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  • [SW Country](Courtesy of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung ) On the Horn, a Dilemma  :Posted on [9 Oct 2001]

On the Horn, a Dilemma
By Thomas Scheen - Oct. 5, 2001 -

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 2000

ABUJA. Two images stick out when we think of Somalia. One is of the landing of U.S. Marines, almost grotesquely weighed down with weapons, on the beaches of Mogadishu, which were empty save for the cameramen clad in their shorts. That was in 1992.

The United Nations mission Restore Hope had noble goals: to avert a famine disaster, to restore state authority and -- not only as a secondary goal -- to demonstrate that the United States also had security interests on the strategically important Horn of Africa.


The second image is that of a corpse being dragged through the streets of the city by a rampaging mob. The murder of this U.S. helicopter pilot and 17 others in October 1993 was followed by the hasty retreat of the United States and ultimately everybody else caught up in the Somali adventure with them. Somalia, so the message at the time, was hopeless.

A great deal has happened there since then, and not only in a negative respect. Somaliland, the secessionist republic in the north, has built up a functioning government apparatus and is demanding international recognition. And in the self-declared Republic of Puntland -- the part of Somalia that forms the tip of the Horn of Africa -- it is possible to walk the streets, even at night.

In southern Somalia, however, anarchy and chaos still rule because, once again, policies are being made over the heads of those most directly affected. The United Nations is demanding the reestablishment of Somalia as a unified state. In other words, the restoration of the status quo as it existed before dictator Siad Barre was ousted from power in 1991.

That is naive, if for no other reason than because the attempt to preserve the fragmented state was the reason the first UN mission there ended in failure in 1995. Even then, nobody asked why the state of Somalia had ceased to exist.

Today, the international community's willingness to learn from past mistakes is no greater. Somalia never was a nation. Only Mr. Barre's brutal socialist regime held the country together -- ultimately turning the clan-based resistance to outside influence into an end in itself.

The UN's most recent failure in Somalia was its support for what is euphemistically called the transitional government, which was set up in the neighboring state of Djibouti by a handful of rich businessmen from Saudi Arabia and placed under the control of Mr. Barre's former Interior Minister Abdulkassim Salat.

The United Nations nodded approvingly, provided $1 million and a short time later had to increase its aid shipments dramatically, as the arrival of Mr. Salat's government in the Somalian capital of Mogadishu provoked the heaviest fighting for 10 years.

The reasons for clinging to the dream of a united Somalia exposes the limits to Western ideas of what a "functioning" Africa should be. One of the arguments used to justify the international community's refusal to recognize Somaliland is that the breakup of Somalia would lead to border changes throughout Africa.

That is possible, but not automatic. After all, Nigeria, with its 250 ethnic groups, has yet to break up since the emergence of Eritrea in the early 1990s on what used to be Ethiopian territory.

Somalia is a good example of how little the European system of government exported to and grafted on African states corresponds to the continent's diverse and complicated reality and how important it is to explore new ideas.

The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, for instance, is experimenting with a division of its states along ethnic lines. Meanwhile, in Kenya, more and more people are also demanding ethnically based administrative units to ease tensions among that state's seven primary ethnic groups.

The supposedly chaotic country of Somalia could be a practical test. But the interests of regional powers are a powerful obstacle. Egypt, for example, wants a united Somalia because it could be used to put the regionally unpopular Ethiopians under military pressure. Egypt gave strong support to Somalia's 1978 war against Ethiopia.

Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, supports the transitional government in Mogadishu because the nimble Mr. Salat promised the pious rulers of Riyadh an Islamic state.

Both Egypt and Saudi Arabia are allies of the United States, against whose will nothing is decided in the UN. As a result, the same organization that vehemently advocates the right of self-determination for minorities on the Balkans and in East Timor has other priorities on the Horn of Africa.
But there are signs that a regional policy could take shape even against the will of the United Nations.

Kenya recently closed its borders to Somalia in an effort to isolate the transitional government and to force it to admit that it was only one of many factions in the Somalian mosaic. Mr. Salat, so the political calculation, should give up his claims to leadership and agree to a gathering of leaders from all of the country's clans.

That worked in Somaliland and Puntland -- but without UN involvement.
Oct. 5, 2001

 Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 2000
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