- by Eileen Whitehead
- The Guardian
- Issue #1972
In the early 1960s, Somalia – a country of some 10mil people – was one of the first African countries to enjoy a democratic transfer of power. It had conducted the most democratic elections when the continent was mired in dictatorships and was suffering bloody military coups. However, today Somalia has suffered the most regressive and violent civil war which has been engineered by one of the most sectarian political elites.
There is now a situation where numerous foreign actors have interfered in political and security matters, failing to defeat al-Shabaab, and exacerbating the divisive apartheid-like political formula based along ethnic lines. In 2006, after fifteen years of civil war, the Union of Islamic Courts – a home-grown alliance of religious leaders – terminated the warlords’ tyrannical terror. They pacified Mogadishu and its surrounding areas and planned for local administration for the city and surrounding settlements.
However, the international community led (as usual) by the US overturned this local initiative, once again returning the government into the hands of the warlords. Then, in 2008, under the pretext of defeating the terrorist organisation al-Shabaab, the US and its allies spent billions of dollars on, according to professor Abdi Ismail Samatar, an “illusive security and superficial development” which removed the Somalis’ democratic autonomy.
Instead, the US endorsed the tribal-based federal system sanctioned by the sectarian factions of the Somali political elite, which has ended in violence under a thoroughly inept and corrupt government. The African Union-led Task Force further exacerbated the situation: a multinational military force authorised by the African Union’s (AU) Peace and Security Council and approved by the United Nations Security Council. This task force failed to defeat al-Shabaab as it was unable to mobilise the local people, due to the political situation which segregates Somalis into exclusive genealogical sections in all spheres of political and public life, with parliamentary representation, ministerial appointments, and employment in civil and security services (including the judiciary) influenced along tribal lines.
This tribal-based political scheme is accepted as reflecting Somali tradition, but it only suits the sectarian faction of the Somali political rulers and their former ally, the late Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi. The majority of Somalis reject political tribalism as they realise that such politics and policies are the root cause of the problem.
Meanwhile, Joe Biden has authorised a single drone strike against al-Shabaab militants, which attacked an American-trained elite Somali force known as the Danab. While no US troops accompanied the Somalis during the operation near Galkayo, Pentagon spokesperson Cindi King stated that the US has the authority under Article 51 of the UN Charter “to conduct collective self-defence of partner forces.” And now the US military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) is pressing for new authorities to carry out armed drone strikes targeting Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab fighters in portions of eastern Kenya, potentially expanding the war zone across the border from their sanctuaries in Somalia.
What is politically interesting in this scenario is the fact that members of the US Congress only learnt about AFRICOM after four US soldiers were killed in Niger in 2017 (ten years into its existence). They had no knowledge of the US military’s presence in the country and the extent of its presence throughout Africa. What the US fails to take into consideration is the opposite affect of its drone bombing on African civilians, which leads family members and friends of those the US kills, to actually join the terrorist groups.
The African Union’s motto is “African solutions for African problems,” which is badly needed now. The AU should insist on the removal of the President, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, whose term of office expired in February 2021, and the removal of US troops as promised by Trump in 2020.
Tunde Osazua, co-ordinator of the US’s Out of Africa Network (part of Black Alliance for Peace), stated that “the International Day of Action on AFRICOM on the 1st of October, provides an opportunity to call on the US to respect the wishes of African people and demilitarise the African continent, so that Africa can begin to be a zone of peace. That way, African countries can begin to provide for the needs of their people without the burden of AFRICOM and the US involvement.”
However, another justification now being given by the US for AFRICOM is the perception of a growing Chinese influence. General Stephen Townsend, commander of AFRICOM, just before the start of PE21 (Phoenix Express 2021 a 12-day US-Africa Command (AFRICOM)-sponsored military exercise involving thirteen states in the Mediterranean Sea), said that the “Chinese are out-manoeuvring the US in select countries in Africa”: going on to claim that the Chinese are “looking for a place where they can rearm and repair warships. That becomes militarily useful in conflict. They’re a long way toward establishing that in Djibouti. Now they’re casting their gaze to the Atlantic coast and wanting to get such a base there.”
What no one has mentioned is the obvious reason for the interest in this region: the Horn of Africa is placed at the entrance to the Red Sea and the oil-rich Middle Eastern countries. Let’s hope that in our battle with climate change, the need for fossil fuels is so diminished that this foreign interference becomes unnecessary, and the mess that the US military is making of our world will disappear.