Conflict continues in Somalia, the Horn of Africa country that’s been ravaged by violence for almost two decades. Innocent civilians are caught in fighting between members of Islamic militias, and troops from Ethiopia and Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG). Human rights monitors say thousands of people have been killed or displaced. A recent national conference called to set the agenda for more inclusive politics in Somalia has instead resulted in further division. In the final part of a series focusing on Somalia, VOA’s Darren Taylor looks at the future of the country.
“Somalis in general want peace. The problem of course is that many Somali elites have armed themselves and are only pursuing a peace that they are willing to live with, that they would benefit from. So the average Somali – man, woman and child – ends up suffering because of the nefarious interests of a few,” says Dr. Andre Le Sage, an analyst at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, a US government think tank in Washington, and a former political advisor in the process that resulted in the formation of the TFG.
“The folks who are stoking problems in Somalia are a minority in that country. And you have that minority in almost every country in the world if there is lawlessness. But when democratic governments are in place, most people want to go on with their lives, take care of their families, put their children through school, and Somalis are no different,” says Prof. Abdi Ismail, a Somali academic who teaches at the University of Minnesota.
But, at the moment, there can be no “getting on with their lives” for Somalis, whether they’re still living in the country or in foreign lands, for their homeland continues to be torn apart by violence.
Many Somali analysts, including Dr. Mohamed Diriye Abdullahi, a linguist and historian based in Hargeisa in Somaliland, say the only way to ensure peace and prosperity in Somalia in the future is for the international community, and especially Ethiopia, to allow Somalis to “sort out their own problems.”
“The main problem in Somalia is the outside intervention, outside actors. The problem is Somalis are so weak that any country, by using a few million dollars, can influence the situation in Somalia. And that is what has been happening for the last 16 years,” says Abdullahi.
“We had interference from Kenya, Ethiopia and even tiny Djibouti. And then from the bigger powers, like the United States and the European Union, and they are always interested in getting their own outcomes from Somalia.”
Some observers accuse the US of selfishness, of only being interested in Somalia because of its potential to become a haven for terrorists and therefore a direct threat to America, and they accuse Ethiopia of having helped to rig the outcome of the process of negotiations that resulted in former military leader Abdullahi Yusuf being elected president of Somalia’s TFG and appointing many members of his Darod clan to senior positions in his administration. Such a scenario, they say, allows Ethiopia to maintain its hegemony in the Horn of Africa by having unfettered influence over a friendly, but essentially weak, Somali administration.
Afyare Abdi Elmi, a Somali international relations specialist at the University of Alberta, says Liberia and Sierra Leone only experienced harmony when their respective warlord leaders, Foday Sankoh and Charles Taylor, were removed from the peace process.
“Somalia is no different. Rewarding warlords will not bring peace to the Somali people. These individuals committed heinous crimes and they are not interested in peace or democracy. The United States should help in establishing a commission of international inquiry that investigates Somalia war crimes,” Elmi states.
Instead of encouraging flawed reconciliation conferences, events he says omit key players in the conflict and simply serve to set the stage for more violence, Elmi is convinced that the US should encourage efforts by countries such as Saudi Arabia to mediate in Somalia.
“The Saudi government has helped mediate similar conflicts in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. Moreover, most Somalis consider it a neutral country and it has a close relationship with Washington. It can also influence the Islamist groups as they are indispensable for ending the conflict,” Elmi reasons.
Some Somali analysts also mention Yemen as the possible host of an all-inclusive peace summit for Somalia in the near future.
Le Sage agrees that the international community should make more efforts to involve “allies that have common interests in Somalia and might have better contacts with some segments of Somalia’s political leadership, as divided as they are. So working with and through and in conjunction with Saudi Arabia, Yemen and other countries makes perfect sense.”
But even if this were to happen, says Abdullahi, Somalis should still be “left alone” to negotiate their own future. He says there’s an encouraging precedent for this.
