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Somalia: America Should Tread Carefully

October 6, 2010

The following commentary is reprinted with permission from The African Executive, Nairobi. Map added by Inteltrends.

Somalia:  America Should Tread Carefully
©  Liban Ahmad
Source:  The African Executive
October 6, 2010

Somalia has confounded American policy makers several times since 2005. In 2006 the United States funded a group of warlords to set up the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism. The State Department’s former political officer for Somalia, Michael Zorick, criticised “Washington’s policy of paying Somali warlords.” The State Department policy makers had failed to read the mood of the Mogadishu people whose lives were affected by the reign of terror of former warlords. The Union of Islamic Courts defeated the warlords with help from the public. Is America repeating the same mistake under president Barrack Obama?

According to Johnnie Carson, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, the United States will engage with Puntland and Somaliland administrations to curb terrorism and extremism. “We hope to be able to have more American diplomats and aid workers going into those countries on an ad hoc basis to meet with government officials to see how we can help them improve their capacity to provide services to their people, seeing whether there are development assistance projects that we can work with them on. We think that both of these parts of Somalia have been zones of relative political and civil stability, and we think they will, in fact, be a bulwark against extremism and radicalism that might emerge from the South,” Carson said.

Puntland and Somaliland are not countries but parts of Somalia. The United States is right to be concerned about the emergence of religious extremist groups with Al Qaeda links in Somalia but to view Al Shabaab as a southern phenomenon is to misunderstand the nature of religious militias like Pan-clan Al-Shabaab. According to Carson, “The United States will reach out to groups in south-central Somalia, local governments, clans and subclans that are opposed to al-Shabaab, the radical extremist group in the South.”

In south-central Somalia three regional administrations – Galmudug, Xeeb iyo Ximan and Waax iyo Waadi – have been formed since 2006. Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama, one of Al Shabaab’s arch-enemies, operates in south-central regions but its leaders compete for influence with the new administrations. Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama members were incorporated into the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia because of their militias’ war against Al Shabaab in south-central Somalia.

In Puntland, the clan agreements that gave political and traditional leaders an opportunity to form a regional administrations in 1998 seem to have run out of their usefulness as evidenced by the emergence of Hoggaanka Badbaadada & Midnimada (HBM) of Sool, Sanaag and Cayn regions and the militias of Sheik Mohamed Saeed Atom in Eastern Sanaag and Bari regions. Puntland president, Abdirahman Farole, described Sheikh Atom as an agent of ‘international terrorism’ although Galgala issue dates back to 2007 when, as VOA reported, president Farole’s predecessor, Mohamud Musse Hersi, faced armed resistance from Sheikh Atom’s militias against “exploration rights the government gave to an Australian mining company in the mineral-rich Sanaag and western Bari regions”.

Near Bosaso port town, two Puntland-subclans have clashed over land several times this year. The clashes overwhelmed Puntland security forces already stretched by the ‘war’ with Sheikh Atom’s militias described by GalgalaNews.com as Sanaag Resources Protection Forces “Ciidamada Difaaca Khayraadka Sanaag.”

In Buhoodle district of Cayn region (formerly part of Togdheer region), Sool, Sanaag and Cayn leadership council made a base. SSC supporters no longer regard themselves as Puntlanders, and are against secession promoted by Somaliland. This is an example about the complex political minefield into which America will be stepping into if it does not tread carefully when putting its new policy into practice. Puntland administration is keen on being regarded as the sole administration in districts in the map Puntland drew up in 1998. Since Puntland is based on sub-clan agreements, customary laws cannot address contradictions and power struggles triggered by politicians and power brokers (traditional leaders).

Somaliland has called for talks with HBM – SSC leadership council but Puntland regards the group as armed militias. The United States can facilitate talks among political antagonists in North Eastern and Northwest Somalia regions. America’s policy will fail if it is seen as backing up clans or corrupted politicians.

Reconciliation and accountability ought to be the benchmarks to be used when America is engaging with Somalia’s regional administrations, clans, sub-clans and political groups. The absence of benchmarks will strengthen and embolden forces America wants to deal with head-on.

Liban Ahmad


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