Geopolitics and the struggle over Resources in the horn of Africa

By Asoka Ranaweera (for Safe Democracy)

Asoka Ranaweera describes how the current situation of civil war, repression, and lawlessness in Somalia is more due to the complexities of regional geopolitics, than it is to the supposed infiltration of Al Qaeda. And although the Western World is reluctant to play an active role in Somalia since the UN pullout in the early 1990‘s, it is essential for the world to turn its full attention to Somalia in order to better understand the situation and find a solution to the cycle of violence, which has been repeated over and over again in countless post-colonial states.

Asoka Ranaweera is a political analyst and the Chief Executive Officer of “Grid2Grid Networks Powered by People“, based in Metropolitan Washington DC. He is an expert in the Eurasia and Caspian Sea Region. The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Grid2Grid’s clients, partners and/or affiliates.

ONCE THE FORMER PLAYGROUND OF THE GREAT SUPERPOWERS, a distant country is enduring death and destruction. Its population is destitute, caught in-between civil wars led by self-interested warlords. And just as the situation is beginning to seem hopeless a foreign-funded militia steps in and seizes control.

The population by and large welcomes them with open arms as order is restored and the chaos subsides. The takeover becomes headline news for a brief period of time capturing the entire world’s attention. And just as a period of brutal repression is beginning to take hold of the nation, the world moves on.

If this story sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Violent civil war, repression, and bloodshed are very common to the majority of post-colonial countries. And for the most part, the Western World ignores these brutal consequences of colonial rule. The only difference now is that on September 11th 2001, the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington DC woke the West up to the violent reality that the rest of the world lives everyday. As the cycle of violence continues, the story of Somalia, coastal country on the horn of Africa, should seem like déjà vu: unless something is done.

Abandoned by the United States and the international community in the early 1990s Somalia, with the exception of Somaliland, Puntland and one or two other independent enclaves that had declared their independence, has descended into widespread chaos. In the midst of the mayhem as warlord fought warlord and in the absence of law and order, a system of Sharia-based Islamic courts were founded to provide justice for ordinary citizens. In time this system of courts would also provide welfare services such as education and health. The rise of the courts, instigated at the grass-roots level, soon challenged the established powers of the time.

Exactly how the Islamic movement, now branded as Union of Islamic Courts, came to be a fully-fledged military force is shrouded in mystery. One thing for sure is that they do appear to have had foreign backing and many people point the finger at Eritrea, a country believed to be engaged in a proxy war with Ethiopia as well as being the primary backers of a newly formed transitional government elected by Somalian elders in Kenya. Others blame Al-Qaeda pointing out that this is a classic example of a failed state in which the preconditions are ripe for the global terror network to establish an invaluable bridgehead and open a new front against the West in an area with much geo-strategic significance.

While the main stream Western media popularizes the notion that Al-Qaeda is actively engaged in Somalia, the truth might have more to do with regional geopolitics than anything else.

In one corner sit Ethiopia and Kenya–two countries long exposed to the vagaries of conflict in the Somalia, with a need to protect their respective countries from further instability.

Both Ethiopia and Kenya supported a long drawn out reconciliation process, resulting in the establishment of what was supposed to be a transitional government under president Abdulahi Yusuf Ahmed in southern Somalia.

And in the other corner sit Eritrea, Djibouti and several Arab states, each with their own related interests to protect. The reports that arms are being shipped by the planeload from Eritrea to the Islamic Courts Union may have a profound resonance because this presents a good opportunity to strike back at Ethiopia, an old foe. For the Djiboutians the motivations might have more do to with protecting their own economic interests, such as the Port of Djibouti in which Dubai has invested handsomely, lest stability return to Somalia and its once-world famous ports challenge their regional supremacy. And finally, Arab states are seen as having a direct interest in protecting their fellow Muslim brothers and sisters against Christian Ethiopia.

Following America’s engagement in Somalia in the early 1990s, which ended in bitter withdrawal, America’s and the West’s reaction to the recent events have been hard to read. Clearly, America and the West will not intervene directly in Somalia again, notwithstanding their own intelligence reports that provide evidence, which purports to show active Al-Qaeda involvement in the country. More than likely a clandestine war is being waged through their proxy allies Ethiopia and Kenya and paradoxically through the use of American military bases in Djibouti.

With such an opaque situation, it is difficult to know where we should all go from here. Is this a war against Al-Qaeda and/or is it a regional proxy war mainly based upon regional geopolitics?

In order to truly understand what is going on in Somalia, we should focus all of our attention on the events at hand. Rather than ignoring yet another humanitarian crisis, we should strive to understand and end the cycle of violence now, so that we can avoid the onset of yet another sickening wave of déjà vu: an all too common feeling throughout the Western world.

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