Friday, July 9, 2010

Democracy And Terror In Somalia

Two stories from the place formerly known as Somalia…

The first is that Kenya’s Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula said this week that “quite a cocktail” of veteran foreign jihadis – Afghanis, Pakistanis and a mix of Middle Easterners, all with prior experience fighting as insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq – are flowing into Somalia, creating a situation he calls “very, very dire.” The jihadis are heading to Somalia to link up with domestic militant Islamic groups like al-Shabab that are fighting against the internationally-backed Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) for control over the capital, Mogadishu. Al-Shabab in the past has pledged its allegiance to al-Qaeda; they recently promised to increase attacks against the TFG and troops from Uganda and Burundi who are part of an African Union-backed peacekeeping mission.

Wetangula said that Kenya fears there could be spillover attacks in their country from al-Shabab forces in neighboring Somalia if the jihadi pipeline isn’t shutdown and if the international community doesn’t take more aggressive steps to defeat al-Shabab and support the TFG. Wetangula called on the United States in particular to do more to assist Somalia; one specific area he cited was in a United Nations-approved plan to blockade the southern Somali port city of Kismayo, which fell under al-Shabab control last year and is now the militant group’s lifeline to the outside world, the main port-of-entry for weapons and foreign fighters. United States naval forces already active in the Indian Ocean region so far though have been reluctant to dedicate resources to enforce the blockade.

On a side note, the news that foreign, al-Qaeda linked (or at least inspired) foreign fighters are heading into Somalia again undercuts the whole rationale for the United States-led coalition’s continued mission in Afghanistan. We’re told, repeatedly, that the US-led coalition must fight against the Taliban and support the government of President Hamid Karzai to keep Afghanistan from once again becoming an al-Qaeda base of operations. Apparently the jihadis now heading to Somalia, as well as places like Yemen and the deserts of West Africa, didn’t get the memo…

But the news from Somalia isn’t all bad. The breakaway region of Somaliland in the northern part of Somalia recently completed an internationally-monitored election (covered in more depth here) and appears to be on the verge of something unprecedented in the Horn of Africa – the peaceful transfer of power between rival political parties. Opposition leader Ahmed Mohamud Silanyo has been declared the winner in the June 26 election, defeating current President Dahir Riyale Kahin by a clear margin (50% to 33%). Leading up to the election, President Kahin vowed to step aside if defeated in the polls, a pledge Somaliland observers expect him to keep. Silanyo is a former minister in the Somali government of former dictator Siad Barre, who left his position in the 1980s to head up a Somaliland-based independence movement fighting what they felt was oppression by Barre. After Barre’s government collapsed in 1991, Somaliland declared its independence, a declaration that so far no country in the world has recognized.

As President, Silanyo said his main mission would be to change that. His supporters are hoping that a peaceful transition of power will help to bolster their case for recognition to the international community.
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