Hussein Soyan was formerly a candidate for president of the Transitional
Federal Government of Somalia. He attended the May 2003 Somali National Peace
and Reconstruction Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, where debates on reconciliation
and mediation between warlords helped lead to the present Transitional Federal
Government of Somalia. However, the still-forming Transitional Federal Government
of Somalia has been sidelined by the recent furious fighting in Mogadishu, where
a "warlord" militia backed by the United States recently received
a surprise defeat at the hands of a group of Islamists that the U.S. says are
influenced by al-Qaeda. In the aftermath of that defeat, I asked Hussein Soyan
to explain what is happening in Somalia and how the U.S. should react. This
interview was conducted by e-mail during the week prior to publication.
MARK ROTHSCHILD: U.S. influence in the Horn of Africa is now focused
where the U.S. has established a military base at the abandoned French Foreign
Legion camp, Camp
Lemonier. It was from Camp Lemonier in 2002 that the CIA successfully launched
drone attack across the Red Sea against an al-Qaeda target
in Yemen. Are the Somali warlords fighting
in Mogadishu receiving logistical support from Camp Lemonier?
HUSSEIN SOYAN: It has been acknowledged by the Somali president and
members of his government that the U.S. administration has supported
the warlords financially, and it's widely believed that U.S. agents based in
Kenya and Djibouti met the warlords at the beginning of this year.
MR: It is generally accepted that the warlord Alliance
for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism [ARPCT] [.pdf] has received
funding from the U.S. But it has also been claimed that the U.S. is providing
military assistance to some of the same actors implicated in the Blackhawk
down tragedy in 1993. Is this true?
HS: Yes, the warlords who reported they received financial support
from the U.S. administration. such as Mohamed Qanyare Afrah and Abdi Qaybdid,
were both top lieutenants of the late General
Mohamed Farah Aideed in 1993.
MR: The Red Cross and others have noted
a renewed American military presence on the streets of Mogadishu and rumors
are now flying that U.S. covert operations teams from Camp Lemonier have infiltrated
into Mogadishu in order to support the ARPCT warlords in the next
round of fighting. What is your opinion of the exact nature of the U.S.
intervention? Is the U.S. military now active in Mogadishu?
HS: Yes, the U.S. military is active inside Somalia, and U.S. planes
have flown over Somalia in the past from its base in Djibouti so there is no
reason to suggest that they wouldn't be now. Local residents have reported seeing
many of these flights, though I am not aware of any U.S. personnel on the ground,
but certainly, they conduct aerial reconnaissance, especially over the city
of Mogadishu. As you may be well aware, the U.S. military have a base built
for exactly this purpose in Djibouti.
MR: Should foreign observers expect an administration sympathetic to
al-Qaeda to eventually emerge in Somalia?
HS: I have not seen any credible evidence of an al-Qaeda presence in
Somalia, nor has anyone else including the U.S. government produced any evidence
to support that claim. In addition, the homogeneous culture of the Somali people
would make it difficult for foreign fighters to hide inside Somalia.
Considering there has been a decade and a half without government in the capital,
leaving the people at the mercy and whim of warlords, the Somali people have
shown characteristic restraint in rebuffing any form of Islamist extremism.
They are by nature moderate by faith – a patient and enduring people who would
give no license to extremist views or rule.
MR: But aren't the Islamic courts and their Islamic militias receiving
support from other Islamic countries?
HS: I am not aware of any outside country that financially supports
the Islamic courts in Mogadishu. Their main financers are the local business
community, especially those in Mogadishu area.
MR: How do you explain the popularity of these Islamic groups?
HS: Following 15 years and more without a government, Islamic groups
appeared and assumed responsibility for providing social amenities such as hospitals
and schools. They became the only "authority" to alleviate the lack
of facilities for the local people and they are the only ones seen to be making
a difference in Somali lives. Also, through this social approach they are able
to propagate their beliefs.
MR: Traditional Islam as practiced in Somalia has often been characterized
as "restrained." Do you expect it to remain so?
HS: Yes, but this natural restraint could easily change should Somali
sensibilities be offended by an American intervention that was regarded as being
totally about U.S. interests rather than coupled with their own. The situation
in Iraq could easily be replicated if similar policies were applied in Somalia.
MR: What other outside geopolitical factors are contributing to the
HS: There is the consideration that after Eritrean independence Ethiopia
became landlocked, so she has a vested interest in obtaining access to Somali
ports for transit of fuel and goods. Control of the Somali ports will also be
vital to secure for any international power that eventually acquires access
or control of latent energy resources in the region.
President Yusuf of the Transitional Federal
Government of Somalia has been a long-term friend to Ethiopia's president
and an ally to the Bush administration's fight against terrorism. They have
reciprocated by having offered him continuous support throughout his political
struggles. So Ethiopia and its ongoing conflict with Eritrea is a key factor.
Currently, there are accusations that a variety of Ethiopian and Eritrean agents
have sprung up inside the country, creating an environment of conflict, implementing
a policy where your enemy's enemy is your friend. However in the current conflict
in Mogadishu none of these governments have shown public support of the two
groups, but there are rumors that both Ethiopia and Eritrea supplied small arms
and large ammunition to the warlords and the Islamic courts respectively.
MR: After their recent setback in the fighting in Mogadishu, do the
U.S. backed "counter-terrorism" warlords retain much popular support?
HS: In my view, the Mogadishu warlords are the most hated faction in
Somalia. In the absence of a national government they traded drugs, built roadblocks,
killed many innocent people, looted and demolished the entire public infrastructure
built by international aid agencies in the years when we had a government –
even destroying schools and hospitals. I believe my opinion is born out by the
very recent demonstrations seen in the capital just this weekend.
As regards the "counter-terrorism" name given to or created by the
warlords, it is ironic. It is essential that a group be formed that can restore
peace and fight terrorism – but the warlords are not it! In a country where
every border is open to terrorists and international gangs, my view is that
the warlords are the biggest obstacle to defeating terrorism because they make
it impossible to restore law and order.
It would certainly appear that conflict in Somalia is becoming a proxy war
between the U.S. and al-Qaeda. Should the current situation in Mogadishu become
further inflamed and even spread to other regions of the country, it would provide
the perfect mandate for the Islamists to recruit more youth in the name of martyrdom.
Even if U.S. concerns about al-Qaeda operatives or "foreign fighters" inside
Somalia were valid, arming "counter-terrorism" war criminals to fight
a proxy war against Islamists will only destabilize the whole region.
And this is completely avoidable because the vast majority of Somalis are moderate
Muslims and not extremists. A high percentage of Somalis desire a country led
by a strong, receptive government that reflects their Islamic beliefs in a temperate
and tolerant manner.
Moreover, in my view, the international super power relations are shifting.
If one U.S. long-term interest is to assure itself of access to the strategic
untapped energy reserves of Somalia, it would do well to avoid escalation of
current events in Mogadishu.
The best option for the U.S. is to attempt reconciliation between the Transitional
Federal Government of Somalia and the Islamic courts.
In light of the events of the past, I think the U.S. also has a moral responsibility
towards the restoration of peace, security, and reconciliation in Somalia.
Preventing terrorism means that the world's only superpower has to reach a
decision based on measured judgment before waging a war on the world's poorest
nation abandoned by the West.