Terrorism, Somalia/Africa
Somalia - Recipe of a Terrorist State - Africa

Somalia - Recipe of a Terrorist State

Posted by Aneela Shahzad on

(Cover pic shows image from the 1993 Black Hawk Down incident)

Somalia is a nation of 10.5million - 85% of them are ethnic Somalis, while the other 15% constitute Bantu and non-Somalis. The Somali language is a Cushitic sub-group of the Afro-Asiatic language family. Apart from this 10.5million – 4.5 million ethnic-Somalis live in Ethiopia, 1 million live in northeastern Kenya and 350,000 live in Djibouti.


The Somali people claim to be decedents from a single forefather by the name Samaale and constitute of four noble clans that claim direct decent, namely the Darod, Dir, Hawiye, and Isaaq, while Rahanweyn is another major clan with mixed decent.

Christianity had come to the Horn of Africa much before Islam had reached there. At the time of the coming of the Prophet of Islam Somalia and its adjacent lands were rule by the Christian Negus (king) the ruler of Aksum, Aṣḥama ibn Abjar. The Negus had given generous refuge to the Muslim convoys who had fled Mecca from the persecution of the Quraish – because of this amnesty the Muslims did not wage jehad over this land, as they did in all other directions. And Islam came to this land slowly by way of Muslim sufi shaikhs. The two-mihrab Masjid al-Qiblatayn in the port city of Zeila dates to the 7th century. Al-Yaqubi mentioned that the Adal kingdom had its capital in the city in Zeila. The Adals were a part of the Walashma dynasty founded by Sulṭān Umar Dunya Huz Walashma, an ethnic Somali, from the 9th century. This dynasty ruled Somalia, Djibouti and eastern Ethiopia.


Portrait of Masjid Qiblatain, Zeila, Somalia

Shaikh Darood Jabarti and Shaikh Ishaaq were two Muslim sufi shaikhs who’s preachings brought large number of Somalis into the fold of Islam. It can be noted that two major clans have adopted their names from the names of these Sheikhs.

The Adal Sultante was suspended in 1332, when the Christian king Dawit I of Ethiopia attacked them, and was resumed again from 1415 to 1559. The Sultanate of Adal was famous for its prosperity, cosmopolitanism, its architectural sophistication, graceful mosques, and high learning.

The end of the Adals’ in 1559 was the result of their war with the Ethiopians - the Ethiopians had asked the Portuguese for help. At that time the Portuguese were in control of the Indian Ocean and in backing the Ethiopian side, saw an opportunity of seizing control of the Red Sea from the hands of the Ottomans. Thus a local war became part of a global affair and the Horn of Africa showed its strategic importance. After the Adals’ several small Muslim polities ruled Somali - until the last quarter of the nineteenth century, which saw rapid colonization of the region. Somalia or the land where the ethnic Somalis had lived for millennia was torn apart as French Somaliland, Italian Somaliland, British Somaliland, Ethiopian Somaliland and the Kenyan North Frontier District.

This had two opposing effects on the Somalis; on the one hand it divided the interests of the divided people and identity came to the clan-level; and on the other hand the idea of a ‘Greater Somalia’ vision, or Pan-Somalism took root in the occupied people. This was the idea behind the 20 years long freedom-struggle of Sayyid Muhammad 'Abdallah Hasan (1856- 1920), nicknamed "the Mad Mullah" by the British. Sayyid Muhammad’s struggle was against the Ethiopians, the Italians and the British alike and gave the ideal of a Somalia united in nationalism and Islam - a legacy still cherished by the Somalis.

The colonial era ensued with wars and dissent between the colonialists and the maps of the different Somalilands kept changing - while the struggle and inspiration of a united Somalia kept on. In 1949 the Allied Council of Foreign Ministers referred the matter of Somali integrity to the United Nations General Assembly, which resolved that the Italian and the British Somalia should be granted independence by 1960.

Thus when independence came in 1960, it was an incomplete one, and one laced with much discontent. On one hand the Somalis wanted a full Somalia, parts of which were still with Ethiopia, Kenya and France (Djibouti), and on the other hand the now united south and north found themselves not much compatible with each other. The reason for the incompatibility was that Italian and Britain influence had left the two with separate administrative, legal, education systems and official languages, their taxes and exchange rates were different - and most notably their educated elites had ties with opposing foreign friends – thus having divergent economic interests.  

The dominant clans in the North was Ishaaq and Darood in the south - yet the unified government stood up for a united Somalia. In the 1961 London Talks on the future of Kenya, Somalis called for NFD's separation from Kenya before it was granted independence – but the British did not pay heed to the issue. This resulted in the formation of the NFDLM insurgents in Kenya’s NFD, ensuing a never-ending guerilla warfare in the district. The same was the case in the Ethiopian Odagen region (Somali Darood clan lives there) where the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF) was continuously making trouble for the Ethiopian authorities. In 1964 Kenya and Ethiopia signed a Mutual Defense Treaty in response to their perceived threat from Somalia.

