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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Somalia: Does Nation Face Doomsday Or Opportunity for Peace?

allafrica blog | Brian Kennedy | 24 February 2009

Washington DC — In AllAfrica's feature, "Africa from Abroad" - which highlights important articles about the continent appearing in media outside it - Brian Kennedy of our Washington DC office reports on recent coverage of Somalia.

Eleven African Union peacekeepers were killed in a brutal attack in Mogadishu, Somalia on Sunday. Witnesses described hearing two massive explosions.

A spokesperson for the Shabaab, a radical yet powerful Somali militia that the United States labels a terrorist group, claimed responsibility for the attack. The spokesperson warned more is yet to come.

This weekend's tragedy makes the title of Jeffrey Gettleman's new piece on Somalia - "The Most Dangerous Place in the World" - particularly pertinent. Gettleman, the East African bureau chief for the New York Times, writes in Foreign Policy that even after reporting in Afghanistan and Iraq, "nowhere was I more afraid than in today's Somalia."

Gettleman's analysis echoes the perspectives of fellow Somalia watchers: United States policy has had a devastating impact on the East African country. Gettleman draws an analogy from the game of baseball, in which after three strikes, the batter is out, to show the failures of U.S. policy.

Strike one was memorable and can be summed up in three words - "Black Hawk Down". In 1993, 18 U.S. soldiers died in the streets of Mogadishu, eventually forcing U.S. to pull out.

Strike two occurred in 2005, when a semblance of order was returning to Mogadishu and the surrounding areas under Islamic rule. In a post-9/11 world in which terrorism dominated U.S. perspectives, Gettleman writes that CIA "again misread the cues," sponsoring the wrong warlords instead of working with moderate Islamists.

Strike three happened one year later, when in December 2006, the U.S. backed an Ethiopian invasion to overthrow the Islamists. Gettleman claims, "There were even some U.S. Special Forces with the Ethiopian units." Gettleman also calls the U.S. airstrikes against suspected terrorists a failure, "boiling anti-American sentiment."

Gettleman wraps up the essay with some lukewarm ideas about how to bring security to Somalia, but he seems at best unsure of their chances of success. His scenario tends towards the doomsday variety - the Islamists sparking a regional war in their effort to bring ethnic Somalis in other states into their Greater Somalia.

Just when you thought things in the Horn of Africa could not get any worse.

One Somalia expert is more optimistic than Gettleman though. David Shinn, a former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia who teaches at George Washington University in Washington DC, told Jim Lobe of IPS that the withdrawal of Ethiopia and the installation of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmad offer "a real opportunity for a positive breakthrough."

He added: "The chances for this happening are perhaps only fifty-fifty, but, in the Somali context, a fifty-fifty chance of achieving a positive breakthrough is brilliant."

Other Somali experts have also weighed in on the argument over the way forward and U.S. policy.

Michael Weinstein, a professor of political science at Purdue University, wrote in a policy brief AllAfrica publishing partner Garowe Online that Ahmad made a mistake when he appointed Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke as his prime minister. for

And Ken Menkhaus, a professor of political science at Davidson College, said in a strategy paper for the Enough Project that the Obama administration must break with the Bush policy on Somalia.

"The United States must make clear that it will provide sustained support to the general principles of reconciliation, consensus-building, power-sharing, and moderation, not support to specific individuals or factions," Menkhaus wrote.

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