16 Jun 2006

Somalia's Endless Sorrows

The recent victories by the Somali Islamic Courts militia over various "Anti-Terrorist Alliance" warlords, supposedly funded by the USA, may seem a small story in these days of Iran, Al-Zarquawi and such. However, it has the potential to become a very large issue in the global war on terror, for Kenya regionally and for Al-Qaeda. The BBC has an excellent primer on the situation here.

East African countries have reacted by making the losing warlords persona non grata, calling for their trial at the ICC, freezing assets and other measures, led by Kenya. This they may later come to regret, if the Islamic Courts militia harden their stance to implementing a Sharia style "Taliban" state on Kenya's borders - a move that could have devastating consequences. It could easily extend to Kenya's north eastern tribes demanding a similar Sharia sytem in Kenya itself. However, in face of the Islamic Courts winning hand, there seems little to do for Kenya but offer them a cautious welcome and see what's next.

There is no doubt the Islamic Courts militia are sheltering a Al-Qaeda members, including one involved in the vicious East African embassy bombings of 1998. The Islamic Courts militia have certainly received training from outside Somalia. The defeated warlords might have remained a card in the deck to temper the courts and could re-emerge in Somalia's chaotic snakepit of clan politics.

On the other hand Kenya via the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development has employed immense time and effort to get the provisional Somali government off the ground, and the fractured,fractious body actually has set up in the town of Baidoa - but the capital Mogadishu is held by the Islamic Courts and the Somali government has no armed forces at all. If anything the warlords alliance was their "armed force". The Islamic Courts militia could crush the provisional government in a day. Ominously, the Islamic Courts have rejected a Somali government idea for African peacekeepers.

All the more reason to heed the 1858 "Compedium of African Geography", when that vintage book said that the inhabitants of the Somali coast are "violent, boisterous and turblulent" and "best left well alone".

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