From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Fri Jan 22 2010 - 15:49:59 EST
Yemen: lessons from Somalia
As the world's attention turns momentarily to Yemen, the west must look
beyond short-term aid to building lasting solutions
* Murithi Mutiga <http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/murithimutiga>
* <http://www.guardian.co.uk/> guardian.co.uk, Friday 22 January 2010
Next week's "high-level" international summit on Yemen is likely to follow a
pattern familiar to those who have watched countless similar conferences on
the Somalia crisis in years past.
High-minded dignitaries will fly into London from around the world, millions
in aid will be pledged and a pre-prepared statement will be issued at the
end of the deliberations saying all the right things about how important a
country Yemen is and how committed the "international community" is to
finding a solution to the country's myriad of problems.
The lesson from Somalia is that very little will in fact change on the
ground one year after the summit. Take the most recent EU-UN donors'
conference on Somalia held in Brussels last April.
The meeting yielded a commitment of $85m in EU aid and a promise that
international multilateral organisations would help to "reinforce the
capabilities of the Somali institutions" and "strengthen the capacity of
Somali national forces and police".
Yet the reality on the ground in Somalia today is grimmer than it has been
for years. The Al-Shabaab insurgency continues to gain momentum. The group
has carried out some of its most audacious attacks in the Somali capital in
recent months and thousands have fled the country, further contributing to
aa62.htm> the region's worst refugee crisis.
The World Food Programme recently announced it was pulling out of large
areas of the country due to the demands of the various militias that hold
sway in sections of the country, leaving millions of people who depend on
WFP rations in danger of starvation.
The failure of the numerous interventions by the US and EU to resolve the
Somalia crisis illustrates the inadequacies of a foreign policy approach
that focuses too narrowly on short-term crises - such as piracy and
a-casualties> Brian Whitaker has pointed out, the beneficiaries of this aid
are often just a handful of leaders such as Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh, who
the west sees as a partner they can work with but who view implementation of
meaningful reforms as a threat to their own power.
In the case of Somalia, it is scarcely believable that the EU, the UN and
the Africa Union persist in believing the myth that the weak and
disorganised Transitional Federal Government is their "partner for peace".
The TFG enjoys little public support or legitimacy and only controls the few
kilometres of the capital, Mogadishu, fenced in by African Union troops.
This has not stopped the US and EU from sending millions of dollars in aid
and weaponry to the TFG. Given the disorganisation in its ranks and the low
levels of loyalty it commands from the fighters on its payroll, it is little
wonder that some of the weapons sent in have reportedly found their way
_buying_govt_weapons.shtml> into the hands of the very militants the west
hopes they will be used against.
As many Somali watchers, including Rashid Abdi of the International Crisis
Group, <http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=5836&l=1> have argued,
peace in Somalia is not unattainable due to the length of time that the
conflict there has dragged on for. The key to it is ensuring there is a
coherent, well supported peace process which must above all be inclusive.
The main flaw in the
talks that led to the formation of the current government was the exclusion
of some of the most important figures in the country such as the
controversial Sheikh Dahir Aweys.
The Djibouti accord was aimed at accommodating the leaders who formed the
Islamic Courts Union, a grouping that had won the support of many Somalis by
ousting the unpopular warlords that have held sway in the country since the
collapse of the Siad Barre regime in 1991. They imposed Islamic law and were
well liked for imposing some levels of order after years of anarchy. Their
time in power was short as they were routed by a US-backed Ethiopian force
only months after taking control.
The removal of the ICU by forces from Somalia's historic rival predictably
gave rise to an insurgency that led to some of the worst fighting the
country has seen in the last two decades. The talks in Djibouti aimed to end
the insurgency by bringing the ICU leaders into government. But the US was
adamant that the ICU's spiritual leader, Aweys, could not take part in the
peace process because of his connections with al-Ittihad al-Islamiya, a
group the US says has links to terrorist groups. Aweys has always denied
The outcome of the Djibouti talks, the installation of an Islamist leader,
Sheikh Sharif Ahmed as president, has worsened the situation, a fact
analysts put down to a clash of egos between Sheikh Aweys and Sheikh Ahmed.
In the Somalia cultural context, Aweys, who is almost two decades older than
Ahmed would not agree easily to an arrangement where his young protege in
the ICU would be leader. This clash of egos resulted in the rise of the Al
Shabaab movement as Sheikh Aweys returned to Mogadishu to whip up the
Islamist soldiers into fierce resistance against the Ahmed-led government
that almost led to the collapse of the TFG last April.
Whatever the truth about Aweys' background, most analysts agree that leaving
figures such as him out of peace negotiations means the process has little
chance of success. Parallels can be drawn with the refusal to negotiate with
Hamas in the Israel-Palestine peace talks, a position which most realists
will point out makes little sense.
The Islamist movement in Somalia is divided. On one hand are pragmatist
leaders whose aims are mainly nationalistic. They seek to take over the
running of Somalia but also impose Islamic law in the country. This group is
ranged against a more dogmatist wing whose leaders typically have a
background in the al-Qaida training camps of Afghanistan and whose goals are
more belligerent. They are persuaded by the al-Qaida vision of an Islamic
caliphate in the Arabian peninsula.
The path to peace in Somalia lies in separating these forces and pursuing a
settlement with the more political and realistic members of the Islamist
movement. Analysts such as Abdi place the likes of Sheikh Aweys and his Hizb
Ul Islam offshoot of Al Shabaab in this bracket.
If the pragmatists in the Islamist movement are persuaded to join a
government of national unity that can craft some sort of peace deal, that
would make a bigger difference than any number of millions of aid poured
into the country after an international summit.
Considering the mistrust in which the US is held in Somalia today, an
inclusive peace process can be led by an international group such as the
Organisation of Islamic Conference, with the UN providing support.
A neutral state such as Qatar could also play the role of mediator
considering the fact its officials have been active in back-channel
negotiations aimed at bringing in more moderate Islamists into the peace
process in the past.
It has often been pointed out before that most Somalis follow the moderate
Sufi brand of Islam and are appalled by the Salafi Jihadists in al-Shabaab
who have introduced suicide bombings and intolerance in the country in the
last few years.
That claim to moderation may not last long if a peace deal is not struck
soon. As things stand, the scatter-shot approach to diplomacy which the
major powers have employed in Somalia, and which may well soon be applied in
Yemen, will only mean the youth in those desperately poor countries will see
radical Islam as an attractive path in their lives.
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