Once again the USA is walking into Africa spraying kerosene on an open fire. In this case, they are compounding the tragedy of Somalia. Specifically, elements in the U.S. government are moving to partition Somalia.
After having encouraged Ethiopia to invade Somalia in order to crush the Union of Islamic Courts, the Bush administration found itself embroiled in another quagmire, this time one involving Ethiopian troops rather than U.S. troops.
Though the Ethiopians initially defeated the forces of the Union of Islamic Courts, the situation quickly evolved into a guerrilla war of resistance against the Ethiopian occupation. Today's reality is such that the Ethiopian invaders are nowhere near victory.
With no acceptable way to resolve the situation favorable to the Bush administration, some geniuses in Washington, D.C. have come up with a new idea: partition Somalia! Focusing on former British-controlled part of Somalia which seceded from the rest of the country and calls itself ''Somaliland,'' some in Congress and the Administration have moved to recognize this mini-state, a state unrecognized by the rest of the world.
If any of this sounds familiar, it is due to the discussions that have taken place over the last couple of years regarding dividing up Iraq in the face of the resistance to the U.S. occupation and the ethnic-religious-political conflicts it has inspired.
Such an idea has been repeatedly rejected by Iraqi organizations. Nevertheless there are those in the United States who believe that they truly know better than the people of Iraq, so the idea has not disappeared.
In the case of Somalia, the Bush administration recognizes that it has helped to foment another disaster, though in this case the Ethiopians are in the line of fire. Rather than defer to the African Union and promote a peaceful resolution of the conflict — which must begin with an Ethiopian troop withdrawal — those in Washington promoting a partition are suggesting a course that might serve US military interests but are not serving the interests of the Somali people.
There are several implications of the pursuit of the partition of Somalia, all of which are bad. These include:
• It may leave the rest of Somalia in a state of warfare with a combination of the clans fighting other clans, along side a military resistance to the Ethiopian occupation.
• It may encourage other regions within Africa to secede from their nation-states based on the assumption that they will eventually receive U.S. recognition. This is not a far-fetched notion, by the way. The breakup of the former Yugoslavia was directly related to the signal that Germany, and later other powers, made that it would recognize Slovenia and Croatia if they withdrew from the Yugoslav Federal Republic. While it is true that the national boundaries of African states are holdovers from colonialism, a process of national disintegration is not in the interests of the continent and its people.
• It may turn "Somaliland" into another base for U.S. military operations in the Horn of Africa.
Given these scenarios, it is of critical importance that we in the United States convey to our political leaders that they should not fish in troubled waters.
Bill Fletcher Jr. is a senior scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies.