Somalia war returns to the limelight

Long forgotten by the world, the crisis in Somalia is back in the limelight as Somali pirates hijack dozens of ships, thereby threatening shipping routes in the Indian Ocean.

Meanwhile, Islamic insurgents have intensified attacks against a US backed government and now control Somalia’s port city of Kismayu. It is feared that renewed fighting will disrupt food supplies to millions of Somalis currently living in camps and ravaged by drought and flooding disasters.

Incidentally, most of the pirate gangs are based in the region of Puntland, controlled by militiamen loyal to Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf. Recently, though, pirate activities have spread to the south of the country as violence rages.

Problems in Somalia worsened in December 2006, when the United States decided to overthrow the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC). By mid 2006, the UIC had succeeded in creating a functional government in Somalia for the first time since clan warfare wrecked the country in 1991.

During the short-lived reign of the UIC, piracy in the Indian Ocean almost ceased but with its overthrow, piracy has grown faster than before.

The United States fears that the UIC will create an Islamic caliphate in East Africa. Ethiopia, which is battling a Somali insurgency in its Ogden province, supported the US and sent troops into Somalia. Kenya, which also has a Somali minority, closed its border and arrested dozens of UIC fighters. US and Ethiopian airstrikes destroyed the Islamic Courts militia, forcing the movement underground and its leaders into exile.

This year, the Islamic Al-Shabaab youth group has intensified attacks against President Yusuf and the Ethiopian Army resulting in heavy losses on all sides. A few Ugandan soldiers in the African Union peacekeeping force have died in the fighting. In August, Al-Shabaab recaptured the southern city of Kismayu. Last Tuesday, Al-Shabaab threatened to shoot down any aircraft landing or taking off from Mogadishu Airport. Private airline operators kept off, further undermining the US backed government.

Between 1960 and the 1980s, Somalia was a theatre for proxy wars between the United States and the Soviet Union. Indeed, the Somali president at the time, General Mohamed Siad Barre, shifted loyalties between the two powers several times. Somalia is attractive to world powers because of its strategic location at the mouth of the Red Sea.

General Barre exploited rivalries between Somali clans to stay in power. By 1990, the countryside was plunged into lawlessness by clan fighting and defections from the Somali Army. General Barre was scorned as, ” the Mayor of Mogadishu.” In 1991, Mogadishu was no longer safe and Barre fled into exile. He died in Nigeria a few years later.

A United Nations intervention ended in 1993 after the UN and the United States got entangled in the complexities of Somali clan politics. Several UN and US soldiers were killed during the intervention. Meanwhile, warlords fought for control of highways, towns, plantations, airports and sea ports.

In 2004, the Somali Transitional government was formed in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. The transitional government was doomed to fail as it was composed of warlords. President Yusuf himself was a warlord in the self-declared Republic of Puntland, where Somali piracy is centred. Infighting among the warlords prevented the Transitional government from settling in Mogadishu.

Somali warlords are believed be sponsored by multinational companies, regional and international powers eager to influence events in Somalia. The biggest culprits are the Arab world, Libya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and the United States.

Amidst the vacuum, Somali Muslim clerics united under the Union of Islamic Courts. They begin setting up administrative, judicial and security structures in Mogadishu. By 2006, the UIC controlled most of Somalia, except President Yusuf’s Puntland and the northern breakaway region of Somaliland.

For the first time in 15 years, the Somali people had a real chance of peace under a stable government with popular legitimacy. Unfortunately, the US war on terror crushed those hopes. The US accused the Islamic Courts government of sheltering terror suspects, and of having an expansionist agenda. Since the overthrow of the Islamic Courts, fighting in Somalia assumed a fresh intensity never seen since 1991.

As long as the Somali crisis was confined to the people of Somalia, the world could continue with business as usual. With Somalis now attacking ships and capturing hundreds of sailors from across the world, this may be the time to talk with the Union of Islamic Courts.

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Moi lacks moral authority on ethnic clashes

According to the Daily Nation, former Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi has asked Rift Valley residents who attacked and killed their neighbours during post election violence to apologize.

Daniel arap Moi. Picture by CNN.

Daniel arap Moi. Picture by CNN.

Moi said an apology would lead to true reconciliation between them and the neighbours whose property they destroyed in the violence that followed disputed elections in December 2007. The violence left close to 1,000 people dead and half a million homeless.

However, the former president conveniently forgets that ethnic clashes in Kenya were institutionalized during his tenure of office. Government documents, such as the Akiwumu Inquiry on tribal clashes reveal deep involvement by Moi’s allies in fanning the fires of hatred.

The return to multi party politics prior to the 1992 General Elections created ethnic tension in the country, setting the stage for the chaos of 2008. The genesis of modern ethnic clashes in Kenya lies in the Rift Valley province, home to Moi’s Kalenjin ethnic group.

