatar noted.
He says the mayor of Mogadishu, whom he calls a former warlord, Mohamed Dheere of Somalia’s Hawiye clan, is responsible for issuing calls on the capital’s population to evacuate the city during the past two weeks. Although Dheere issued an apology for the expulsions during a recent visit to Kenya’s capital Nairobi, Samatar says the policy of evacuating capital residents is continuing. The only way to restore peace to the capital and gain acceptance from the Somali people to bring an end to the dislocations, according to Samatar, is by securing the intervention of a strong African Union (AU) peacekeeping force.
“I don’t think there will be peace in that place because the Somali public are against Ethiopian occupation of their country. And so one of the key issues that our government and other policymakers may be concerned about is how to immediately expedite bringing the African Union forces, who require logistics, to be able to go to Mogadishu. That for me is the only way out,” he says.
So far Uganda has been the only African country contributing troops to a Somalia peacekeeping operation. Samatar says its 15-hundred member force has served ably, but that the limited operation is placing strains on Uganda’s economy and its political will. He indicates that Nigeria has also started considering the possibilities of sending in a contingent, but cautions that an overall peacekeeping mandate should be clearly aimed at stabilizing, not dominating Somalia’s opposition, which he says “can live with that. The question is whether the Ethiopians, our government, and the warlords who formed the TFG are willing to do so.”