In our last issue, we reported on the US-Ethiopian attack on Somalia, which had seen Ethiopian troops, with the backing of the US, invade the country in support of the weak and wholly uninfluential ‘Transitional Government’ (TG). (See Proletarian, April 2007)
Recent history of Somalia
The TG was formed at a UN conference in 2005 and made up of various US-backed warlords. Chosen by imperialism to serve its interests, as opposed to those of the Somali population, without any authority or mandate from the people, the TG was confined at that time to the small town of Baidoa, where it was based. It pined away in this backwater, lacking both the support and forces required to enable it to enter and take control of the capital, Mogadishu. (Financial Times, 29 December 2006)
The only group who did manage to unite warring clans and bring peace and stability to the nation in a 15-year history of imperialist-inspired conflict and war was the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which held a strong and spreading authority between June and December 2006.
In the six short months of ICU leadership, “The various clan-based militias which terrorised the region, setting up checkpoints and settling disputes with guns, buried their arms.” (The Independent, 15 June 2007)
Whereas previously travel and trade was made dangerous and expensive as a result of the many checkpoints set up along major trading routes and manned by various militias demanding money for passage, under the ICU these disappeared. The legitimacy of the ICU in the eyes of the people can be gauged from the fact that it has depended for its authority not on armaments alone, as every militia has these, but on uniting the people around commonly held values, religious beliefs and customary laws. The Independent quoted Mohammed Abdullahi Gure, leader of the elders’ committee in Marere, southern Somalia, who explained the phenomenon: “There wasn’t a militia in town who could move with guns … they feared because they were told the Islamic Courts would have the Holy Koran as their guide.” (Op cit)
Failure of the Transitional Government
This authority stands in stark contrast to that of the TG, which has notionally been in power in Somalia for as long as the ICU. Following the invasion conducted by Ethiopian troops and backed up by US airstrikes in December/January 2007, the TG was quick to announce victory.
On 2 January 2007, Ethiopia’s president, Meles Zenaun, stated that troops would be withdrawn “within weeks [after] mopping up the remnants of the ICU”, a claim reminiscent of similarly bombastic statements from the US/British invaders of Iraq and Afghanistan. (Financial Times, 2 January 2007)
Ethiopia has since become bogged down in Somalia in the same sort of self-destructive quagmire currently facing imperialist troops in the Middle East.
Six months later, the TG has failed to establish control and is totally reliant on Ethiopian troops, without which the government would “probably … end the next day”. (David Shin, former US ambassador to Ethiopia speaking in Addis Ababa in July 2007, The Reporter (Addis Ababa) 7 July 2007)
Checkpoints are back on Somalia’s main roads, and Mogadishu is experiencing its worst fighting in 15 years. On 24 April 2007, the Financial Times reported that 1,000 civilians had been killed and 300,000 had fled. In the early part of July 2007, TG and Ethiopian troops were conducting daily raids on the main Bakara market in Mogadishu, which resulted in its closure on 9 July.
The disruption to the Bakara market had serious implications for the local population, and it was warned that further mass migrations of civilian refugees were likely to take place as a result. Chairman of the Bakara market merchants, Ali Muhammad Siad, confirmed that the actions of the troops, aimed at pacifying the city in the lead up to a ‘reconciliation conference’ organised by the TG, had entirely halted business operations: “Bakara is the only market in the capital that all Mogadishu come to work and earn their daily bread so if the government closes all accesses to the market, many families whose livelihoods depended on the market would have nothing to eat. I ask the transitional government to abort the mission and be merciful to its people.” (Shabelle Media Network, Mogadishu, 8 July 2007)
Along with the market raids, there have been house-to-house weapons searches, raids and closure of media networks and other service providers considered loyal to the ‘insurgents’ (ie, to the ICU), curfews, driving bans, bomb blasts and exchanges of gunfire in the streets.
Even the TG declaration of martial law has failed to gain it any ground. The actions of the TG do little to inspire the desperately-needed confidence of the Somali people, and some have accused the TG/Ethiopian forces of theft and looting. The TG appears to be in a no-win situation. (Shabelle Media Network, 8 and 9 July 2007)
The ’National Reconciliation Conference’
Ethiopia’s ‘get out’ strategy seems currently to be pinned on the ‘National Reconciliation Conference’ (NRC), which started on 17 July 2007, having previously been cancelled several times as a result of security risks, and which is projected to last for 45 days. The conference kicked off on 17 July 2007, with fewer delegates than expected attending and amid bombs and violence that led to the postponement of the conference on the very first day. (Newsweek, 17 July 2007)
The purpose of the conference is to bring representatives of various clans together to air their grievances and reach a compromise that allows the TG to maintain control without Ethiopian troops, but it appears destined to fail in this task.
