HARGEISA, 27 February 2010 (Somalilandpress) – In a series of articles published in Aljazeera.net, the Somali-born academic and lecturer, Dr. Afyare Elmi, has put forward policy prescriptions for the international community to help Somalia become a country with a functioning state. His discussion on the emergence of Somalia’s Islamist militant organizations is interesting although he has not included Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a in the list.

“ During President Bill Clinton’s era, Operation Restore Hope was turned into the nightmare known today as Black Hawk Down” Afyare writes. Former US president Bill Clinton inherited Operation Restore Hope from George Bush (senior) but in July 1992 he had spoken in Little Rock, Arkansas and had called for humanitarian intervention in Somalia. Operation Restore Hope saved many Somalis from man-made famine and is now regarded as one of the most memorable humanitarian interventions the international community undertook to address an upheaval.

A central theme running through Afyare’s analyses is that Somali moderates can, with help from the international community, change Somalia for the better. In all the three articles Afyare sounds like unionist but his conception of a united Somalia is undermined by his failure to mention Somaliland and Puntland, the first has political parties, judiciary, and is keen on being recognized as ‘Republic of Somaliland’ whereas the latter is an autonomous, pro-(re)union administration.
Somalia’s experiment with different forms of centralism (1960-1990) paved the way for state collapse. This does not mean federalism will fare better given Somalia’s recent turbulent history of clan warfare. He attributes Islamists’ rise in Somalia to the political failure of Somali secularists:

“One can safely argue that, for now, Somalia does not have credible secularist groups that can compete with Islamists. When the country collapsed in 1991 many Islamists who lived in the Middle East went back and established schools and service centres.”

In fact, Somalia has never had credible ‘secularist groups’ but only has had opportunist politicians. The ill-timed US support for warlords who set up the Alliance for Counter-terrorism in 2006 is another factor that propelled Somali Islamists onto the political scene in Southern Somalia. Somaliland and Puntland have been successful in setting up local institutions after state collapse because they combined the expertise of politicians and traditional leaders. In Southern Somalia, people supported the Union of Islamic Courts in 2006 because warlord- based groups have called the shots in many parts of Southern Somalia where armed clans failed to consider the rights of unarmed clans in inter-reverine areas or set up local, consensus-based administrations.

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Dr. Afyare sees the Islamists as an ally who can contribute to efforts to reconstitute the Somali state and argues “the overwhelming majority of Somalia’s Islamis movements have a Somali agenda—they want a peaceful and prosperous homeland. Thus in order to build a functioning state, they should be considered an ally.” There are only two major Islamist organisations in Somalia today: Hizbul Islam and Al Shabab, and a new group, Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a sponsored by Ethiopia has honed the fray but it is not a group that can be described as an Islamist organisation. What yardstick has someone got to use to describe an Islamist group’s views as majoratarian? “Conditions that favoured the radicals have been reversed and the opportunity for defeating extremism has presented itself again,” Dr Afyare writes. In the Somali political context extremism is a word used to label someone or group whose activities or operations threaten the interests of a clan. In 2006 the current Transitional Federal Government’s Minister of State for Defence, and former secretary of Defence for both the Union of Islamic Courts and the Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia, Yusuf Mohamud Siyad (aka Indha’adde) who boasted that he was one of late General Aideed’s supporters who dragged dead American soldiers in streets of Mogadishu, and who threatened that Union of Islamic Courts would attack Addis Ababa in 2006, now calls Al Shabab mooryaan, ( hooligans), not extremists. “Somalia since 2006 is possibly the clearest example for the failure of US (and Ethiopian) counter-terrorism policy, which actually has produced what it was supposed to counter,” argued Markus Hoehne.

“If the situation is to be reversed, Somalia’s state has to be reconstructed. The long term solution to the Somalia challenge is to rebuild a strong central state,” Afyare writes. Efforts to reconstitute the Somali state will bear fruit if the approach is bottom up, rather than top-down. How will a central state based on the 4.5 power-sharing formula protect the rights of minority clans perceived to be minority because they have not had armed militias? Afyare proposes “an electoral system based on national closed list proportional representation to reform the current Somali Transitional Parliament [as]… appropriate [measure] in this context. This model is suitable because most Somali voters are illiterate and it facilitates the unity of the country.” Somalia’s experiment with parliamentary democracy ( 1960-1969) does not seem to have been taken into account by Afyare whose need for a sense of history is all the more pressing when he commends human rights groups for calling “for the removal Mohamed Darwish and Abdi Qeybdid from the government for committing human rights atrocities. Although Darwish has now been removed, Qeybdid is still in the cabinet and many more questionable individuals are also playing roles in the government.” Darwish was the head of TFG’s Security Service; Qeybdid was the Commander of Somali Police Force (now Minister of Water and Minerals).

Amnesty International pointed out in one of its reports on Somalia that insurgents associated with the Alliance for the Reliberation for Somalia of which president Sheikh Sharif Ahmed was chairman, murdered TFG members and civil servants. President Sharif reiterated that this page of Somali history was closed, and reconciliation was the way forward. Challenges the TFG faces are different from those faced by the TFG under the former president Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed. Militant Islamist organisations—Al Shabab and Hizbul Islam— don’t have the image problem that plagued warlords locally. They administer corporal and questionable capital punishments but those measures weigh less on the minds of people in areas controlled by Islamist organisations particularly inter-riverine areas for they believe Islamists’ rule is more benign than the warlords’ reign of terror. Dr Afyare’s policy prescriptions fail to take into account the complex political realities in Somalia and how problems are interconnected at district and regional levels in the Horn of Africa’s war-torn country.

Written by:
Liban Ahmad

Views expressed in the opinion articles are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the editorial