That, in most cases, the UN merely goes through the motions of mediating an end to conflicts is widely known and generally resented. Consequently, the inevitable failure of most of its efforts comes as no surprise to most. Its mishandling of the conflict in Somalia – culminating in the bogus ‘peace-deal’ signed by the weak interim government and nominal insurgents on June 9 is typical. So too is the fact that the deal serves the US and Ethiopia, the US ally that removed a popular ruling Islamic movement from office in December 2006 and replaced it with the IG.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, the deal has been dismissed by most observers and commentators not only as an inadequate response to the mayhem gripping the country since the overthrow of general Siyad Barre in 1991, but also as a probable invitation to further bloodshed. This is not mere pessimism, since most Somalis see Ethiopia as their worst enemy and as a colonial ruler of its Ogaden province, which is mostly populated by Somalis long engaged in a struggle for independence. Few Somalis will support any regime propped up by the Ethiopian army.
The situation is complicated by the fact that Ethiopia – projected by its leaders and western allies as a dedicated Christian country – has now emerged as a strong supporter of the US “war on terror” in the Horn of Africa. When the US government asked the Ethiopian government to use its army to oust the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) and replace it with the IG in December 2006, the reason it gave was that the UIC was a terrorist group linked to al-Qa’ida. And to justify its continuing war on Islam in the region, the US is now claiming that its defeat of al-Qa’ida forces in Iraq has led them to regroup in Yemen and Somalia.
Many Somalis, even secular ones, dismiss these claims and consider the UIC as the only group that has brought peace to Somalia – during its brief rule in 2006 – and enjoyed the support and respect of its people. The IG, by contrast, is regarded as corrupt, ineffective and controlled by the enemies of Somalia and Islam. Moreover, since the IG is led by the former clan-based warlords who fought for power after the overthrow of Siyad Barre in 1991, it and its foreign protectors are widely believed to be the real terrorists.
This reputation of the IG and its foreign allies explains why the UN has presented the deal signed in Djibouti on June 9 as being reached by ‘moderate Islamists’ and the IG, with no role having been played by anti-Islamic politicians or groups. The New York Times reported two days later that “moderate Islamist leaders, under the banner of the Alliance for Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARLS) have agreed to a ceasefire in return for the departure of Ethiopian troops from the country though it is not clear when that would be.”
The report described the deal as having two major faults. The first is that it promises the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops “once UN troops arrive”, and the second relates to the fact that “[only] one splinter faction of the Islamist movement” has signed, while reputable Islamic leaders – such as Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, the UIC leader, and the heads of the Shahab force – have not. The report, which characterises the Shahab as “a separate group responsible for a lot of the fighting”, has no doubt that the violence will continue and that the UN will not be able to send in peacekeeping forces, despite its promise. “With an enormous UN peacekeeping mission to Darfur, Sudan, struggling to get off the ground and the legacy of the failed peacekeeping mission to Somalia in the 1990s looming, it is unlikely that the blue helmets will be arriving in Mogadishu soon,” it said.
That the UIC will continue to oppose the IG and its protectors was made very clear when Sheikh Aweys said that “the so-called deal is rubbish and inconsequential and will not in any way result in peace.”
But even more embarrassing to the UN, which arranged for the dubious deal to be signed, Sheikh Yusuf Siad, who is responsible for running the defence and security affairs of the ARLS, declared his opposition to the deal and said that those who signed it on behalf of the alliance represented only themselves. He then promised to “continue the jihad against the invading Ethiopian army” and described the deal as “an international conspiracy woven against the Somali people”.
That the UN is deeply involved in this “international conspiracy” was demonstrated beyond doubt when Ahmed Wald Abdullahi, the UN special representative to Somalia, stressed the importance of the international community’s support for the deal, and called on said community to enable the Somali people to implement the deal and end the violence gripping their country. His statement – widely published when he was accompanying the UN secretary general during his visit to Saudi Arabia – is contradicted by media reports on the increasing violence in Somalia. There is little doubt that peace in Somalia can be restored if the invaders left and the UIC is allowed to return to its former dominance. But apparently for the foreseeable future that must remain a dream. Peace is not, after all, really a high priority of the US and its allies, only a low one. Their real interests and concerns definitely lie elsewhere.