In 1969, Major General Said Barre disposed the civilian government in a coup d'etat, starting a 20 years long military dictatorship in Somalia. Barre was backed by the Soviet Union, which meant that Somalia had now become another front in the Cold War. Somalia received large Soviet military aid and soon the Somali National Army (SNA) was three times stronger than Ethiopia in tank force and had a larger air force than theirs. For this reason plus a growing political instability in Ethiopia with the overthrow of Haile Selassie, Barre attacked Ethiopia in 1977 – confident in his success in taking Ogaden back. But Barre fatefully neglected the reality that by then Ethiopia too had come in the favors of the Soviets and in its foresight USSR eventually decided to re-route its military aid to Ethiopia causing Somali’s defeat.

This defeat opened a Pandora box of troubles for Barre, in 1978 Majeerteen a sub-clan of Darood turned against Barre. In 1981 a group of emigrants of the Isaaq clan in London formed the Somali National Movement against Barre; in 1989 the Hawiye clan formed the United Somali Congress; Gadabursi made the Somali Democratic Alliance; and Rahanweyn made the Democratic Movement. The fatal mistake that Barre made was that instead of finding an inclusive solution, he retaliated to each clan with brutal suppression and killing. By 1989 an estimated 50,000 unarmed civilians were killed, thousands more died of starvation.

In 1991 Said Barre fled the country and the USC formed a provisional government with Ali Mahdi Muhammad of the Hawiye clan as president and Umar Arteh Ghalib, of the Isaaq clan, as prime minister. Muhammad Farah Aidid a former general opposed this set-up and split from the USC. Politics became essentially clan-based and the capital, Mogadishu, became the center stage of guerrilla warfare.  The clans thought they were not given due representation in the new system. SSDF and SPM aligned against the USC too.

It should be noted here that when Somalia left the Soviet camp after Barre’s war with Ethiopia, it entered that of the US. Thus the flow of weapons to the country continued. But a stark difference can be seen in strategy - the Soviets supplied arms and funds to Said only – but the US was willing to let its arms reach to the clan-heads – thus converting cities, harbors and airports into self-proclaimed autonomous regions, with practically no central authority. And in the course of time, General Muhammad Farah Aidid and Ali Mahdi Muhammad became the two most powerful warlords.

As unrest and civil war continued in Somali, the UN brokered a ceasefire in March 1992 - in December a resolution was passed authorizing the use of "all necessary means to establish as soon as possible a secure environment for humanitarian relief operations in Somalia". At this time President George Bush made an address to his nation, informing that the US would send troops to Somalia. The UN mission - Operation Restore Hope - was mostly made of US troops. In the course of this so-called humanitarian operation, aimed to relieve the Somalis from the on-going famine and starvation, the US quickly took control of major cities and their food rationing – but civil war continued. The original UN mission UNOSOM had been decreed with the task of the restoration of peace and stability in Somalia by ceasefire-dialogue and relief-works, but when it failed in the purpose the mission was changed into UNITAF, which was to conduct the Operation Restore Hope, now after US troops were strongly based in wanted positions, the US urged the UN to change the mission back to UNOSOM II, which would work to stabilize Somalia again.

UNOSOM II was missioned to disarm the various factions, restore law and order and help the set up a representative government - but the warlords were not ready to disarm so easily. The right strategy would have been to engage all factions in negotiations to ensure a fully representative provisional government – create a working model of stability – and they would disarm willingly. But the US troops engaged themselves in direct battles with the warlords to eliminate them – increasingly the US and international forces were seen as interventionists. In July 1993, the US army attacked a safe house belonging to Farah Aidid, killing 50 clan-elders, 16 TOW missiles and thousands of cannon rounds were fired on the compound.

In August 1993, another operation was commissioned, which turned into a pitched battle - between 1,000 to 1,500 Somali militiamen and civilians lost their lives in the battle, while Aidid’s forces shot down two US MH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and damaged three more, also killing 18 US soldiers. As a result UNOSOM II was aborted.

With all this chaos ensuing bitterly, the clans started declaring autonomy - in 1991, the people of Somaliland, of Isaaq clan, declared independence from Somalia, in 1988 Puntland and Jubbaland declared autonomy and in 2002 the area of Bay and Bakool declared autonomy as  the Southwestern Somalia. After much negotiations initiated by the international community and especially IGAD, an eight-country trade bloc in Somalia’s neighborhood, a Transitional Federal Government (TFG) was agreed to in 2004. Under this arrangement the warlords remained completely autonomous fiefdoms, and the TFG became more of a Somali League of Nations in miniature, virtually powerless.

