It was widely expected that the reconciliation-congress chaired by the ineffectual transitional government, headed by the former warlord and nominal president Abdullahi Yusuf, would fail almost as soon as it began on July 15.
What was not expected was China’s decision to secure a contract with the nominal head. Not only is there no chance to find and extract oil, because of the endemic unrest all over the country, but China’s expected involvement in the federal government’s schemes is bound to contribute to the violence. And even if peace is eventually secured, the validity of the oil-exploration contracts is bound to be challenged both legally and politically.
But, as the immediate failure of the reconciliation-congress showed, the restoration of peace and security is bound to take a long time. The plan – backed by the United Nations and the West – was to invite 1,325 elders from Somalia’s many clans and subclans and have them meet for at least 45 days “to discuss clan differences, disarmament and radical Islam”. But only a thousand delegates turned up to attend the conference on July 15 to the noise of bombs exploding near the venue of the meeting. The conference organiser, Mohammed Ali Mahdi, a former warlord, told the gatherers: “I urge you to rise above your respective clan and subclan in order to bring normality to our country”. But he was then forced to add that he would adjourn the meeting immediately for four days because he wanted more delegates to attend. He avoided referring to the explosions, which had resulted in several deaths.
However, Mahdi knew, even as he spoke, that enough clan heads would not attend the next session, as only those approved by the transitional federal government (TFG) would be admitted. As the Somali ambassador to Kenya told the BBC World Service on the opening day of the conference, those wishing to attend would be allowed to do so, but only if they made their request through their own clan. But Yusuf Hassan Ibrahim, said to be linked to the Union of Islamic Courts, told the same programme that there is no clan-conflict in Somalia though there are real political problems that a conference of clan-leaders cannot solve. How can it when even the clans of the capital, Mogadishu, are not attending, he asked. Mahdi then went straight to the real point, saying that the organisers made the mistake of inviting a foreign army (the Ethiopian military) to protect the conference. The occupation of Somalia by an Ethiopian army is a recognised threat to peace in Somalia.
In fact, the only peace Somalia has known since 1991, when Siyad Barre was overthrown, vanished last December when the Ethiopian army invaded, removed the Islamic Courts and reinstated the TFG in its place. The Islamic Courts had earned the respect and support of Somalia’s people and ruled most parts of the country for several months – reinstating peace and tranquillity – while the TFG was confined to a tiny area near Baidoa town. But the US and Ethiopian leaders, who pride themselves on being Christians, could not brook the prospect ofSomalia being ruled by an Islamic movement, and the invasion was launched.
Not surprisingly, the violence returned with a vengeance even to Mogadishu, the seat of the TFG. On July 23 the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said that 10,000 people had fled the city in the previous week alone, and that “the exodus sparked by fighting continues”. Even those who had returned recently were heading out again, it added. According to the UNHCR, fighting in March and April (only two months after the restoration of the TFG) forced about a fifth of Mogadishu’s 2 million residents to flee for safely; of these only about 125,000 have returned.
But even when a UN agency issues such a bleak report, that world body still backs UN and Ethiopian efforts to hold a false reconciliation conference designed to earn support for the corrupt and un-Islamic TFG and prevent the Islamic Courts from returning to power. The UN is also silent about the brutal suppression of Somalis in the neighbouring Ogaden region ofEthiopia by Addis Ababa – mainly because the US backs the mayhem against its population, who are predominantly Muslim. The region’s rebels – the Ogaden National Front – are seeking more autonomy for their homeland. Even Western diplomats and relief officials have said that Ethiopia’s government is blockading emergency food-aid and choking off trade with the region. In fact, prime minister Meles Zenawi has even expelled the Red Cross from the Ogaden, yet there has been virtually no response from the international community.
The US government in fact backs and finances the suppression of the people of the Ogaden. But when Zenawi recently declared war on the Christian opponents of his regime in Addis Ababa and influenced local courts to sentence 35 of them to life-imprisonment, the international community protested and the US intervened to have the sentences withdrawn and the convicts set free. If these convicted defendants had been Muslims, of course, neither the US nor anyone else would have bothered. This leads to the not so unreasonable conclusion that Muslims in the Horn of Africa (as, indeed, elsewhere) are expendable.
In fact, Washington pays a substantial annual sum of aid to both Ethiopia and Kenya for their support of its ‘war on terrorism’ in the Horn. The UIC in Somalia is labelled by all three as a terrorist organisation and is, therefore, targeted as such; so is the Ogaden National Front. The Somali people in the region have now the added problem of facing the prospect of Chinajoining those three in their war on Islam. China, which is well known for the ruthless suppression of its own Muslims, will gladly join them.
But Beijing’s main thrust will be against the Islamic Courts to extend the TFG’s rule to those regions where Chinese companies have obtained the right to look for oil under the contract offered by ‘president’ Abdullahi Yusuf, who has already visited China and is a friend of Beijing’s. As Somalis will not accept the TFG, this means a prospect of extended violence and bloodshed.