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Murder in Mogadishu

Somalia has suffered from anarchy for 16 years. This decade and a half has been punctuated by the rise and fall of numerous Transitional Governments, all of which failed to represent the country as a whole, even failing to claim the capital as their seat of political power.

The latest violence between a multitude of factions has devastated Mogadishu, the capital. A once busy city is reduced to the hush of depopulation overridden by outbursts of gunfire.

Mogadishu’s estimated near 1 million residents has been cut by more than 350,000 (UN figures) fleeing the extreme violence that has befallen them since the collapse of the regional administration: the Islamic Courts. The United Nations’ Office for Coordinated Humanitarian Affairs estimates that the recent fighting between Ethiopian, supposedly acting on behalf of the latest Transitional Government, and the Somali resistance groups has resulted in the death of over 1,000 civilians.

The European Union claims that civilian areas are intentionally targeted. Germany, currently holding the EU’s presidency, had its ambassador in Somalia write and deliver a scathing letter to Somalia’s president, Abdullahi Yusuf. The letter condemns frequent shelling and aerial bombardment in heavily populated regions of Mogadishu, the closure of access to aid and humanitarian supplies, the abuse and rape of women, and the bombing of hospitals.

This is a deliberate attempt to punish a population that has backed groups opposing the Transitional Government, groups that take issue with violent and unilateral Ethiopian military intervention. Perhaps Ethiopia and the Transitional Government feel that terrorizing the capital’s residents will weaken the armed clans and the remnants of the Islamic Court fighting against their imposition of authority. Perhaps they believe the civilians bear some responsibility – after all, Mogadishu has persistently shaken off government control – and this is a form of collective punishment.

Most credible reports indicate that the bulk of the current resistance is comprised of clan fighters, with a smaller contingent of the fractured Islamic Courts. The Hawiye clans, regionally dominant, and Somalia’s largest clan, is the backbone of the latest resistance in Mogadishu.

The conflict is evidence of the Transitional Government’s failure, or unwillingness, to represent the various influential power blocks of Mogadishu. Not only Mogadishu is effectively unrepresented in the Transitional Government, the country, fractured as it is, is in great parts semi-autonomous with significant portions of it little influenced to unresponsive of Transitional Government commands. The government is restrained to the region of Baidoa, in the south west. In the north, a section has declared itself as the independent republic of Somaliland, and has remained such since 1991.

Puntland, a region south of Somaliland, is the homeland of the current President. Puntland’s fighters have been moved south, to engage in the combat in and around Mogadishu, shifting the balance of power in the north. Puntland’s administration claims that Somaliland has since mobilized thousands of troops along their common border. True or not, this underscores the fragility of the country, and is yet another example of a country pulled apart by regional conflict and animosity made possible by a colonial legacy that nurtured divide-and-rule, and paid no attention to a responsible establishment of borders along cultural lines or along self-defining communities.

Ethiopia’s intervention in Somalia has not stabilized the situation, it’s instigated a more violent response to what is deemed a unilateralist occupation force. This is not moderated by Ethiopian troops inflicting death and violence not only on fighters but also on civilians. Furthermore, it seems that Ethiopia is now often bypassing the Transitional Government, directly negotiating with warring clans. This is indicative of the Transitional Government’s weakness, and their drought of representation from Mogadishu. Furthermore, it undermines the government’s influence and legitimates many Somali resisters’ accusation that the Transitional Government is propped up by external powers, including Ethiopia and the US.

Map & Further Reading:

>> Map of Somalia: http://www.un.org/Depts/Cartographic/map/profile/somalia.pdf

>> Chatham House (think-tank in the UK), report titled: “The Rise and Fall of Mogadishu’s Islamic Courts.”

>> Afyare Abdi Elmi, The Boston Globe, “Getting Ethiopia out of Somalia.”

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