It’s been a bad year for Somalians. After a botched assault on the capital Mogadishu by a U.S. and Ethiopian backed coalition of “counter-terrorist” militias, the Islamic Courts rapidly rose in stature, riding on a wave of credibility stemming from their military victories against foreign backed forces. As towns on the Somalian coast were either coerced into joining the Courts, or – which was more common – chose to ally with the rising power, fears of an “Islamist” state were voiced more and more among foreign analysts. Ethiopian troops entered the country in June and have never left, leaving the Transitional Government based in Baidoa, isolated from the Somali people, bereft of credibility and utterly powerless.
Along with the Ethiopians, reports surfaced of plans for covert operations against the Courts run by U.S. based companies Select Armor and ATS Tactical, with Ugandan assistance. E-mails were uncovered which warned against generating “another Den Bien Phu” while the “fucks in the UN” had to be manipulated into lifting the long standing arms embargo on Somalia, if military intervention could succeed.
As the year wore on, the Islamic Courts showed no sign of losing popularity and, spurred on by lurid allegations of foreign assistance for the Islamist forces and claims that the Courts were harboring “al-Qaeda” elements, the UN lifted the arms embargo to allow for a “peace-keeping” force to deploy. All this while, Ethiopian forces continued to spill into Somalia, and the U.S. remained silent, save for veiled threats against the Courts’ leadership.
As we roll on into the festive season, things are looking bleak in Somalia. The Islamic Courts are now fighting the Ethiopians and the TG forces (or at least what is left of them after constant defections to the Courts’ forces). Reports suggest that in the past few days, hundreds of soldiers on both sides have been killed. Ethiopia has initiated air raids against “recruiting centres,” a term that has often served as a euphemism for civilian targets, while the press continues to miss every salient point about the conflict.
As the New York Times reports, the conventional view is that this is a “regional conflict” – a claim which has been boosted by a UN report from early December that linked the Courts’ fighters to Eritrean, Yemeni and even Hezbollah assistance (and devoted commparably little time to dissecting the Ethiopian presence in the country). Ertitrea has consistently denied allegations of interference and the charge that there are “several thousand soldiers from Eritrea” within the Courts’ ranks – as reported by the Times’ Jeffrey Gettleman on 24 December – has not been backed up by evidence as yet.
What is reported in detail are the justifications given by the Ethiopian government for their aggressive action against the Courts. As Gettleman reported:
“What did you expect us to do?” said Zemedkun Tekle, a spokesman for Ethiopia’s information ministry. “Wait for them to attack our cities?” Mr. Zemedkun said his country had initiated “counter-attack measures in the interests of protecting our sovereignty and stability.”
Although the Courts leaders have used anti-Ethiopian rhetoric to mobilize support and appealed to the national spirit of 1977 (when Somalia and Ethiopia fought over disputed territory in Ethiopia) – Tekle would have a hard time proving that the Islamist forces pose a serious threat to Ethiopian sovereignty. Indeed, Ethiopia has shown that it has so much sovereignty that it can invade a neighboring country, in breach of a UN arms embargo. The government of Meles Zenawi has also shown a willingness to crush democratic opponents and crack down on ethnic minorities. There seems no shortage of Ethiopian sovereignty.
That is not the issue. The issue in Somalia is partly “anti-terrorism”, within the simplified framework publicized by the Bush administration. However, the U.S. has a fabulous alliance with Islamist Saudi Arabia, and works with some notably intolerant people in Iraq who proclaim a religious faith. The terrorism of the Islamic Courts is a different kind, however. There is no indication that the Courts will act as the Transitional Government has done thus far in doling out contracts to American firms, while strategically – which may in the end be crucial – the East coast of Africa is an imperial goal. The long coast past which oil tankers, cruise ships, containers and naval convoys pass cannot be left to a sovereign nation.
It passes unnoticed in the current coverage, but the Transitional Government signed off on a remarkable contract earlier this year which would grant the Virginia based company Top Cat Marine the power to patrol the Somali coast and run Somali ports. It also signed off on a contract to provide e-government solutions to a Dubai based company, which then sold that on to a Malaysian firm, Iris. At the same time, in Puntland – which is the stomping ground of the TG President Abdullahi Yusuf – junior oil companies and miners have been prospecting for resources while the Courts themselves have shown a tendency to place such exploration below matters like social stability and planting trees to prevent erosion – something which has cost hundreds of lives this year after catastrophic flooding.
What has happened is that either consciously or not, the UN has handed the military impetus to whatever private military contractors are working with the Ugandan and Ethiopian militaries to reinsert the TG and crush the Islamic Courts. The U.S. government seems to have been aware of this endgame from the beginning, when the counter-terrorism coalition failed so dismally to achieve what a multinational invasion now seeks.
On December 23, Condolleezza Rice met the Ugandan foreign minister, Sam Kutesa in Washington and, as AllAfrica reported, “urged Uganda to play a key part in the East African peacekeeping operations supposed to intervene in Somalia to protect the beleaguered government based in the southern town of Baidoa.” It was the Ugandan government which Select Armor and ATS were lobbying to involve themselves in Somalia, and while the Ugandans hesitated to send troops in early December, it looks like Rice offered sufficient enticement to the government there in her face to face meeting this weekend.
As Christmas approached, and people sang about “peace on earth” – what the U.S. Secretary of State was completing was a game-plan designed to force military conflict in a far off land. Her gifts to the people of Somalia are Ethiopian bombs and Ugandan bullets, with the sinister shadow of private military operators behind the scenes.