“Here in Somaliland, people left the leaders alone and look at the result we have: a stable democracy. We had negotiations and conferences, we established a bicameral parliament and now we have peace. And we have no terrorists here. If you leave people alone to sort out their own problems, they will come up with solutions.”
But Omar Faruk, the chairman of the National Union of Somali Journalists, says abandoning Somalis in the “high hope” that they’ll solve decades of strife on their own would be “wrong…. The international community withdrew from Somalia in the 1990’s, and that prolonged the crisis and the conflict. The US-led UN troops left from Somalia in the 1990’s, while the conflict in Somalia was only starting. And at that time we had only two main warlords. Now, we have more than 30 equal-power warlords – either in the government or not in the government.”
The only way forward for a lasting peace in Somalia, he says, is for the international community to continue to pressure the factional leaders.
“We need the international community to be present on the ground, as peacekeepers, and at the same time to push the different political groups to reach a solution. We do not need less international presence in Somalia; we need much more. But it must be in the form of a legitimate peacekeeping force, with no sinister motives,” Faruk says.
Ismail says unless there’s major reconstruction and development in Somalia, there’ll be no peace, and what’s needed is for international donors to make substantial financial commitments to the country.
“Very significant amounts of money, carefully monitored, that will be invested in the infrastructure of Somali society, the rebuilding of the country – ports and airports and schools and roads, water systems, electricity, security, education, health – those kinds of things. If that is done, then it will create jobs in the country. Many of the young people who have nowhere to go will see that as a new hope for them, and the revival of the Somali society will take place. There will be little need for young people to join warlords, or to join Islamist militants, or whatever group,” he says.
Prof. Ahmed Samatar, the dean of international relations at Macalester College in Minnesota, says he and other Somali academics have often discussed the future of their impoverished, violent homeland.
“We have made some calculations, and we think that an investment of about a billion dollars a year for about five to six years in those kinds of social infrastructure and economic infrastructure will put new energy into the revival of Somali society and its own institutions.”
But Samatar also believes that a “moderate Islam” has a major role to play in Somalia’s future.
“This is a society that has to rise from the ashes. And the only way in which you can rise from the ashes is to retrieve some of the fundamental cultural foundations of that society. Islam is a Somali phenomenon. The Somalis cannot be non-Muslims. There are many in the Somali society who understand that an Islam that is cosmopolitan, that’s connected to the world, is the key to rehabilitated, democratic politics.”
Prof. Hagi Mukthar, another prominent Somali academic in the US, says no “proper” development will happen in Somalia unless there is a “large scale disarmament process, supported by the world, to get rid of all the weapons in the country. Otherwise it will remain in disarray. You can’t have people running around a country carrying weapons of mass destruction and expect there to be peace and political negotiation.”
But Mukthar isn’t optimistic. He foresees the circle of ethnic violence continuing in Somalia.
“No clan until today (has) really won over another clan. There was no loser, and there’s no winner. It’s always like this,” he says.
“One area where we are failing hopelessly is that you never hear Somalis speaking about the rule of law. I’ve never heard of any place that has undergone a crisis of such magnitude, and nobody talks about what has gone wrong, about who is who in the whole scenario.”
He warns against a “growing apathy” among Somalis.
“Other nations, in the aftermath of a civil crisis, there’s always a great shout amongst the people for the rule of law to take precedence in establishing order. If you look at South Africa, Rwanda, Liberia and Sierra Leone – there were processes there that allowed the people a bit of justice. Why is this not happening in Somalia? It worries me a great deal. There are no calls for any tribunals, or for any justice, in Somalia.”
Tom Porteous, the director of Human Rights Watch in London, warns that the Somali state cannot be rebuilt in a “human rights vacuum. All the parties to the conflict at the moment have committed very serious violations of international humanitarian law. Those violations continue, and as long as they continue, it’s going to be extremely difficult even to start rebuilding the Somali state.”