Foreign Forces Should Quit Somalia

Jagdish P. Sharma

Oil, as everyone knows, became the all-important and powerful fuel of American global ascendancy in the twentieth century. Today the United States, despite denials, has obviously organised much of its overseas military posture around energy resources like petroleum, protecting oil field, pipelines and sea lanes. But the American preoccupation with the Arab, African and Asian world has three dimensions. In addition to its concerns with oil, strategic interests and Al-Qaeda terror, the White House is courting religious conservatives and confused American electorates for whom the holy lands (the Palestine territories) are already a battleground of Christian-Jewish destiny.

Since the elections of 2000 and especially of 2004, four pillars have become increasingly central to American Policy:

1. The national security complex, with its pervasive interests;

2. The conservative right or neo-cons, with its doctrinal imperatives;

3. The debt-dealing financial sector, which extends far beyond the Wall Street and

4. The strategic vision.

George W. Bush has systematically promoted these alignments, their interests and their underpinning goals. His family, over generations, has been tied to a politics that conjoined profit, national security and oil.

Under the Bush presidencies, the Republican Party has slowly become the vehicle of all the above interest – a fusion of petroleum-defined national security, a crusading Christianity, and a reckless credit-feeding financial and military complex. Because the US is beginning to run out of its own oil energy sources, a military adventure to an energy crisis is the policy outlook of the time.

It is in this context, Somalia has caught the attention of the international community. More than 70 innocent Somali nomadic herdsmen died when a US gunship hunting Al-Qaeda suspects mistakenly attacked a village in southern Somalia as part of a wide air offensive against fugitive Islamists in early January 2007. However, the US found, no ‘wanted’ Al-Qaeda terrorists, dead or alive after so many innocent people were killed. In fact, there were rumours that after Afghanistan and Iraq, Somalia would be the third in line to be attacked by the US. The Somali case has been delayed because Afghanistan and Iraq, which the US war-planners thought would be as smooth as ice cream, got stuck in their throat and they were unable to put it down. For the last few years, Washington’s policy in Somalia has hinged on the hunt for so-called Al-Qaeda terrorists, and particularly the men wanted for killing 225 people in the Nairobi and Dar es Salaam US embassy bombing of 1998, and the 2002 attacks on Israelis in Mombasa. The January 2007 US air strikes were specifically aimed at three men – Fazul Abdallah Mohamed, Abu Taha al-Sudani and Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan.

Before going into the latest crisis situation in Somalia it would be better to understand the historical background of the developments that had led to the American and Ethiopian military attack on Somalia and its occupation by Ethiopians recently. A Republic in the Horn of Africa, Somali Democratic Republic was formed from British Somaliland on July I, 1960. Somalia is essentially a pastoral country, with 80% of its people depending on livestock-rearing. Half of its population is nomadic. In 1963, Somalia severed diplomatic relations with Britain, when it failed to induce Britain to grant separate independence to the largely Somali populated Northern Frontier district of Kenya. In 1964 hostilities broke out with Ethiopia over migration of nomadic Somali’s into that country, but a ceasefire was arranged. As a 100 percent Muslim population in the East African Continent, Somalia under President Aden Abdullah Osman was chosen as a venue for the Sixth World Muslim Conference. In 1967, Dr. Abdi Rashid Ali Simarke was elected as the President of the Somali Republic. Nine years of democracy in Somalia came to an end when President Dr. Abdi Rashid was assassinated by one of his bodyguards on October 15, 1969. On October 21, 1969 there was a military takeover by the Army led by Major General Mohamed Siad Barre, who suspended the existing constitution and named Somalia as Somali Democratic Republic. However, military rule was toppled in 1991 by a bloody counter coup.

The year 1992 saw one of the worst famines in Somalia. Ravaged by civil war, the country was in a state of anarchy. Starvation threatened the majority of the population. More than 800,000 people fled to Kenya and other neighbouring countries. Relief efforts by the international organisations were hampered by battles between rival clan factions. This led to a new era of uncertainty there. All attempts to end the uncertainty through the process of negotiation and dialogue initiated by neighbouring Djibouti failed. Ali Mahdi Muhammad of the United Somali Congress became President in August 1991. Inter-factional fighting continued. A new coalition government under the chairmanship of General Muhammed Farah Aidid agreed to a UN military presence to back up relief efforts to help famine victims.