Kenya has eight provinces. According to electoral law, a winning presidential candidate must get at least 25% of votes in not less than five provinces in addition to a simple majority of national votes. As campaigns for the 1992 elections gained momentum, it was obvious that Kenneth Matiba would get a majority of votes in Central, Nairobi and possibly, Eastern Provinces. Jaramogi Oginga Odinga had a chance of getting at least 25% in his native Nyanza, in Western and Nairobi.

Matiba, a Kikuyu, also had strong possibilities of getting 25% in the Rift Valley thanks to the significant Kikuyu settler population. Moi, fearing that he could lose the presidency, began a campaign of ethnic cleansing in the Rift Valley to ensure that he won the province. Huge chunks of the Rift Valley were declared KANU zones, in reference to Moi’s political party. Moi and his cronies went back to parliament unopposed.

Ethnic wars in 1992 pitted the Kalenjin – Moi’s tribe – with almost all settler communities in the Rift Valley. It was not only the Kikuyu who were affected but large numbers of Luo, Luhya, Kamba and Kisii. Non-Kalenjin tribes in the Rift Valley were refered to as, “madoa doa,” meaning, “specks of dirt.” The Rift Valley is also home to the Pokot and Maasai tribes whose politicians were drawn into the Moi alliance, called KAMATUSA. Consequently, Kikuyu, Luo and Luhya settlers were evicted from Pokot and Maasai areas especially around Narok, Enoosupukia and Kapenguria.

The pro-Moi ethnic alliance began calling for Majimbo, a form of federalism. According to such personalities as the late Kipkalya Kones, late Shariff Nassir, William Ntimama and late Paul Chepkok, a federal system of government would ensure that each ethnic group governed itself and had monopoly over jobs, land and commerce within its enclave.

The comments were targetted at the Kikuyu, who have emigrated and settled across the country mostly for economic reasons. Since Kikuyu settlers had a relatively higher standard of living due to commercial activities, the calls for ethnic federalism proved quite popular in the Rift Valley and Coast province.

With the Luo tribe facing persecution due to its oppositionist leanings, both Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and his son, Raila Odinga, condemned Moi’s tactics. 30 years earlier, it was Jaramogi and founding president, Jomo Kenyatta, who had turned Kenya into a unitary republic after rejecting Majimbo federalism.

As a result of the ethnic chaos, Moi won the 1992 elections with 36% of the vote.

Five years later, there were politically motivated ethnic clashes prior to and after the 1997 General Elections. This time, the flash points were not only the Rift Valley, but also the Coast. In Mombasa, Sharif Nassir, a Moi ally, led KANU campaigns in the city.

Mombasa was founded by Arab traders almost a thousand years ago. The population of Mombasa and the Coastal strip consists of the Swahili, who are of mixed Arab and African ancestry. There is also the Mijikenda tribe as well as Hindus, Persians and Europeans. The building of the railway and the expansion of the Mombasa port in the 20th century attracted large numbers of workers from the interior of Kenya. The workers came mostly from the Luo, Kikuyu, Luhya, Kamba and Taita tribes. In the 1980s, a booming tourism industry attracted greater numbers of migrant workers in search of jobs and business opportunities.

During the 1997 campaigns, Nassir and KANU were worried that migrant workers would not vote for Moi. A campaign for Majimbo federalism was began, with Nassir claiming that migrant workers were taking up jobs at the coast meant for local people. Migrant communities were blamed for crime, prostitution and drug trafficking. As it turns out, the local Mijikenda tribe found these messages very appealing and gave their support to KANU. Then came terror.

In August 1997, a group consisting of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of raiders attacked the Likoni Police Station, just across the bay from Mombasa Port. Police officers were killed, prisoners released and firearms looted. Within the Likoni area, large numbers of Luo and Kikuyu were attacked and forced into trains heading for their ancestral homes. It was rumored at the time that the vanguard of the raiding unit consisted of Interahamwe militia, straight out of the Rwanda genocide. Other rumors indicated that the raiders were led by foreign-trained elite forces loyal to Moi.

Evidence was produced in the Akiwumi Commission of Inquiry implicating senior politicians in the Moi government and KANU party. An Asian farmer in Kwale District alleged that prior to the Likoni violence, his land was used to oath local youths but his reports to the police were ignored.

With Moi declared as winner of the 1997 elections, Mwai Kibaki, who came second, went to court to petition the results. Kibaki claimed that there had been electoral malpractices that gave Moi an unfair advantage over his opponents. Moi’s allies in the Rift Valley were outraged by what they saw as Kibaki’s challenge and a fresh round of ethnic clashes began. Kikuyu settlers in Laikipia District were especially affected by incidences of raiders burning homes and looting livestock.

From this overwhelming evidence, it is clear that Moi should be the first person to apologize as far as ethnic clashes are concerned. Otherwise, his calls for Rift Valley people to apologize can only be considered hypocritical at worst and cynical at best.