The Islamists, using religion as a bridge,
did a better job than any authority to unite warring clans,
but their military was no match for better trained and equipped troops.
Now that the Islamists are gone,
many fear a return to clan mayhem.
SOMALIA HORN OF ANARCHY
The big man in Somalia now is the transitional government's defence minister
and a former warlord, whose strong jaw, natty goatee and bald head
lend him an uncanny resemblance to Lenin.
Many people have asked him to reach out to the Islamists,
but he does not want to.
For the first time since its disastrous "Black Hawk down" intervention in 1993
the US is shooting to kill in Somalia
by Jeffrey Gettleman, Sydney Morning Herald, Jan 13, 2007
Every Friday morning in Kismayo, a seaside town on the Horn of Africa, the future of Somalia plays football on a bone-littered beach. Boys dribble around animal carcasses and oil drums that have been dumped near the shore. Ships covered with rust lean into the sand. The palms sway, the seagulls squawk and a few girls in veils hang back, watching the action. "This is all we know," says Mahmoud Abu Gur, 19, pointing to a dozen haphazard football games. "This."
The road ahead for Somalia begins in places like Kismayo: dusty, chaotic, forlorn wrecks of cities where the list of dire needs such as food, water, shelter, a fire department, law, order - and hope - is so overwhelming people just shake their heads and smile when asked where they would begin.
In just two weeks, the Somali political world has been turned upside down, bringing ambitious governance and reconstruction issues into focus for the first time in 16 years. The Islamist forces that ruled much of the country for the past six months are out. The transitional federal government, which had been considered totally feckless by those both at home and abroad, is in.
The surprising reversal is because of thousands of Ethiopian troops still in Somalia who routed the Islamists after Ethiopian officials declared the growing movement a regional threat. Kismayo is an old Arab port town of 700,000 people, Somalia's third most populous city, after Mogadishu, the capital, and Hargeisa, in the north. But town elders in all three places are struggling with the same questions: how to provide security; what to do with the remaining Islamists; how to determine the proper role for religion, which is an important theme in Somali society; and how to unify rival clans, rebuild infrastructure and live with the Ethiopians. Many Somalis say they are starting at less than zero. "After nearly two decades of anarchy, people just don't want to be ruled," says Abdi Artan Adan, a retired diplomat in Kismayo.
Ever since Somalia's central government collapsed in 1991, the country has been notorious for the staggering levels of firepower on the streets. The new government made disarmament its first step, but despite meetings, pleas, deadlines and threats, officials have collected few weapons. In Mogadishu, hundreds of people rioted at the prospect of house-to-house searches and the local government indefinitely postponed the issue. That led Jendayi Frazer, the United States assistant secretary of state for Africa, to cancel a planned trip to Mogadishu. She would have been the highest-ranking US official to set foot in Mogadishu since US troops left the country in 1994 after a troubled aid mission. But American officials said the security situation was too unstable.
In Kismayo, no weapons have been turned in. Many elders agreed that everyone would be better off once all guns were gone, but no one seems to want to volunteer theirs first. "It's a custom for Somalis to attack someone who doesn't have weapons," says Sultan Abdi Rashid Dure, a leader of the Galjel subclan. "When I was young, we used knives." With long, wrinkled fingers, Dure, 56, traces the web between disarmament, clans, revenge and anarchy. "During these years, every clan killed," he says. "A lot. Now there are so many feuds, so many scores to settle. We are all afraid that if we give up our weapons, other clans will take their revenge."
The Islamists, using religion as a bridge, did a better job than any authority to unite warring clans, but their military was no match for the better trained and equipped Ethiopian-led troops. Now that the Islamists are gone, many fear a return to clan mayhem.
Somalia has always been a political paradox. It is one of the most homogenous countries in Africa, with one language, Somali, and one religion, Sunni Islam, but at the same time is one of the most violently divided. Clan allegiances are what count. Dahir Ali Barre, the leader of a small Kismayo political organisation, says when he was a teenager in Mogadishu in the early 1970s, he did not know which clan he belonged to. It was not until 1974, when he was shipped off to a village in Somalia's barren interior as part of a national effort to foster cross-clan understanding, that Barre learnt he was a Marehan. But when he returned to Kismayo in the mid-1990s after some years in the capital, the first thing he did was seek out the Marehan neighbourhood, for protection. "After all those years of sophisticated culture we've basically gone back to the bush," he says.
The transitional government has theoretically addressed the clan issue by its so-called 4.5 formula, which allots equal representation to the four major clans and a smaller percentage for all the minor clans. The government was set up in 2004 with help from the United Nations and is supposed to rule until the next elections, proposed for 2009. And already it seems that clan militia leaders are well positioned. The big man in Kismayo is Barre Aadan Shire, the transitional government's defence minister and a former warlord, whose strong jaw, natty goatee and bald head lend him an uncanny resemblance to Lenin. He says many people in Kismayo have asked him to reach out to the Islamists, but he does not want to. The last of the Islamist fighters have retreated to the Kenyan border, about 250 kilometres away. "If we were going to compromise, why go to war?" Shire says and while he gives the Islamists credit for bringing a degree of order he feels they pushed religion too far.
Yet the country's permanent government will not be entirely secular and Somalia is unlikely to allow beer and bikinis. "We are a traditional people," Shire says. It seems to be a fine balance. Several Kismayo residents say they grew to resent the Islamists after they banned movies, Western music, cigarettes and khat - a mildly narcotic plant that is chewed here. "Those rules were a total fallacy," says Abdullahi Jama Ali, who was once part of an underground Islamist group. "The Koran doesn't say anything about cigarettes. The Islamic religion is like an ocean; everyone can swim where he likes." With the Islamists in hiding, Kismayo's market is bustling again. But the grapefruit farms are still a mess, irrigation canals are filled with sand, roads are abysmal and government buildings are pockmarked with bullet holes.
Hundreds of Ethiopian soldiers occupy this wasteland. Though many of its people are Muslims, Ethiopia also has a long Christian history, and some Muslim extremists, including al-Qaeda, have vowed to respond with a holy war to drive out these troops. Ethiopian officials say they plan to withdraw their forces in a few weeks and hand over control to a yet-to-be-formed African peacekeeping force. Last weekend, Nasteh Dahir Farah, a local reporter, visited the town's airport with three foreign journalists. The foreigners were allowed in, but Ethiopian soldiers shooed Farah away. "This is my country, not theirs," he says. "If I didn't have a job, I'd join the resistance." A little humiliation, it seems, goes a long way in Somalia.
Bombs pound Somalia capital Mogadishu (320,000 refugees flee overthrow of calm under Islamic Courts Union). BBC, Apr 22, 2007
CIA IN SOMALIA TOO and SOMALIA HELL IN HORN
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