Somalia: Saving Somalia Without The Somalis

3 January 1993
Africa News Service (Durham)
opinion

London — For Somalis committed to peace and reconciliation in their country, the initial phases of "Operation Restore Hope" has had precisely the opposite effect.

If we turned back the clock a few weeks, we would see a Somalia lit up with many signs of hope. Throughout the country, ordinary Somalis were taking the initiative to bring the future of their country under control.

In the south, there were no such dramatic breakthroughs. However, a series of local agreements were making it possible for emergency relief to be delivered in a way unprecedented in the last year.

In the town of Baidoa, the heart of the famine zone, the success of local negotiations enabled food to be trucked from the airstrip to the town and local villages, with very low rates of looting. In the area around Baidoa, truckers were succeeding in bringing in food supplies, so that maize and sorghum were plentiful and cheap in the local markets.

There were some serious incidents, such as the looting of a warehouse and a relief convoy, but the situation was clearly improving. The region's death rate fell by 90% between July and November.

At a higher political level, there were signs of optimism too. For the first time in several years, elders and intellectuals from a variety of clans were meeting and beginning to agree that it was essential to isolate the warlords and to develop those structures of Somali society that have some accountability to ordinary people. Hawiye elders who had formerly supported Gen. Mohammed Farrah Aidid were increasingly of the view that their interests were better served by isolating him.

During October, Aidid's power was visibly eroding as the clan elders became more assertive and independent.

Another promising, albeit low-key initiative, was a series of meetings for intellectuals and elders sponsored by the European Community. This was the first casualty of the U.S. military deployment. As soon as President George Bush announced his intention of sending troops to Somalia, the situation became so unstable that the initiative had to be called off.

Although Somalia does not have a central government, important political, economic and social structures remain in place, however battered. The key personnel in the relief programs are Somalis. Without the expertise, political know-how and hard work of clan elders, doctors, nurses, relief officials, truck drivers and volunteers, international programs would have stood no chance of success.

But how many elders, professionals and humanitarian workers have been consulted about the U.S. plan? None. Those we have spoken to are appalled by the prospect of foreign troops arriving without consultation and without a well-thought-out program aimed at political reconciliation, disarmament and reconstruction. Such arrogance undermines credibility of local leadership and damages the recovery of Somalia's civic structures.

Other initiatives also foundered as the U.S. military moved in. The delicate web of negotiated agreements that had sustained the progress in Baidoa broke down. Aidid's militia, fleeing Mogadishu in advance of the U.S. Marines, went on a last-chance looting spree in Baidoa. And each politician and warlord is now vying to see what advantage can be gained from the U.S. military occupation. Previously negotiated agreements to establish workable relationships mean nothing.

The result was an orgy of violence in Baidoa - the killing of at least 70 people, the displacement of many thousands of civilians and the forced closure of the relief programs. Death rates escalated from about 40 to about 100 per day.

Among the most troubling episodes was the much acclaimed diplomatic "coup" in which Aidid and self-proclaimed Interim President Mohammed Ali Mahdi embraced each other. Careful observers of Somali politics noted that their peace accord was not the breakthrough that the media heralded, since many of its elements were already in place.

The announcement of a future national reconciliation conference was no more than the repetition of a former agreement. The tough questions that have blocked progress, such as how to decide who would attend were avoided.

These two warlords are detested by most Somalis as major war criminals. It is deeply worrying that the United States decided to deal so publicly with these thugs within days of arriving in Somalia. Both Aidid and Ali Mahdi crave international recognition. Up until now, they were denied that legitimacy, paving the way for more accountable and peace-loving elements of Somali society, notably the clan elders, to strive to marginalize them. In its eagerness to score diplomatic success for American television cameras, the United States has reinforced Aidid's murderous stranglehold on parts of the country.

U.S. occupation has raised the stakes of the Somali war game. With the military operations appearing to lead inexorably to a United Nations trusteeship, the warlords are vying for the patronage of that neo-colonial rule. And the United Nations, whose negligence and incompetence make it a prime culprit in the disaster of Somalia, is eager to avoid public scrutiny of its past actions.

An important element in the recent deterioration of the security situation was the forced resignation of Mohamed Sahnoun, the widely respected UN special envoy in Somalia. His brilliant strategy was to mobilize Somalis in helping to resolve the country's problems. He worked closely with clan elders, women's groups and intellectuals.

Unfortunately, his successor, Ismat Kittani, has not shown an interest in nurturing alternative structures to the warlords. When Kittani visited the northern territory of Somaliland recently, he behaved in the abrupt and undiplomatic manner that Somalis have come to expect of UN officials. Speaking to a committee of elders whose patient negotiation had brought to an end many months of bloody internecine strife, he arrogantly commanded them to produce a full agreement within two hours. The elders ordered Kittani out of their territory; they were right to do so.

On December 2, Rakiya Omaar, a lawyer from Somalia, was dismissed as director of Africa Watch for publicly disagreeing with unilateral U.S. military intervention in Somalia. Alex de Waal resigned as Africa Watch associate director after the group's parent body, Human Rights Watch, endorsed the deployment.

From AFRICA NEWS, December 21, 1992-January 3, 1993

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