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Africa’s best kept secret

By Bashir Goth - posted Friday, 2 June 2006

Mention Somalia and images of famine, warlords, fratricide and Black Hawk Down will jump to one's mind. The country barely exists on the world map, let alone the world agenda. Since the last central government was forced out of power more than 15 years ago, the people have been hijacked by hordes of warlords who prospered by robbing and looting international food aid meant for the millions of internally displaced and famished civilians, mostly women, children and elderly people.

These thugs-turned warlords have foiled every attempt by the international community to restore peace and normality to the country. It is no wonder that the people of Mogadishu have come to view the equally cruel and more barbaric Islamic courts, pushing the establishment of a Taliban-like Islamic state in Somalia, as the lesser of the two evils.

Tired and exhausted by 15 years of war, coercion and being forced to flee from war zone to war zone in search of a safe place to rest, people see the draconian rules imposed by the Islamic courts as an exceptional remedy to an exceptional situation - where the bare existence of human beings, let alone human dignity, comes under constant threat.


Just like the Taliban restored a semblance of peace and stability in Afghanistan, the Mogadishu Islamic courts have, by the implementation of their strict brand of Islam, brought an end to banditry and coercion and restored a peace of sorts in the areas under their control. Who cares if women are kept under wrap, if limbs of poor burglars are chopped off in public, if murderers are tied to trees in public squares so that the teenage children of their slain victims can be given a sword to hack the perpetrators!

Well, dire circumstances call for dire and absurd methods of treatment, one may say. Only one who lived 15 years in a state of anarchy will understand why absurd and inhumane institutions like the Islamic courts look like the guardians of Eden in Mogadishu.

Almost 14 internationally supported peace conferences and a direct full-scale international intervention to stop the carnage and restore normality was foiled by the un-holy alliance of warlords and Islamic courts. It is estimated that the international community spent between US$4 million and US$5 million on the last attempt when a government and a parliament consisting of warlords and vagabonds was formed in Nairobi in 2004, after a two-year marathon conference.

The Transitional Federal Government, TFG, refused to return to the capital: a city divided into fiefdoms among major warlords, Islamic courts and hundreds of freelance gun-toting youth. Even those warlords who were bribed with ministerial posts failed to secure a safe return for the government. Hence, the president and his parliament had to negotiate a deal with local warlords in Baidoa - the city of death that spurred the American-led Operation Restore Hope in 1992 - where the house is temporarily seated.

Meanwhile, heavy fighting rages on in the capital between a group of warlords, calling themselves an "anti-terror" alliance, and the militia of the Islamic courts. If the unfolding situation continues, as it seems it will, the Islamic militia may get the upper hand.

This suggests that the world may have to brace for the emergence of another Taliban emirate in Mogadishu and Bush's war against terror may gain a new lease on life when faced with the prospect of Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, the strongman of the Mogadishu Islamic militia, the African “bin Laden”.


Compare this macabre situation with the story of Somaliland, the former British Somaliland Protectorate, which had, after gaining its independence on June 26, 1960, united with Italian Somalia in the south and formed with it the Somali Republic. Somaliland reclaimed its sovereignty and abandoned the union on May 18, 1991 after the collapse of the central Somali government and spared itself the catastrophe endured by Italian Somalia. It has, over the past 15 years, restored peace and stability, and embarked on building the country's executive, legislative and judicial institutions in a unique homegrown amalgam of traditional systems and western democracy.

So where is Somaliland and why should the world heed its story?

Somaliland is in the Horn of Africa, separated from the Arab world by the Gulf of Aden. It sits astride Djibouti to the west, Ethiopia to the south and Italian Somalia to the East. It has historical links with the Middle East that go back to the age of the Pharaohs, where recorded legend says that Queen Hatsepshut sent an emissary to Puntland - now Somaliland - to bring frankincense, myrrh and other ingredients  used by the pharaohs to embalm and anoint their dead.

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First published in Adwalnews on May 17, 2006.

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About the Author

Bashir Goth is a Somali poet, journalist, professional translator, freelance writer and the first Somali blogger. Bashir is the author of numerous cultural, religious and political articles and advocate of community-development projects, particularly in the fields of education and culture. He is also a social activist and staunch supporter of women’s rights. He is currently working as an editor in a reputable corporation in the UAE. You can find his blog here.

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