Somalia Islamist government best hope against piracy

The big news coming from Somalia these days is the increasing number of naval forces meant to combat piracy at the Somali coast.

On Boxing Day, China sent three navy ships to join the United States, Britain, Russia, India, Malaysia, French and other forces. However, this will not solve piracy until the situation on mainland Somalia gets better. Unfortunately, the world is still in denial as far as the influence of Somali Islamists is concerned.

Regardless of their often brutal methods, Somali Islamists are currently the only force capable of restoring stability in Somalia and ending the piracy menace. Instead of spending billions of dollars on ineffective naval patrols, the international community should simply accept the forthcoming Islamic led leadership.

Just a few weeks ago, Somali pirates hijacked a Saudi super tanker thousands of miles away from the international naval armada. Once a ship is in the hands of pirates, there’s little that a navy can do without risking the lives of the captured crew. That again goes to prove that stability in Somalia is the best safeguard against piracy.

The international community still has incredible faith in the Somali Transitional Government even though it only controls the central town of Baidoa and parts of the capital. With Ethiopian soldiers expected to depart in coming days, the demise of the unpopular Transitional government is sealed.

While Islamist fighters sweep up the remnants of Somali government forces from the countryside, President Abdullahi Yusuf got into a fight with Parliament that led to his resignation. It is amazing that a government can fight itself even as its main backers are leaving. In any case, more than half of legislators and the Cabinet are permanent residents of neighbouring countries.

Ethiopian soldiers invaded Somalia in December 2006 for the same reasons they are leaving today: the Islamist movement had over-run the Transitional Government. The West and neighbouring governments such as Ethiopia and Kenya, are paranoid about Islamic movements. Military operations were supposedly meant to support President Yusuf but in reality, they were intended to vanquish the Islamists.

Ethiopian soldiers and US airstrikes overwhelmed Islamic fighters with sheer firepower. Kenya closed its borders to prevent escaping fighters – even refugees were stopped at the border. The final showdown in the 2006 war took place at Ras Kamboni, a coastal jungle on the borders of Kenya and Somalia. Fire from American AC-130 gunships devastated entire villages and few survived. Not even chicken were spared.

Drawing on Somali nationalism, the Islamists began an Iraq style insurgency in 2007. Ethiopia is widely resented by Somalis and the intervention, coupled with US airstrikes, was viewed as an occupation of Muslim land. Many in Somalia believe that Yusuf gets his orders from Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi – another object of intense hatred in Somalia.

The militant Al-Shabab youth group took up the fight on behalf of the Islamists. What began as a low-level campaign of random explosions grew into a full scale war by mid 2008. It is said that fighting in Somalia in 2008 was the worst since the fall of the last Somali government in 1991. Large areas of the capital city, Mogadishu, were deserted by fleeing residents.

With a divided Transitional government, Ethiopia realized that the war is good as lost, hence its decision to leave.

Meanwhile, in a move that replicates previous mistakes, the African Union has called for African peace keeping forces to prevent the fall of the Transitional government. Few African countries have volunteered and only Uganda and Burundi heeded the previous call for troops. The AU peace-keepers are currently confined to the Mogadishu airport, which regularly comes under attack from the Al-Shabab.

The Islamists have always been against piracy, which they describe as unIslamic. During their 6 month administration back in 2006, piracy ceased when they raided pirate dens.

This might be the best opportunity to reduce piracy’s threat to international commerce by engaging in meaningful talks with the Islamists. After close to 20 years of chaos, an Islamic government in Somalia is better than no government at all.

Somalia needs 3 State solution

By Scott A Morgan

The concern that has been shown by various governments including the United States regarding piracy in the Gulf of Aden has merit. But such as in similar crisis situations, it seems that the West and other maritime interests would rather address a symptom of the problem instead of the root cause.

There has not been a functioning government in Somalia since the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in 1991. Needless to say that there is no way to address social and financial problems that the struggling fishermen have. The breakdown in law and order in the country has created a situation where piracy has become a viable means to support families and communities.

So why have the Western and other powers suddenly become galvanized to take action in this situation? Well the numbers just happen to speak for themselves. In this calendar year, over 90 vessels have been seized in the Gulf of Aden. The payment of subsequent ransoms to free the hostages has netted the pirates an estimated US$150 million so far this year. So, several nations have deployed warships in an attempt to interdict this trade.

We have heard that this is an attempt to solve the piracy issue but what about the root cause? There have been several recent reports that indicate that the Transitional National Government (TNG) is on the verge of collapse. Its influence has been degraded to the point that it only maintains power in Mogadishu and Baidoa. If the TFG collapses as many expect, what will be the next course of action?

In early 2009, the breakaway region of Somaliland will hold elections for President and Parliament. This region has had a massive PR campaign to show that it is a stable part of Somalia. The region of Puntland has been aggressively targeting the pirates as well. The Islamists are in control of Southern Somalia meaning the old state of Somalia may not return at all.

If there is a solution that unites the perpetually clan-driven politics of Somalia into a central government, this would be welcome. But it appears that the two year long effort to have the TNG restore a legitimate government to Somalia is failing and could collapse in the near future. It is possible that if the TNG falls then the incidents of piracy could actually increase both in numbers and in the specific search of targets.

Whether or not the TNG fails may not be a bad option. Having three regional governments (Somaliland, Puntland and the Islamist South) with strong central powers and appropriate international backing and/or aid may be something that has to be considered. This could be the impetus for some form of intervention.

Failure to address the problem now could spread it to neighboring states such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Eritrea and Yemen. This will not be a problem that could be easily solved by throwing money at it. Instead, it requires some nation building but on a scale that is yet to be determined.

It appears that the easy answer is to have naval patrols in the Gulf of Aden. But when will the real issue be addressed?

West to blame for Somali piracy

The escalation in piracy attacks by Somali gangs is a consequence of poor judgement exercised by Western powers in replacing an Islamist government with warlords who have no interest in peace.

Unfortunately, the Kenya Navy is missing in action if recent events are any indicator.

The decision to destroy the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) in 2006 was backed by the East African nations of Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda. Ethiopia sent its own army to occupy Central Somalia and the capital, Mogadishu.

With the port of Mombasa under threat from Somali pirates, Kenya must be regretting its decision. Then again, the fear of Islam could blind the Kenyan authorities to the realities of Somalia.

By mid 2006, the UIC had won control of central and southern Somalia from clan warlords. A great chunk of Somali territory came under the UIC after joint consultations with respective clan elders. After 16 years of lawlessness, Somalis were finally ready for peace.

After taking over Mogadishu, the UIC began consolidating a home-grown administration. Courts were formed to administer justice and arbitrate between the people. Police forces were set up, checkpoints were abolished altogether. The prices of consumer goods dropped drastically because it was no longer necessary for businessmen to bribe bandits who used to place road blocks at every street corner.

More relevant to this story, the UIC completely stopped sea piracy during its short tenure of office. Piracy in Somalia is controlled by criminal gangs with some affiliation to ethnic militia. These are exactly the kind of groups UIC wanted to stop in order to bring lasting peace to Somali people.

With the end of lawlessness in Somalia, a mini-boom emerged. People returned to long-abandoned suburbs of Mogadishu. Business people living in exile in the Middle East began returning to Somalia. Aid shipments, which had stopped because of rampant piracy perpetrated by warlords, resumed. Rehabilitation works began at the ports of Mogadishu and Kismayu.

Alas, the fear of Islam in the region began taking hold. Kenyans are known to be skeptics but when it comes to Islam, it’s easy to believe anything thrown their way. Kenyans were told that the UIC wanted to conquer the whole East African and create an Islamic Caliphate, where everyone would be forcefully converted to Islam.

The propaganda machine was incredible considering that the UIC did not even manage to control the whole of Somalia. The northern regions of Puntland and Somaliland were still outside the UIC.

UIC, perhaps, made a mistake by getting involved in the Eritrea-Ethiopia conflict. By accepting weapons from Eritrea, the UIC drew the wrath of Ethiopia. It was not long before the Ethiopian Army drove into Somalia in December 2006, with the assistance of US intelligence and AC-130 cannon fire.

Needless to say, chaos engulfed Somalia from January 2007. The UIC top command fled to Eritrea as rank and file were annihilated from the air, the ground and the sea. Kenya blocked its borders to fleeing refugees, as suspected UIC fighters were arrested at Ras Kamboni. Many of the detainees were sent to Ethiopia.

The Transitional Federal Government took its time moving into Mogadishu. President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed has always preferred living in Nairobi. The irony of Somali’s Transitional Government is that its President is himself a warlord who declared Puntland a separate state. Inspite of leading the transitional government, the ailing President and his allies have not allowed the transitional government to exercise authority over Puntland.

Now, the interesting part is that most of Somali piracy is centered in Puntland. The region controlled by militia loyal to the Somali president is the same region where pirates are running amok! Is this a coincidence? It is very difficult to understand why the international community does not see the link between piracy in Somalia and the impotence of the transitional government. The Transitional Government is nothing more than a collection of ethnic warlords that have brought Somalia into global notoriety as a failed state. Why anyone expected the same people to unite and bring peace to suffering Somalis remains a mystery.

Now, the chickens have come home to roost for the Western world. Ships are getting attacked almost daily inspite of an armada of naval vessels in the Indian Ocean. Top Western naval commanders have publicly stated that there’s nothing much they can do about piracy without infringing on Somali’s sovereignty.

Kenya is also paying the price for its sins. The latest pirate hijacking took place not far from the port of Mombasa. Unless peace is restored to Somalia, there’s increasing likelihood that Kenya’s coast could be overrun by Somali pirates. Shipping activity to the entire East and Central African region will be paralyzed. Unfortunately, the Kenya Navy is missing in action if recent events are any indicator.

The next best option is to accept the reality of Islamic-led government in Somalia. An Islamic government cannot be a threat to the region because the problems in Somalia require hundreds of years to solve. They will need to rebuild roads, schools, power supply, water systems, judiciary, parliament and the rest of the institutions associated with governance. An Islamic government in Somalia will have neither the time nor resources to create the so-called Caliphate of Horn of Africa.

The Islamists have proved through practical action that they can eradicate piracy, smuggling and drugs trade in Somalia if given the chance. Well, the imposition of Sharia law certainly sends shivers across the Western world but a country that has been in chaos for 17 years needs a radical solution. Western style democracy cannot work in Somalia under the present circumstances of explosions, kidnappings and clan warfare. It’s better to have a strict government than no government at all.

One Somali migrant to Yemen was asked why his people risked crossing the Gulf of Aden only to land in the Middle East’s poorest country. The migrant answered that it is better to live in a poor country with peace than a rich country in chaos.

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