Bush Fails to Understand Somali Politics
Despite clear evidence that the United States-backed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia has done little to stabilize the country and bring about national reconciliation, the Bush administration persists in what can only be described as cavalier and irrational actions that deepen the crisis. Two examples of this are worth noting.
The first concerns the periodic U.S. attacks on alleged Al Qaeda bases in Somalia. This has involved both naval and aerial bombardment. In each case of attack, clear evidence has emerged of civilian deaths, but little evidence has been presented to international observers to prove any REAL Al Qaeda involvement.
The second action is equally ominous. Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer was recently quoted offering extremely provocative statements (see: Simon Tisdall, "Fledgling and Fragile," The Guardian, June 7, 2007, at http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/simon_tisdall/2007/06/fledgling_and_fragile.html ). Frazer accused Eritrea -- which borders Ethiopia and the Red Sea -- of allegedly harboring Islamic extremists. This is a dangerous allegation. While Eritrea has in the past been accused of supporting anti-Ethiopian forces in Somalia by various observers, there has never been a substantiated claim that Eritrea is serving as some sort of base-area for Islamic extremists or terrorists. Such allegations, particularly in a post-9/11 world can be easily interpreted by the Eritreans -- and any other reasonable people -- as preparations for some sort of military strike by the United States.
Frazer goes on to suggest that alleged Islamic extremists in Somalia are receiving help from elements within the Somali Diaspora, including those in the United States. Again, no substantiation of this allegation is offered, but more importantly, this can easily be read as a threat to Somalis living in the United States who are in open disagreement with U.S. policy toward their homeland. In a post-9/11 world, with the passage of the notorious Patriot Act, any Somali living in the United States -- citizen or not -- can reasonably conclude that the Bush administration is attempting to silence any and all criticism. Actually it is not just Somalis in the states that need to worry about the Patriot Act.
Thus, the Bush administration, in the face of yet another policy blunder, goes from bad to worse. Having supported an invasion of Somalia rather than working with regional forces toward a permanent settlement of Somalia's political fragmentation and instability, the Bush administration advances its two standard forms of activity: military action and political intimidation. Failing to truly understand the politics of Somalia (let alone the politics of the Muslim world as a whole), the Bush administration has made no distinction between the indigenous right-wing militants of the Somali Union of Islamic Courts and the fascist terrorists of Al Qaeda.
Further, the use of inflammatory language and threats against Eritrea do nothing but encourage Ethiopian belligerence directed at both Somalia and Eritrea. The Horn of Africa needs peace and ultimately some form of mutually acceptable unification; it does not need, however, the unification that comes at the end of a whip, particularly a whip in the hands of the Bush administration.
The threat to Somalis in the United States must be a threat that we in Black America take very seriously. We need to communicate our outrage and opposition to such intimidating language directly to Ms. Frazer and her boss Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Actions against the Somali Diaspora here in the United States will be a continuation of the repression that has been faced by immigrant populations and their allies particularly since Sept. 11, 2001.
This cannot be allowed to stand. Disaster after disaster with the Bush administration: when is enough, enough?
Bill Fletcher Jr. is an international and labor writer and activist. He is the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum.