Monday, February 09, 2009

Will the New Somalia Government Bring Peace and Stability to the Country?

Will the New Somalia Government Bring Peace and Stability to the Country?

President takes up residence in capital but fighting continues

by Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor
Pan-African News Wire
News Analysis

A new president was inaugurated in the Horn of Africa nation of Somalia on January 31. Former Union of Islamic Courts leader, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, 44, took up residence in the capital of Mogadishu on February 7 and has pledged to open up negotiations with other organizations that have remained isolated from the re-formulated coalition.

Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed was elected at a parliamentary meeting in neighboring Djibouti after the collapse of the former Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which was headed by Abdullahi Yusuf in late December of 2008. The previous government was backed-up by Ethiopian troops who had been occupying the country since December of 2006.

Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed took control of the new regime as a result of the United Nations-brokered negotiations that attempted to create a coalition government that would end conflict by bringing in groups that had resisted the U.S./Ethiopian-backed TFG.

The Ethiopian government under Meles Zenawi had entered Somalia, largely at the behest of the United States, after the Union of Islamic Courts established bases throughout large sections of the country. Fierce resistance against the occupation over the last two years resulted in the formal withdrawal of Ethiopian forces in late January 2009.

The new president had attended the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia prior to entering Mogadishu on February 7. "My trip to Mogadishu is aimed at having consultations with elders, politicians and Islamic resistance groups," Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed told the BBC. (Feb. 7)

Outside the ongoing peace process, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed stated on February 9 in Mogadishu that he would institute Sharia law in Somalia. In a meeting with Islamic leaders and government security forces, the president encouraged peace and reconciliation among Somali organizations.

According to the Shebelle Media Network, "Sheik Abdulqadir Ali Omar, the leader of the Islamic Courts Union and Gen. Abdi Hassan Awale (Qeibdid), the commander of the Somali police forces, shook hands and said they had made up and reconciled."

In addition to this gesture, "Said Dhere, the commander of the Somali military forces and some caretaker government ministers attended the meeting. 'We consider the role of every Somali citizen who can help bring peace to the nation,' said President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed." (, Feburary 9)

Who is Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed?

President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed is a former leader of the Islamic Courts Union who fled into exile after the intervention of Ethiopian troops in late 2006. He was born in the Mahaday district, which is located about 100km north of the capital of Mogadishu.

Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed attended Islamic school in Somalia and later traveled to Sudan and Libya during the 1990s where he was trained in geography. He became a high school teacher in Mogadishu prior to involvement in the resistance movement to Ethiopian occupation.

He chaired the moderate wing of the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) which grew out of the resistance to the U.S.-backed Ethiopian occupation. Another faction of ARS, headed by Hassan Dahir Aweys, which is based in Asmara, Eritrea, is considered more radical and has refused to join the new coalition government headed by Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.

Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed had surrended to Kenyan military forces in early 2007, but was soon released. He returned initially to Somalia in November 2008 under the terms of a peace agreement reached in Djibouti in October.

Although he was involved in the resistance to the occupation, politically he is also considered a moderate in comparison to the Al-Shabab group which is still fighting to bring about the removal of African Union peacekeeping forces (AMISOM). Under the terms of the peace agreement, Ethiopian forces were required to withdraw from the country.

Also the number of seats within the Somalia parliament was doubled to 550 in order to take in 200 members from the Islamic Courts Union as well as 75 representatives from other opposition groups. In response to his election, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed said that "My first priority is to bring peace to Somalia and I will serve the nation to the best of my ability." (Al Jazeera, February 7)

The former speaker of the Somalia parliament, Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden, spoke in favor of the ascendency of Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, pointing out that he "is one of the most prominent figures in Somalia. Sheikh Sharif is the best choice to overcome the current crisis." (Al Jazeera, February 7)

Nonetheless, the Al-Shabab resistance movement, who had been allied with the Islamic Courts Union, has rejected the Djibouti peace agreement and have continued to carry out armed actions against the government as well as the AMISOM forces. Al-Shabab has effectively taken control of large areas of the south and central regions of the country.

