Somalia: All Those Guys With a Grudge and a Gun

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September 13, 2007: The fighting in Mogadishu continues, with the opposition getting the worst of it. However, the opposition knows how to play the media, and spins attractive stories about peacekeeper and Ethiopian atrocities against civilians and valiant Islamic conservatives fighting to protect their traditional way of life. Not all of this flies with often skeptical reporters, especially since journalists in Mogadishu are now frequently the target of anyone with a grudge and a gun. A lot of people in Mogadishu fit that description.

The U.S. is threatening to put Eritrea on a list of terrorism supporters, but Eritrea has brushed it off as yet another Ethiopian plot. It's more serious than that, as Eritrea is providing shelter to Islamic terrorist groups, and that puts it in great peril. The UN has accused Eritrea of continuing to break the embargo and ship weapons into Somalia. That produces more denials. Meanwhile, Eritrea hosted a meeting of over 300 Somali warlords, clan and religious leaders, who formed a new coalition, the ALS (Alliance for the Liberation of Somalia). The core of this group are clan and business leaders that believe that a religious (Islamic) based government (a religious dictatorship, in effect) is the best hope for bringing peace to the country. They have formed a 191 member "central committee" to run their campaign against the Transitional Government.

But the ALS represents a minority opinion. The majority have either thrown in with the Transitional Government, or are trying to stay out of the dispute. Many ALS leaders realize this, and are negotiating with the government. A lot of this is about money, and power. Mogadishu is a source of both. A major reason for the lack of government in Somalia for the last 17 years is the endless struggle for economic advantage in the city. The powerful businesses men are clan based, and some of the clans are heavily influenced by religious leaders, who have long advocated paying more attention to religious ethnics. But it all comes back to money, for without it you die in Somalia. Outside of Mogadishu, the clans battle for control of land and water, or roads used by trucks carrying food aid and other goods, that can be extorted as road blocks. Life is hard, and you got to live. You do that with the support of your clan, so clan comes first.

An increasing number of Somalis are accepting the fact that all this violence and arguing over shrinking economic resources, has to stop, or Somalia will sink even further into poverty and ignorance. But the hard core Islamic conservatives are supporting al Qaeda and their goal of world wide Islamic conquest. The violence in Somalia isn't going to end any time soon, but the trends are going against the Islamic radicals. That doesn't mean much in the short run, but it means a lot in the long run.

 

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