December 03, 2009

Somalia’s Kool-Aid Syndrome

3 Dec 2009

'Naari meel qabow ma leh' is a Somali adage that says there are no cool corners in hell, and indeed, Somalia’s hopes seem to be fading, Sadia Ali Aden comments for ISN Security Watch.

By Sadia Ali Aden for ISN Security Watch

Approximately nine months ago, the UN-sponsored peace conference in Djibouti produced the current president of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. His internationally supported unity government continues to be mired down in internal conflict; a conflict rooted in the 4.5 clan system formula.

It is a system that remains the most persistent impediment to peace, justice and equality, because it promotes, legitimizes and generously rewards the warlords (and their militias) who for nearly two decades perpetuated violence and chaos, and tarnished the credibility of the Somali people and the state.

Within this volatile mix are the president's former colleagues who feel profound contempt and a sense of betrayal towards him and his current allies; allies accused of running with the glory of having defeated Ethiopia's brutal forces, which occupied Somalia from December 2006 to January 2009 and humiliated the Somali public.

They accuse the president's camp of signing agreements without consultation and the consent of all of the Alliance for Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) stakeholders.

The Asmara-based alliance - composed of exiled parliamentarians, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) and members of the diaspora – which, while it lasted, was a beacon of hope.

The agreement, while applauded by the international community, has left other groups within the Alliance feeling alienated - especially the ICU's military wing (al-Shabaab), which played a crucial role in liberating Somalia.-and through its resilience afforded the ARS the credibility to negotiate with the world.

Sadly, the ARS has now broken up into multiple groups - Hisbul Islam, al-Shabaab and a third group led by Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, president of the current ‘unity government.’ The breakup has dashed hopes for a peaceful and truly stable Somalia, for it has multiplied the chaos.

Compounding the alienation was the Bush administration's hasty verdict that dismissed al-Shabaab -embraced by Somalis as home grown fighters resisting a brutal occupation - as a ‘terrorist’ entity; a verdict that proved to be both deadly and counterproductive for all involved.

Angry and defiant, al-Shabaab, has opted to impose a more violent, rigid rule over the devastated areas it now controls. Reportedly it has instituted the practice of cutting off the hands and the legs of starving civilians accused of thievery; a punishment which (under the circumstances) defies Islamic law.

In addition to the Koran, Muslims are taught to follow the Prophet's Sunnah and the Sunnah of the rightly guided Rashidite Caliphs (the first four caliphs to succeed Prophet Mohammed after his passing), one of whom was Umar ibn Al-Khattab. During his caliphate, Caliph Umar visited a province within the rapidly growing Muslim society wherein he found a number of individuals scheduled to have their hands cut off for stealing. Upon inquiry, he discovered their theft resulted from a prolonged famine in the land, and he ordered a commutation of their sentences. He concluded that the failure was not on their part; but rather their society and leadership had failed them.

Disillusioned also are the diaspora advocacy organizations, which launched a peaceful alliance with their brethren in Somalia during one of the most difficult periods in the country’s history. They are now caught in a dilemma, victims of the same pitfalls that faltered many before them. It is what some might call ‘the Kool-Aid syndrome’; intoxicated with the leader instead of being committed to the cause.

Meanwhile, both the number of the internally displaced persons and civilian starvation levels continue to rise, reminiscent of 1992. Violence has again increased in Mogadishu, as merciless insurgents take shelter in the epicenter of the civilian population.

The African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), with the singular mandate of protecting the government, returns fire with more sophisticated weaponry and far greater devastation - all for the sake of protecting a government that is unable to contain violence beyond a few blocks of Mogadishu; and whose leadership has failed to learn from the mistakes of its predecessor.

Adding to the complexity of the conflict are the latest reports linking the TFG to the recruitment of young boys, mostly from refugee camps surrounding Dadaab, to fight for the government against the insurgents.

Such recruitment will produce an atmosphere that will ultimately result in new groups that can be branded as ‘terrorists’ by the powers that be - just like those before them.

To keep the fading hope from dying, President Ahmed and his government must find a lasting solution to the persistent violence, never ending insurgency and imbalanced mandate of AMISOM.

After all, good leadership is not measured by empty words, endless travel and taking shelter behind heavily guarded buildings, but by the positive and sustainable initiatives implemented in the interest of a leader's nation and people.

Sadia Ali Aden is a freelance writer and an activist whose work has appeared in various publications.

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