In a statement issued by Al-Shabab on February 6, the resistance movement urged Somalis to intensify their struggle aimed at the removal of AU forces from the country. "We call on the African Union forces to pull out of our country or face resistance harsher than what they have ever experienced," Sheikh Muktar Robow, a leading figure in Al-Shabab told the French Press Agency (AFP).

Sheikh Muktar Robow, who spoke with reporters in Baidoa, a city under Al-Shabab control, condemned the February 5 massacre of 18 civilians by AU solidiers in Mogadishu. "We are telling them that we don't need their help if they are going to be massacring our people and I urge all holy fighters in the country to step up their struggle against them."

AU spokesman Major Bahuko Baridgye denied allegations that 18 or more people were killed and said that only three civilians were murdered in the shooting and that three died in an explosion. "The information we got indicates that three civilians died in the explosion and one of our soldiers was lightly injured. The vehicle was also slightly damaged." (Al Jazeera, February 6)

Al Shabab has several thousand fighters under arms and is estimated to outnumber the ineffective Somalia security forces and the 3,200-member AMISOM contingent composed of troops from Uganda and Burundi. Nigeria, which has promised to deploy forces to AMISOM, has complained that it needs financial and logistical support to enter the capital of Mogadishu.

In addition, on February 7 it was announced that a new coalition was formed to oppose the coalition government of President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. The opposition coalition, which calls itself the Hisbal Islam (Islamic Party) announced that it would keep fighting against the new government.

"The so-called government led by Sharif Sheikh Ahmed is not different from the one of Abdulahi Yusuf," said Dr. Omar Iman, who chairs Hisbal Islam. "The country is not yet free from the enemy and Sharia law has not been imposed. How can we stop Jihad (holy war)," Mr. Iman said. (Shabelle Media Network, February 7)

This new anti-government coalition known as Hisbal Islam is made up of four factions: the Asmara wing of the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia, led by Hassan Dahir Aweys, the Ras Kamboni Brigade, the Islamic Front and a more obscure group known as Anole.

Unrest Continues Amid Reports of Ethiopian Incursions

Prior to entering Mogadishu on February 7, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed immediately condemned the recent murder of a Somali journalist on February 4 in Mogadishu. Sa'id Tahlil Ahmed was killed in the Bakaro Market by three gunmen while he was enroute to a meeting with representatives of the Al-Shabab resistance movement. The organization had invited a number of radio directors and editors for a briefing at an unknown location.

"I condemn the shooting of Sa'id Tahlil Ahmed, and those behind it will be brought to justice," the President said. "I send hearfelt condolences to the bereaved family and the Somali journalists as whole. I am also thankful for the difficult job they are doing." (Shabelle Media Network, February 6)

At the same time on February 6, there were reports that Ethiopian trooops had re-entered a Somalia border town and set up check points to take money away from local residents. "Local residents in the town of Kalabeyrka, a few kilometres from the border, said Ethiopian troops and military vehicles arrived on February 2 and set up a checkpoint charging a 'tax' to some traders." (Al Jazeera, February 6)

Bereket Simon, the communication affairs minister for Ethiopia, denied the reports and said there had been no incursion by his government's troops. However, Sheikh Abudurrahman Ibrahim Ma'ow, the chairman of the Council of Islamic Courts in Hiraan, said there were witnesses that verify the intervention by Ethiopia.

"We, the authorities in the region, will not accept it. If they do not leave within 24 hours we will fight with them." (Al Jazeera, February 6)

Other problems have developed in border areas with Ethiopia. It has been reported that 10,000 Somalis have fled fighting inside the country and are settling in Dollo Ado, located in the Somali region of southern Ethiopia.

"It is critical to act quickly to mitigate further suffering of the refugee children and women who have endured years of fighting and humanitarian castastrophe, and to avert undue pressure on the host country Ethiopia, which is recovering from a recent drought," said Margaret Schuler, the Save the Children's director for Ethiopia.

