Somalia: The "most ignored human tragedy"

Somalia is being recognised as the worst and most violent “failed state” in the world, and the tragedy of its people as the “most-ignored human tragedy”. Even the odd commentator in the international media is now calling on the ‘international community’ to help Somalia to restore peace by ignoring the corrupt and ineffective Interim Government (IG) and replacing it with “moderate” members of the Islamic Courts Union. The ICU’s credentials are that it ruled the country competently for several months in 2006 before being removed by the Ethiopian army (with help from the US) in December 2006.Yet the main concern of the ‘international community’ and media–including the UN, Western governments and their Muslim allies–is about piracy and ‘Islamic terrorism’, not the lives of Somalis. Certain Western countries, Britain and the US, for instance, are negotiating with the IG to create a system that will allow them to capture ‘pirates’ and hand them over to the IG for trial and punishment.

Some of the countries adjacent to the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, such as Yemen, throw many of the large number of migrants fleeing the violence into the sea rather than receive and help them. A human-rights group quoted during a programme on the BBC World Service on October 6 was the first to describe the dire conditions in Somalia as the “most-ignored human tragedy”. Food-aid groups also told the BBC “violence in the country has increased to the extent that 40,000 people have fled the capital … in a single week to avoid it.” They added that the price of food has multiplied, that Somalia is the most dangerous country in the world to distribute food aid in, once it arrives there, a rare occasion because “its waters are littered with pirates.” Consequently the human-rights groups agree that Somalia is “in a league by itself”.

If that is the case why are the ‘international community’ and the countries around the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean more concerned about Somali pirates and paying less attention to the increasing violence in Somalia, the tragedy of its people and the clear failure of the IG to rule? The reason is simple: most of those countries and the UN are opposed to the assumption of power in Somalia–or, indeed, the whole region–by an Islamic group such as the Islamic Courts, as they all back the US-led war on Islam. In fact, one of the reasons why the dictatorial rulers in Egypt and the Gulf countries and the US are such close allies is that they are all determined to keep Islamic groups out of power. This explains why the US government’s claim that it is committed to introducing democratic rule to the Middle East–or for that matter anywhere else–is false.

Westerners’ determination to keep the IC out of power in Somalia and support the IG, a corrupt and ineffective group dominated by warlords, is strengthened by the fact that the Islamic group has retaken many of the territories it lost, including the port of Bosasso. Another strong reason is that the Somali people want the IC in power instead of the IG, which they demonstrably loathe. But the reason why more attention is beginning to be paid to controlling piracy is that it is seriously harming the trade between Europe and Asia, one third of which goes through the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. According to the International Maritime Bureau, strong and immediate steps should be taken to eliminate piracy to save highly prized trade between Europe and Asia. The agency recommends that the international community should strike at ships used by the pirates, instead of waiting until they strike. According to the Bureau, it is dangerous to underestimate the ability of the pirates to inflict serious damage on international trade. One indicator of the peril is the fact that the prices of goods carried by ships through the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea have greatly increased, with businessmen in Europe complaining that customers are refusing to buy as a result. Some firms have even arranged to transport goods by other routes but they complain that not only does it take at least a week longer for the goods to reach their destination but that their prices are also doubled.

There is little doubt that strong action will be taken to eliminate piracy for business reasons, while hardly any action was taken to enable ships carrying food aid to get through. The move is particularly cynical as it has been known from the outset that politicians and businessmen in Somalia–some of whom are even members of the IG–are receiving high incomes from piracy, which is now very profitable business.

However, there is no real chance of piracy being eliminated in the Gulf of Aden and along the Somali coast without an effective government in Muqdisho. But the ‘international community’ and the dictatorial rulers in the region are determined to keep the IG in power and to continue their war on the IC, which enjoys public support and is, therefore, capable of providing effective and clean rule. One reason why an Islamic group, as opposed to a secular one, can achieve this is that its leaders are free from the sins that bedevil secular politicians.

These sins include corrupt practices and clan loyalties, which are responsible for the breakdown of the Somali state in the first place. They provided the basis for the coup that brought general Mohamed Siyad Barre to power and for the civil war that led to his removal in 1991. It is no accident that secular politicians have failed, because of those sins, to provide an alternative government since 1991-1992 and that it was the IC that introduced the only effective rule for a few months in 2006. It is reasonable to assume that it could have set up a proper government had the US and its allies not helped the Ethiopian army to invade Somalia and remove it.

But despite the obvious and pressing need to dispose of the IG, there is fresh evidence that the Western powers, such as Britain and the US, are not only giving it a leading role in the planned assault on the pirates but are also applying to it for permission to initiate the attack. According to a report in the British daily, The Independent, on October 15, the Royal Navy is to be given the power to seize and arrest suspected pirates in the Gulf of Aden under new emergency legislation. Citing senior defence sources, the report added: “The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is talking to the government of Somalia about drawing up a memorandum of understanding to allow Royal Navy warships to enter Somali territorial waters in pursuit of pirates and hand over captured suspects to the Mogadishu authorities.” The Department of Transport is then expected, according to the sources, to authorise “UK enforcement officers to board, seize, detain and then arrest suspected pirates.”

The British, American and EU navies have warships already in the Gulf of Aden that comprise part of the Gulf of Aden Combined Task Force 150, an international fleet that is supposed to confront pirates. Although it is widely known that the IC is not involved in piracy at all, the main reason for mounting the new operations is to arrest Islamic radicals that are suspected of belonging to it or being “affiliated to al-Qaeda”. Western analysts have no doubt that the whole exercise is aimed at preventing Islamic radicals from having any influence in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East, or crossing over into Europe and America to threaten their security. The exercise is, therefore, considered to be part of the US-led war on Islam and al-Qaeda, as is the massive attack on Islamic groups by Arab dictators in Egypt, Morocco, Algeria and the Gulf states. In fact some of those rulers, especially in the oil-rich states, are expected to pay a considerable part of the costs of the exercise, and Saudi Arabia has already promised to contribute generously.

Once the exercise is fully underway and ships in the Gulf of Aden are boarded, those arrested will automatically be handed over to “Mogadishu authorities”. As this is the Horn of Africa’s version of the practice of rendition (which was invented by the Bush administration), the IG is expected to ascertain, with the help of Western and Arab security agencies, who the Islamic radicals belonging to the IC or al-Qaeda are. Certainly those who are found to be “radical Islamists” will be arrested and punished. But it is reasonable to suspect that those pirates who are opposed to the IC and support the IG will be freed. Many of those are not mere pirates; some are even clan-leaders and influential politicians. This explains why many people believe that arresting and punishing pirates will lead to confrontation within the ranks of the IG, which is already hampered by clan-divisions, and to widespread clan-conflict.

One possible positive result of the false war on piracy is that most Somalis will see the whole exercise as a foreign intervention designed to destroy their country and religion, and therefore decide to unite to save both. Although that will be costly and take time, any resistance to the “war on Islam” and to clan-divisions is worth undertaking.