September 11 Digital Archive: XML Document
Title:America's threat in Somalia
Publication:West African News
Blurb:Business is flourishing, telephones and the internet are functioning, doctors are returning to provide medical care and financial services are booming in Somalia today. But the country still faces desperate problems, including the threat of U.S. strikes.
Body:"Gruesome, harrowing, intense." These words have been used to describe the movie "Black Hawk Down," which claims to depict events in 1993, when elite U.S. troops launched a doomed mission to capture a warlord in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. Some say this description could apply to the war-torn country itself, now reportedly facing the threat of U.S. attacks again. But, observers point out, the Somalia of today is not the Somalia of Black Hawk Down.
By a twist of fate, the new movie Black Hawk Down is opening in theatres just as the United States is considering expanding the war on terrorism into Somalia, remarks Ken Menkhaus, a U.S. professor and former advisor to the United Nations on Somalia. Somalia and the United States are apparently doomed by fate to collide at critical moments in global politics. This collision has never brought anything but trouble to both parties.
Since civil conflict erupted after the ouster of President Siad Barre in 1991, Somalia has been struggling to rise from the anarchy prevailing in the country. And, according to Somalia watchers, from the ashes of the civil war, there is a success story.
Entrepreneurs are returning to the country; reconstruction is underway; business is booming (particularly in the provision of internet and financial services); the warlords of 1993 are either dead or their powerbases are weakened; and aid organizations have been able to operate again, mitigating some of the dire humanitarian needs.
A report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) says that while human development in Somalia is unacceptably poor, over the past decade there have been significant developments in communications technology and economic infrastructure.
It noted, however, that the security situation could not be generalized.
Regional analysts say that apart from uncertainty over the likelihood of U.S. strikes, one of the biggest destabilizing factors is the self-interest of the warlords and faction leaders, who keep changing sides depending on what they are offered.
i>Somalia is not Afghanistan/i>
The lack of a stable central government and the chaos of civil war led to fears that radical groups might use Somalia as a safe haven and training ground. Observers note that Washington believes the country is a likely refuge for members of Osama bin Ladens al Qaeda network fleeing Afghanistan. The U.S. Treasury has accused the Mogadishu-based remittance and telephone company Al-Barakaat of funding terrorism, and seized its assets in various countries.
Al-Barakaat has denied any links to terrorism, and offered to make its books available to U.S. investigators. Observers say that remittances sent to Somalia via institutions such as al-Barakaat constituted the greatest financial receipts in the country, and its closure hurt tens of thousands of people.
Writing in Janes Defence Weekly, Hailes Janney, a specialist in African defense and security issues, says that despite its history, Somalia never became a bastion for terrorist groups as in Afghanistan due partly, he says, to the clan system. He says the Somali Islamist movement, al-Ittihad, widely believed by U.S. officials to have links with alQaeda, has lost much of its formal structure since it abandoned efforts to physically control territory. Menkhaus concurs. He describes al-Ittihad as a small, relatively weak organization with a mainly domestic agenda.
Some individuals have had links to al-Qaeda that merit close scrutiny, but the group as a whole is in no way a subsidiary of al-Qaeda, Menkhaus says. Neither, he adds, should parallels be drawn between the Taliban of Afghanistan and Somalias Transitional National Government (TNG). It [TNG] is extremely weak, controlling only half of the city of Mogadishu, and while it has some al-Ittihad members in its parliament, it is by no means a front for Islamists.
Menkhaus says any attack against the TNG would constitute a serious error. One of the costs of ignoring Somalia since 1994 is that now we [the United States] are caught trying to formulate policy about a country we know nothing about, he remarks. He believes that while concern about Somalia as a refuge has merit, in reality it is a lousy refuge for non-Somali radicals. Foreigners cannot operate in secrecy in Somalia; everyone knows who you are and what youre doing, he says.
In the same vein, Janes Defence Weekly adds that Washington has been made dependent on its so-called friends by poor intelligence and will be manipulated and misled at every turn.
i>Rebuilding the Country/i>
Humanitarian organizations point out that there has been noticeable progress in rebuilding the country since the events of 1993. The international community must recognize that he Somalia of today is not the Somalia of Black Hawk Down, a humanitarian worker with many years experience in Somalia told IRIN (United Nations Integrated Regional Information Networks). There have been many positive changes and much progress has been made. This must be recognized and taken into account when formulating policy.
Somalia watchers say that in the ensuing years, faction leaders and warlords have been considerably weakened and Somalis themselvestired of fighting and insecurityare largely responsible for the development of their country.
Business is flourishing, telephones and the internet are functioning, doctors are returning to provide medical care and financial services are booming. Name me an anarchy where you can build a house, start a business, make a telephone call or log onto the Internet, one observer pointed out.
CARE International, one of the largest humanitarian organizations in Somalia, stresses that the country has desperate needs that must be addressedfood crises leading to serious malnutrition, a ban on livestock imports from Somalia imposed by Gulf States and the threat of U.S. strikes. The threat of strikes has disrupted peoples lives and is a disincentive for investment, warned Scott Faiia, CAREs country director for Somalia. Somalia has changed, he added, and the progress must be supported. He believes that life has gradually improved for the average person, and this process must be allowed to continue.
Humanitarian workers have expressed concern that Black Hawk Down will reinforce the mistaken belief that Somalia is a still country of anarchy and chaos, and that it will sway public opinion in a negative way.
As Black Hawk Down reminds us, snatching Somalis in the heavily-armed, clannish neighborhoods of Mogadishu is a very high risk, concludes Menkhaus. Chasing down minor players in the crowded dens of Mogadishu would be very unwise.