According to the Inter-regional Information Network (IRIN) in a report issued from Addis Ababa, "The refugees were fleeing instability in Somalia in the wake of the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops. Their number was expected to reach 25,000 with more arrivals in the next few weeks." (IRIN, February 4)

This same IRIN report continues by pointing out that the Somali region of Ethiopia is facing monumental challenges in the wake of a drought which has limited food production. In acknowledging the difficulties in Somalia, it is also essential to illustrate that "the adjacent Somali Region of Ethiopia has 1.5 million people who also need emergency assistance this year. The region, Save the Children noted, has suffered the loss of livestock/assets and faces increased malnutrition following consecutive failures of seasonal rains."

At the recent African Union Summit held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the creation of a new Somalia government was hailed as a major political achievement for the region. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the election of Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed was an "encouraging development" and a "great opportunity" for Somalia.

"I am quite hopeful and optimistic that we are now entering a new stage with a direct intervention of the United Nations in managing peace and stability there," said Ban Ki-moon.

Ukrainian Ship Released, Piracy Continues

In a major occurence in the ongoing battle for control of the shipping lanes in the Gulf of Aden, Somali pirates have released a Ukrainian ship which was transporting military equipment when it was captured in September of 2008. There was much speculation over the destination of the military hardware, which included 33 Soviet-era T-72 tanks and at least 14,000 rounds of various types of ammunition.

Initial reports indicated that the arms were heading for the east African nation of Kenya. However, later claims stated that the arms were destined for the south of Sudan.

Somali pirates released the ship after they were paid $3.5 million by the owners. There were 20 seamen on the ship, which encompassed 17 Ukrainians, a Latvian and two Russians. Sugule Ali, who served as the spokesperson for the Somali pirates holding the ship said that: "We have released MV Faina. There were only three boys remaining onboard and they delayed the release for one hour, but now the ship is free.

"The ship and the crew are in good shape because our boys expended tremendous efforts to protect them. We fed them well," Ali said. The ship had been held off the coast near the town of Harardhere.

In a Al Jazeera report on the release of the MV Faina, it stated that: "Fishermen and pirates in the Harardhere area said they had spotted navy ships from an international anti-piracy coalition moving towards the freed Ukrainian vessel and transferring men onboard." (February 9)

The pirates had at first demanded $35 million for the release of the ship. However, with the international spotlight on the high-profile ship seizure and the deployment of Navy warships from several countries around the world including the United States, India, China, the Ukraine, among others, the negotiation process became stalled.

"We were fed up with the Faina," said Ahmed Mohamed Abdi, one of the pirates who spoke with Al Jazeera after receiving his share, along with the others, who accepted the money for the release of the vessel. "There was a time we thought of releasing the ship without any payment on humanitarian grounds but we spent a lot of borrowed money on khat cigarettes, coca cola, mineral water and food," he said.

Adding to the other nations that have dispatched ships to the Gulf of Aden, Turkey has recently announced that it will join the so-called anti-piracy efforts in the region. "We have decided that this would be an important positive step towards ensuring security in the region," said Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan.

Babacan said that a frigate would be sent under the mandate given by the United Nations Security Council during 2008. "This will not be an individual mission but rather one in which Turkey will be part of a naval force including a number of countries," he said.

As it relates specifically to the United Nations Security Council interest in the situation prevailing in the Gulf of Aden, a resolution in this regard was passed during late 2008. This resolution has served to justify under international law the intervention of warships from various countries off the coast of Somali.

The International Maritime Organization(IMO), in a report issued in December of 2008, says that: "On 2 December 2008, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1846, which states that for 12 months from 2 December 2008, States and regional organizations cooperating with the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) may enter Somalia's territorial waters and use 'all necessary means'--such as deploying naval vessels and military aircraft, as well as seizing and disposing of boats, vessels, arms and related equipment used for piracy--to fight piracy and armed robbery at sea off the Somali coast, in accordance with relevant international law." (IMO, December 2008)

IMO Secretary-General Efthimios E. Mitropoulos issued a call for the participation of nations in the efforts to prevent piracy in the Gulf of Aden. Mitropoulos conveyed a threefold concern in requesting national and international support for the enforcement of UN Security Council Resolution 1846:
-protect seafarers, fishermen and passengers on ships sailing off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden;
-ensure the safe delivery of humanitarian aid to Somalia effected by ships chartered by the World Food Programme; and
-preserve the integrity of the shipping lane through the Gulf of Aden, given its strategic importance and significance to shipping and trade east and west of the Suez Canal.