For one thing, Prime Minster Gedi has confirmed that the conference will have “no authority to reform the government and should focus only on social and tribal disputes”. Meanwhile, the ICU is being ignored and sidelined, and those delegates that do attend will only be allowed to participate as clan representatives and not as spokespeople for any political or armed group.
The conference clearly cannot achieve anything remotely like lasting peace while Ethiopian troops remain on Somali soil and the ICU is sidelined. Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, ICU chairman, wrote in an email to the Los Angeles Times: “[The ICU] has the experience, the support as well as the respect of the Somali people to re-establish peace and stability.”
In acknowledgement of this, and desperate to be able to hand over control to a functioning body before becoming totally spent in Somalia, Ethiopia and its puppet master the US are exerting some pressure on the TG to extend the hand of reconciliation to ‘moderate’ sections of the ICU. The TG has rejected this advice and, in any event, according to the same email, the ICU is calling for a boycott of the conference and will not attend unless the government “sets a clear schedule for a total and unconditional Ethiopian troop withdrawal”. (9 July 2007)
US imperialism behind the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia
The TG/Ethiopian invasion took place with the support of, and at the behest of, US imperialism, which has made no effort to disguise the fact that it is motivated purely by its own imperialist interests (ie, Somalia’s oil and gas potential). Where there is a clear and fundamental breach between US interests and those of the Somali people, the US makes it clear, and has demonstrated in practice in countless other examples all over the world, that it will do whatever it takes to achieve its aims, no matter how many innocent people’s lives and nations are lost or destroyed in the process.
Under the catch-all banner of the ‘war on terror’, the US has stationed 1,500 troops in Djibouti. The ICU is accused of “harbouring and including al-Qaida terrorists including suspects wanted in connection with the 1998 US embassy bombing in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, as well as the 2002 attack on an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya” . According to a Washington government official, “[the US government] regarded it as its right to pursue al-Qaida suspects wherever they are”. (Financial Times, 1 January 2007)
Critics have claimed that the US has “shot itself in the foot in Somalia”, and made the entire Horn of African unstable as a result. (Mohamed Ali, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in Nairobi, quoted in Financial Times, 27 April 2007)
Cost to Ethiopia of its Somali adventure
It is unlikely that Ethiopia will be able to sustain its occupation of Somalia, based on its own economic conditions and the cost involved: “the military operation will also be a drain on Ethiopia’s meagre resources. The country maintains one of Africa’s largest armies, estimated by an Ethiopian analyst to be about 150,000 troops … But the impoverished population of 77 million people is dependent on donor funding and Mr Meles’ government has agreed to keep military spending at a flat cash rate of (equivalent to) £181m per year” . (Financial Times, 2 January 2007)
Also, the longer Ethiopian troops stay in Somalia, the more they risk seeing the conflict spill back across their own borders. In April 2007, the Financial Times reported that there had been an “unprecedented attack on an oil exploration facility near the Somalia border. (27 April 2007)
The hopes of the TG and their Ethiopian/US backers are pinned on some kind of functioning government emerging from the NRC, but, as pointed out above, those hopes lack any kind of foundation. Mario Raffaele, the Italian Special Envoy to Somalia, said of the conference: “This is the only game in town at this point. If this conference doesn’t produce anything, if it collapses, then I don’t know what happens.”
There are fertile conditions for the Somali people to wrest control of their internal affairs from imperialist domination and pursue a path of peace, security and national integrity through a government that truly serves the interests of the people as opposed to those of imperialism. With the US overstretched in the Middle East and the US people sick and tired of war, it is unlikely that imperialist troops will be in a position to take over where Ethiopian troops have failed.
Happily, on this question the interests of the worldwide proletariat and the Somali people coincide – for where the imperialist grip on African soil and resources is weakened, another source of imperialist profit that would otherwise be used to prop up the failing capitalist system and buy social peace at home is lost.
The cause of the proletariat worldwide for socialism can only be strengthened by the victory of the Somali people over the US/Ethiopian invaders and their puppets in the so-called ‘Transitional Government’.