The question, whether “Somalia’s ‘president’ is a nationalist or agent of Western interventionists” is not an idle one. Sheikh Sharif Ahmed was installed as head of Somalia’s powerless interim government (IG) last year, and has been maintained in his dubious position since then by Western countries, their allies, theAfrican Union (AU) and the UN “to fight al-Qaeda in Africa”. He has now even travelled, very recently, to Europe to call openly for greater assistance to fight “Islamic terrorists”, and the result even exceeds his dream, as the financial and military backing for the IG has been more than doubled. Not surprisingly, manySomalis deeply distrust him and see him as an agent of anti-Islamic powers, led by the US including leading European Union (EU) members such as Britain, France and Italy.
These three are the former colonial rulers of the three Somali countries (Somalia in the south, Somalilandin the north and neighbouring Djibouti), while the US is widely perceived as a current global imperial power that is particularly virulently anti-Islam. All three also give military and financial assistance to Ethiopia andKenya to suppress the demand for independence by the inhabitants of their two huge Somali regions. Most Somalis are, therefore, distrustful of any Somali government or politicians that establish close relations with these powers, as well as with Ethiopia and Kenya — especially if they do so in order to remain in power.
Despite this, Sheikh Sharif has asked all of them for full military and financial assistance to help him defeat the Shabaab Islamic militia that controls large areas of southern and central Somalia and most ofMogadishu (the capital), while the IG controls only a small part of the latter. He and they have agreed that the IG should launch a new attack designed to expel al-Shabaab from the country. The attack will be financed by the backers, who will also provide military forces. Some of them, like the US, already have forces secretly deployed in the country, although both the US and the IG have recently admitted the presence of these forces in Somalia.
General Mohamed Gelle Kahiye, commander of the “official” forces, revealed early in March that the Americans were “helping us” with drone operations and air strikes to make the planned offensive a success. Moreover, a US official told the New York Times that special forces would be “moving in, hitting and getting out”. The US has its largest military base in Africa in neighbouring Djibouti (a former French colony) and uses its forces there, not so secretly, to launch attacks into Somalia against al-Shabaab to protect Sheikh Sharif’s powerless IG.
Even more significantly, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who met Sheikh Sharif in Kenya as long ago as August 6 last year, pledged the next day to “extend and expand” US support for Somalia’s besieged government. She also gave warning that Washington would “take action” against Eritrea if it continued to fund “Islamic extremists” in its East African neighbour. It was not strange that Hillary Clinton — who is making even stronger warnings now — had chosen to meet him in Kenya.
Not only was Sheikh Sharif “elected” Somalia’s president in Kenya early last year by a so-called “interim parliament” exiled there, but he also received strong support from Nairobi, and continues to do so. In fact Kenya has now trained 2,500 men, recruited from the refugees fleeing the violence in Somalia, to join the force now being prepared to carry out the new offensive designed to oust al-Shabaab and “restore peace” to Somalia after 20 years of civil war.
But al-Shabaab swiftly launched its own attack soon after the planned assault was announced. The attack was so fierce that at least 50 people were killed on March 10 and 11. Not surprisingly, on March 12 the mayor of Mogadishu appealed to the people to leave the city to save their lives. Clearly, Somalia is not going to get a quick or easy peace, simply because the West, the UN, the AU (African Union), and even Australia, are increasing their support for the IG and their opposition to al-Shabaab. That they all realise this became evident as Sheikh Sharif rushed to Europe to appeal for even more military and financial assistance.
In fact, on March 7 he was in London, where he was given a lavish reception by Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, and was similarly honoured by other European officials. On March 8 he published a long article in the Guardian to explain how the IG had made great progress to reshape Somalia and why, despite this, more foreign aid is needed to achieve even more.
As he put it, “this progress is evidence that Somalia is not a failed state and it is proof that something can be done”. He had to add, however, that “the extremists [i.e. al-Shabaab and its supporters and sympathisers] threaten to undo this progress, and pose danger not only to Somalia but to the wider world.” Moreover he stressed that the IG “is committed to work with the international community to combat terrorism and promote regional security”. He also boasted that “we are committed to transparency”, explaining “this is why we’ve hired PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to ensure the accountability of donor funds.” He also condemned the piracy off the Somali coast and expressed anger at the pirates who had seized a British couple, Paul and Rachel Chandler, who are still being held by their captors.
All this was designed to encourage the aid-donors and other Western supporters to provide the financial and military assistance that he had travelled to Europe to obtain. He even claimed in his article that the IG “has trained several thousand soldiers, brave men and women ready to take on and expel al-Qaeda from Somalia”. But he argued that though the British government had done much to “assist us and we are grateful”, more support from “other members of the international community” was needed.
Not surprisingly, Gordon Brown, his host, was pleased, and not only praised Sheikh Sharif but also announced that his government had decided to double its already large assistance to Somalia. Gordon Brown pledged this support on March 9, offering £5.7 million to build up a Somali security force, thereby increasing British aid to £30 million since Sheikh Sharif was installed as “president” of the IG (and little else) last year.
But another disastrous development is the “war” Sheikh Sharif’s supporters have declared on the Somalis (more than a million of them) who have been displaced by the fighting in Somalia and are staying as refugees in Europe, America and even Australia. They are being accused of being trained by al-Qaeda to return home and fight for al-Shabaab and, even more seriously, to carry out terrorist activities (on behalf of al-Qaeda and their own people) in the countries they are staying in. The intelligence agencies of these countries, particularly Britain and the US, publish reports that accuse Somali communities there of preparing terrorist projects that pose serious threats to public safety. There is little doubt that this baseless charge is being used not only to help Sheikh Sharif secure full control of Somalia but also to obtain the expulsion of Somalis who are wanted by the IG from the countries of their refuge.
However, the promised aid and the suppression of Somalis living abroad is bound to raise even greater anger at the IG and more support for those fighting it; Sheikh Sharif will be seen even more widely as a traitor, and Somalia will be enmeshed in even wider disruption. Given the fact that Somalia is beset by the historical divisions among its own people, the only development that can bring unity and peace to it is an Islamic political programme.
But the IG and its foreign supporters are determined to prevent any Islamic party or faction from taking power and ruling. Amazingly, Sheikh Sharif was one of the leaders of the Islamic Courts that controlled Somalia before their expulsion by American forces, and al-Shabaab were their protectors. Now he is cooperating with the anti-Islam foreign powers to defeat al-Shabaab, calling them and other Islamic groups terrorists. Not surprisingly, he is now seen by most Somalis as an agent of anti-Islamic powers that are determined to keep Somalia weak and inferior to neighbouring Ethiopia and Kenya. Conversely, those powers value him as an agent because of his desertion of his original allegiance and because they believe he can still pretend to be pro-Islam and fool his people.
Consequently there is little doubt that Sheikh Sharif will not succeed in bringing peace of any sort to Somalia, and that the sooner he withdraws (or is removed) from public life the better for him and his people, though not necessarily for his foreign backers, who will eventually have to try something else after all.