In relationship to the Secretary-General of the IMO, the December 2008 reports says: "He added that, notwhithstanding IMO's prime concern for the safety of seafarers, the volume of trade transported through the Gulf of Aden makes it imperative that this shipping lane is adequately protected against any acts that might disrupt the flow of traffic through it.

"He said that, with more than 12% of the total volume of oil transported by sea using that route--not to mention commodities carried by bulk carriers and finished goods transported by containerships--widespread diversions around the Cape of Good Hope, to avoid the trouble spot, would bring about a series of negative repercussions.

"Such diversions would almost double the length of a typical voyage from the Gulf to Europe thereby increasing fuel consumption, emissions and transport costs, which would have to be passed on eventually to consumers everywhere."

A report issued by the International Commercial Crime Services Maritime Bureau Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) on January 16, 2009, there was an unprecedented rise in hijacked vessels during 2008. The figures for the year surpassed annual recorded incidents since monitoring began in 1992.

"In 2008 there was a worldwide total of 293 incidents of piracy against ships, which is up more than 11% from 2007 when there were 263 incidents reported," the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) states. "In 2008, 49 vessels were hijacked, 889 crew taken hostage and a further 46 vessels reported fired upon. A total of 32 crew members were injured, 11 killed and 21 missing--presumed dead. Guns were used in 139 incidents, up from 72 in 2007."

The IMB continues by pointing out that: "The increase is attributed to the number of attacks in the Gulf of Aden. The rise peaked in September with 19 attacks. In October and November there were 15 and 16 vessels attacked respectively.
This is an increase of nearly 200% from 2007.

"In addition, 2008 saw the largest tanker ever being hijacked by Somali pirates and successful attacks being carried out at great distances from land than in previous years. All types of vessels with varying freeboards and speeds were targeted. The pirates boarding the vessels were also better armed than in previous years and prepared to assualt and injure the crew."

The present situation is of great concern to the western imperialist nations in particular. In October of 2008, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) took special note of the seizure of vessels in the Gulf of Aden during its ministerial conference held in Budapest, Hungary.

In a Soldier of Fortune report dated October 9, 2008, it emphasizes that "NATO will send its Standing Naval Maritime Group to the waters off Somalia, a spokesman for the alliance said. James Apparthurai told a news conference that the decision came out of the defense ministerial conference under way here. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is meeting with his NATO counterparts."

Apparthurai went on to say that: "There are still important details to work out, but the bottom line is there will soon be NATO military vessels off the coast of Somalia deterring piracy and escorting food shipments. That is good news for the Somalis, and good news for international shipping."

Consequently, there will be an ongoing presence of imperialist nations and other countries in the Gulf of Aden in the foreseable future. This presence will continue despite peace efforts carried out by the government of President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.

U.S. Role Must Be Held Responsible for Current Crisis

The intervention of the United States under the Bush administration is largely responsible for the political and economic crisis existing now in Somalia. After the U.S.-backed intervention by Ethiopia in December of 2006, the country has experienced the worse humanitarian crisis on the African continent.

Even though the Obama administration has given its approval to the new administration of Sheikh Sharif Shiekh Ahmed, there must be demands for the payment of reparations to the people of Somalia, where over 16,000 people have died, some 29,000 wounded and an estimated two million dislocated since December of 2006. The people of Somalia must be allowed to resolve their own internal affairs without the intervention of U.S. imperialism.

With the collapse of the former U.S.-backed regime resulting from the widespread resistance from the Somali masses, it is quite obvious that military involvement in this region of the continent will only result in large-scale deaths and social dislocation. The people in Somalia have historically guarded their sovereignty and right to self-determination. This tradition has been strengthened through their experience of resisting U.S. interference over the last two years.
Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of the Pan-African News Wire and has been following developments in Somalia for many years.

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