‘Poor ex-Italian Somalia!. When it is in chaos and subject to the shambolic anarchy
of the secular warlords who have terrorised its civilian population, the best outsiders have been able to do is to engage in so-called peace-making, producing virtual governments which are incapable of governing and, manifestly have no public support. First there was the Arta regime(‘transitional national government’) created in Djibouti by the UN in January 2000. Its supreme achievement was to control fitfully a handful of streets in Mogadishu. Without elections, and any demonstration of general public support, it quietly expired three years later.
Next came Abdillahi Yusuf’s ‘transitional federal government’, the acrimonious issue of over two years of ‘peace processing’ in Nairobi. At great expense to its tax-payers, this was an EU initiative which to date has been even less successful than its predecessor. The constitutive formula, this time, was to include as many warlords as possible with the same rough representation of clan delegates as in Arta. Whereas Arta theoretically (if not always in practice) excluded these blood-sucking vandals of the state, under Abdillahi they were given special prominence as ministers in his government. Unfortunately for its supporters, once formed, this ‘government’ spent most of its energies in internal wrangling over its location and the respective powers of the assembly speaker, the prime-minister, and president. In fact, the warlord ministers in this literally gangster government went on pursuing their usual antisocial activities little constrained by their new responsibilities, and Mogadishu remained as violent as ever, a centre of local terrorism. Nevertheless, according to EU propaganda, the TFG had to be supported because ‘it was the only show in town’. Wow!
In this dismal setting, a new focus of conflict developed between the old secular warlords who offered their search and kidnap services to the American government and its various agencies in pursuit of ‘al-Qaeda’ suspects, and local sheikhs who were expanding the nexus of informal Shariah courts which they established to bring a measure of law and order to lawless southern Somalia. Backed by local business men and with material and monetary support from Muslim sympathisers in the region (Eritrea, Yemen, Saudia Arabia, Egypt etc.)this campaign took on aspects of a Holy War, as the Islamic warlords extended their control at the expense of the secular warlords who were very rapidly defeated and forced to abandon their various headquarters, turning in some cases for help to Ethiopia. At least one infamous secular warlord, changed sides to join the victors. Abdillahi Yusuf, whose militias had apparently taken no part in this new drama, appealed to his Ethiopian(and US and other Western) allies for help, claiming that the disfunctional ‘transitional federal government’ was menaced. Abdillahi Yusuf himself, a few years previously when he had been ‘President’ of Puntland (based on his own clan, the Majerteyn) had dealt vigorously with an intrusive Muslim fundamentalist group, which was driven into the sea by his forces. One of the survivors was ex-Colonel Sheikh Dahir Uways, a leader of the Shariah Courts Union, who appears to have played a major role in its decisive victory in Mogadishu.
Whatever outsiders (Ethiopian, US, European) may think of this sudden new factor in the politics of southern Somalia, the victories they have secured against the brutal secular warlords could scarcely have happened without significant public support which obviously welcomes a return to order and the social benefits that are already evident. In Somali terms, this Islamic victory can be viewed as an act of revenge by the ousted previous Arta transitional president, Abdulqasim Salad Hassan, who is an Islamist like the present court leaders. He also belongs to the Ayr lineage of the Habar Ghiddir (Hawiye) clan, whose hegemony in southern Somalia has been further extended by these recent events. Any external attacks by Ethiopia and its powerful external Western allies, ostensibly to defend the largely otiose and publicly unpopular ‘transitional federal government’ will almost certainly inflame Muslim feeling in Somalia, strengthening support for the Shariah Courts Union and creating reciprocal ripples which will spread through the Islamic Middle East, feeding into the wider Muslim/Christian polaristion which has been so aggravated by the crass activities of Western leaders like Bush and Blair.
Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, London School of Economics
22 June 2006