Meanwhile from the 1970s groups like al-Jama'a al-Islamiya under Shaikh Dahir Indhabuur, Shaikh Abdallah 'Ali Haashi and Shaikh Abdalqadir Ga'amey and Wahdat al-Shabab al-Islamiya under Shaikh Ali Warsame became active and both of these merged as Al Itehad Al Islami (AIAI) in 1983. The AIAI turned into an armed militia with alleged funding from the Saudi charities: Muslim World League (MWL) and the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) and Mercy International Relief Agency (MIRA). They staged three insurgencies, one in Bosasoo (Northeast), one in the Gedo region, near the Ethiopian border and one in the Ogaden region – but they were beaten each time. In January 1997, Ethiopian forces attacked the AIAI base in Ogaden, killing and dispersing them, the remainder force denounced militancy and later reemerged in visible public roles as religious leaders, judges, elders, and businessmen.

After the 1993 Black Hawk Down issue, Osama Bin Laden claimed it to be ‘a victory for Somali Muslims’. At this time Wadi' al-Haj, an American of Lebanese descent, was sent to set up al-Qa'ida's Kenyan base, he  established an NGO, ‘Help Africa People’, that worked closely with the Nairobi office of Mercy International Relief Agency (MIRA), a Dublin-based organization headed by a Saudi dissident, Safar al-Hawali, one of Bin Laden’s mentor. But Al Qaeda succeeded in organizing only two events that can be identified as acts separate from the ongoing civil war in the country - the August 1998 Nairobi embassy, and Dar-es-Salaam embassy and the Nov 2002 Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel incident.

After 9/11, 2001, Donald Rumsfeld, instructed his senior commanders to examine options for military action in Somalia and the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) was established in neighboring Djibouti in 2002. The Al-Shabab under the leadership of Aden Hashi Farah Ayro emerged in 2003 – after the US-declared War on Terror. Thus more than actually being one, the threat of Somalia’s becoming a safe-haven for terrorist from around the world played a large role in carving the political landscape in Somalia.

Many faction leaders collaborated with the so-called counter-terrorism forces mainly headed by the US – this gave them a kind of legitimacy which they needed to exist in a non-existent state machine. The multifaceted political landscape of Somalia also give its neighboring state the moral impetus to constantly partake in Somalia’s affair – as Somalia is now considered the springboard for terrorism to jump into neighboring states. In 2005 TFG was divided in two – the one led by President Yusuf, who wanted Giohar to be the capital and to invite peacekeeping forces in to support the TFG, and the other, the ‘Mogadishu Group’, of the Hawiye clan, wanted Mogadishu as capital and presence of no external forces in Somalia. Because of these internal discords the TFG barely had any real power.

It was in this void of authority that the Islamic Courts Union arose with solutions. Initiated and led by former AIAI members, the ICU made their first model in Mogadishu, with their Islamic Courts and accompanied militias paid by local businessmen to reduce crime such as robberies, drug-dealing and pornographic films in the area. Under the leadership of Shaikh 'Ali Dheere and Hasan Dahir Aweys, the court militia acquired a reputation for discipline and good conduct. Soon the courts were organized in the whole Shabeelle region and courts were established throughout the state. Instead of embracing this model of peace and security, a group of Mogadishu warlords formed the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (ARPCT) to counter the ICU.

The ICU’s strict law and order over Mogadishu and disciplined militia defeated the ARPCT and a central order returned to Mogadishu for the first time in 15 years. Though the courts were Islamic and establishing a sharia-base system was their ideal, they claimed to be moderate and that they wanted friendly relation with the international community – yet very soon they were labeled as Talibans of Somalia – the reason being that the strength of the ICU meant the dissolution of all other powers internal and external in the affairs of Somalia.

While the ICU faced hard opposition of the TFG at home, very soon in its usual Islamophobia the US quickly formed a Contact Group with its allies Britain, Italy, Norway, Sweden and the EU against this new threat emerging in Somalia. Meanwhile TFG requested the regional East African peacekeeping force to be deployed in the country. ICU and the TFG backed by Ethiopia, came on war-footing. In Dec 2006, the UN authorized IGAD and the African Union to establish a protection and training mission, IGASOM, and later AMISOM in Somalia. War broke out and Ethiopian forces launched unilateral air strikes against the ICU forces across Somalia. The US Fifth Fleet's maritime task force intervened in Somalia, sending Lockheed AC-10 gunship to attack suspected al-Qa'ida operatives in Ras kaambooni – as expected none of the killed were al Qaeda. The only role of al Qaeda in this whole episode was of Ayman al-Zawahiri’s repeated videotape rhetoric, calling the Mujahedeen to come to ICU’s help. The ICU was eventually defeated and dispersed by early 2007, and control went back to the TFG – plunging the country into continual chaos once again.

With the ousting of the ICU, piracy becomes rampant again and al Shabab emerged as a terrorist organization in its true manner – ragging terror and killings across the country as an affiliate of al Qaeda.

Thus goes the story of Somalia – a story of success of the international community seated in the UN – of successfully ridding Somalia of the single hope it had of peace and stability in decades – a success of the US in waging its War of Terror on yet another Muslim country.

Permanency of chaos and terror have thus been secured for Somalia.