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Somalia: A Clash of Ideologies and Conflicting Visions

19 November 2009

By Abdirahman Alas

After almost twenty years of ephemeral and episodic interventions sponsored by Western countries, Somalia is far from stability. Dogmatism stands in the way of peace as the conflict in Somalia has taken a new shape of ideological antagonism. The West is fixated on enforcing its political dogma through symbolic transitional governments to be safeguarded by foreign troops; local resistance spearheaded by militant Islamists is unyielding; and like its predecessors, the incumbent Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is extremely ineffective.

Western interventions have been problematic, despotic, ineffective and counter-productive in Somalia. Due to the failure of these interventions, the conflict has taken a new course of ideological rivalry. Two conflicting visions fiercely competing to shape the future of that country have transpired; a Western vision enforcing unpopular secular system versus a vision by the local resistance demanding the Sharia law. The latter albeit popular and propitious is ostracized because it does not dovetail with Western standards.

The media often depict the local resistance as a handful of religious insurgents associated with Al-Qaida. The resistance is beyond the scope of the insurgents and stems from public opprobrium that the foreign interventions have attracted. There is a widespread perception that the TFG is a tool made merely to serve foreign interests. Substantial factors support the public discernment – military interventions with dire consequences that have affected every stratum of the society, imposition of feckless TFGs, systemic and overt exploitation of Somalia’s territorial integrity and natural resources.
Many people including religious scholars criticize young jihadists’ sanctimonious behaviour and bellicose actions in the name of religion. But the public support for the expulsion of the foreign troops believed to be covert occupation is omnipresent; the mounting insurgency and TFG’s waning popularity is a manifestation of public resentment at Western militaristic policies. This pervasive sense of public furor over the debilitating situation in Somalia is what empowers the insurgents. A full-fledged Ethiopian army has failed to quell the insurgency; a meagre peace keeping force (AMISOM) whose mandate is to resuscitate a dead TFG will only perpetuate the conflict.

The popular uprising enmeshed with steaks of extremism latent in the northern regions and writ large in the south did not emerge out of the blue; it has culminated with the failure of the TFGs and the despotic mindset behind them. Since the collapse of Somalia’s central government, every peace negotiation to salvage Somalia was held in a foreign country under the manipulation of foreign donors. All the transitional governments that emerged out of those negotiations were appointed in foreign countries under the influence of foreign actors. External pressures have hindered autonomous peace negotiations to take place in Somalia. In November, 1996, leaders of twenty six Somali factions had formed the National Salvation Council and agreed to convene a national reconciliation conference for all Somalis in Bosaso in 1998 to form a central government. It was a promising proposition that received an overwhelming internal support. To undermine the Bosaso conference, Egypt with the backing of the Arab League rushed to initiate a side conference in Cairo in December of 1997. The Cairo conference had created grave fissures that have abolished the National Salvation Council and its dream for a unified government. Egypt, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and Eritrea are among the countries whose geopolitical interests have jeopardized the peace initiatives in Somalia. The mission behind estrangement of peace negotiations from Somalia is to appoint puppet governments; the incumbent TFG created in Djibouti under the tutelage of Ahmedou Oulad-Abdallah, special representative for the UN for Somalia is a living proof of that. Disingenuous foreign interests have been the crux of the Somalia conundrum that rationalizes why frustrated young Somalis resort to impetuosity, radicalism and piracy.

As they say, “necessity is the mother of invention”, to neutralize intolerable criminal violence in Mogadishu and its vicinity, clan-based courts have emerged. The courts amalgamated to form the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) in 2006. With all its limitations, the ICU had stimulated unprecedented law and order in the south that heralded the end of warlordism and formation of new power equation that spurred consternation at the White House. The Bush administration was not interested with the peace and elation that the ICU has inspired. The defeat of US stooges (the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism) and the Islamists’ ascendency to power were Bush’s main concerns. Under the auspices of US government, Ethiopia has invaded Somalia to crackdown the ICU. The ICU forces were crushed but not the indomitable local resistance that forced Ethiopia to abscond with deep wounds. US employment of the most brutal criminals (thugs & warlords) for restoration of peace and counter terrorism followed by Ethiopia’s invasion were translated as a naked ideological war rather than humanitarian intervention.

In the debate over the policy options – “abstention versus intervention” for the conflict ravaged countries like Somalia, some able scholars refute external interventions as “illegitimate and counter-productive”. Autonomous peace processes are proven to be the most practical approach to solve internal conflicts. External interventions in Somalia are not purely humanitarian, but interest-driven; they cause more harm than good, deprive people of self-determination, endorse corrupt leadership, promote hatred, and minimise people’s capacity to fix their own problems. After twenty years, the crisis in Somalia is more intricate than ever before.

The Copenhagen Consensus research paper, “The Security Challenge in Conflict-Prone Countries (2008)” found new developments that have the potential to ignite civil wars rather than to defuse them. Among these developments are the “negotiated peace settlements” and “proliferation of democracy” in poor nations. The paper argues that negotiated peace settlements are good in the short term, but relapse of conflict is likely in the post-conflict era. It also found that “anocracy” or “semi-democracy” that is becoming popular in the developing countries is worse than autocracy. The paper indicates that the offset of anocracy in war-torn countries could be “the peace of the zoo” model of governance, which entails intrusive practices not acceptable in democratic standards. Though the paper has its limitations in regard to the variables it has invoked to delineate its prognosis, there are remarkable parallels between its scientific findings and the feckless interventions in Somalia.

The peace of the zoo model implies two things. First, it shows that democracy has serious limitations and is not ideal for every environment. Secondly, the idea reeks of cultural imperialism – either you mimic the West or be cursed with regression, kind of mentality. According to history, some societies had flourished successfully with optimal justice when the contemporary champions of democracy were troglodytes or nonexistent. Neither Western democracy nor “the peace of the zoo” model is ideal for Somalia. The young jihadists’ incomprehensive model of Sharia is not an option either. Somalis need a comprehensive just system that appeals to their common held values, that they can comprehend, relate to and safeguard. A system based on the authentic tenets of Islam shows potential for Somalia. The impressive tranquility that ensued the rise of extremely ill-equipped Islamic courts attests that Somalia will settle and prosper with a bona fide Islamic system.


Abdirahman Alas E-mail: bnalas@yahoo.com

 

EsinIslam.Com

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