On December 2, 1992, the US launched ‘Operation Restore Hope’ landing thousands of US marines on the Mogadishu beaches. In May 1993, the operation was taken over by the United Nations and the Mission was renamed as UNOSOM. In May 1993, Americans wanted to arrest one of the Somali leaders, General Farah Aidid but failed to do so. In the military operation a Black Hawk helicopter was shot down and 18 American soldiers were killed. Following that, the then US President Bill Clinton withdrew his forces from Somalia. After that for fifteen years Somalia had to remain without a central government. The warlords fought among themselves. A sense of deep despair and hopelessness led to the emergence of the Islamic Courts. When both the United Nations and the African Union ignored the plight of Somalis, some of them established the Islamic courts with help from local businessmen for promoting peace and order. The Islamic courts did manage to establish some sense of law and order.

Ten years after the collapse of the military government in Somalia, a Transitional National government was formed in August 2000. But neither the US nor the EU tried to strengthen its position. At the end of its three year term, a new Transitional Federal Government was established in Nairobi, the capital of neighbouring Kenya in October 2004 with full support from everyone including the US.

Somalia’s current phase of chaos is not simply the latest episode in a civil conflict that had dragged on since 1991. It is also the direct result of a rogue CIA operation that went wrong. After September 11, 2001 (9/11), Washington did a policy u-turn by recruiting as bounty-hunters the very warlords its forces had fought during the 1993 ‘Black Hawk Down’ battle. In return for suitcases of cash, the warlords handed over a number of radical religious suspects, who were ferried on rendition flights to the new US base at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti.

A Christian-led country with a substantial Muslim population, Ethiopia is motivated by its historic territorial interests and by its deep fear of Islamic radicalism in the Horn of Africa. Just before Christmas 2006 Washington gave Ethiopia the green light to invade Somalia. The offensive led to the fall of the Islamic court government. The American neo-cons gloated over what they saw as a victory for the good guys in the war on terror. Ethiopia’s invasion and the US strikes have made heroes of the Somali radicals across the world and thus further internationalised the conflict in the Horn.

The Journal Arab Oil and Gas quoting The Los Angeles Times wrote on 16 February, 1993 that, ‘US intervention in Somalia could have been prompted in part by the determination of former President George Bush senior to protect the interests of US firms’. A special report in Oil and Gas Journal dated 2nd April, 1993 said among other things:

‘Geologists have been speculating about the possibility of oil in Somalia since the last century, but it took the US military ‘Operation Restore Hope’ to bring the possibility to popular attention. The widespread notion that US troops were sent to Somalia to protect the interests of US oil companies and their supposed huge oil finds, has been treated with amused derision in Oil Industry Circles’.

The recent American decision to create a new Pentagon command covering Africa, known as Africom, has a military logic. Like Roman emperors of old, Washington’s Caesars arbitrarily divide much of the world into Middle Eastern, European and Pacific domains. Now it is Africa’s turn with Gulf of Guinea countries including Nigeria and Angola projected to provide a quarter of US oil imports within a decade, with Islamic radicalist worries in Somalia and Horn of Africa, and with China prowling for resources and markets, the US plainly feels a second wind of change is blowing, calling for increased leverage in Africa. Africom’s advent follows a pattern of extraordinary military expansion under President George W. Bush including the Horn of Africa. Thousands of terrified people fled the Somali capital Mogadishu after heavy fighting between American military backed Ethiopian troops and Somali resistance fighters. ‘Today Somalia ceases to exist as a viable state. This has led to the eventuality that, as the year 2007 began; Somalia put itself firmly at the top of the African agenda. Whereas in 1974 all our liberation movements and independent Africa counted on Somali support to achieve the goals of the African revolution, in 2007 Somalia needs the support of the rest of the African continent, again to achieve the goals of the African revolution,’ says President Thabo Mbeki of the Republic of South Africa.

Somalia needs a government not made for them but made by them. If the international community is sincere about helping the people of Somalia, it should let them decide their destiny independently, as the Somali Ambassador in New Delhi and other experts emphasised at a seminar in Delhi University’s African Studies Department.

This is a situation calling for independent Somali initiatives to regain their statehood and national sovereignty.

Department of African Studies, University of Delhi

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