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By Bill Fletcher, Jr. NNPA Columnist
Published: 11 June 2010

(NNPA) - The situation in Somalia has been moving from bad to worse. The collapse of the US-backed dictatorship of Siad Barre in 1991 was followed by the de facto breakup of the country among various clan-oriented war lords. Repeated efforts at unification failed, generally after a noble announcement.
For a brief moment in 2006, a conservative political movement, known as the "Union of Islamic Courts," served as the dominant political force, marginalizing the Transitional Federal Government. Despite its conservative politics, there was a period of relative peace in Somalia and the hope for stability. This, however, was destroyed when, with the backing of the Bush administration, Ethiopia—the long-term enemy of Somalia—invaded Somalia in order to destroy the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC). The Bush administration had decided, despite a lack of evidence, to suggest that the UIC was aligned with Al Qaeda.
The Ethiopian invasion, which initially appeared to be successful, contributed to the further unraveling of Somalia. In fact, the—then—military wing of the UIC, known as Al Shabaab, emerged as an independent force taking on more and more the characteristics of a terrorist movement as it fought both the Ethiopians as well as Somali forces with which it found itself at odds. The eventual Ethiopian troop withdrawal did almost nothing to reduce tensions and contribute to reunification of the country.
Somalia, as a result, remains divided. It, additionally, has become the dumping ground for companies largely from the Global North that wish to dispose of toxic wastes. This has been accompanied by the rise of piracy as groups of Somalis either seize freighters for funds or as a way of chasing off toxic polluters.
The steps taken during the Bush administration contributed to disaster. The further identification by the USA of most Islamic groups in Somalia with terrorists makes it more than difficult to bring the warring sides together.
The dilemma for the Obama administration is that it seems more content to discuss confronting terrorism in Somalia than it is to consider what steps are necessary to bring peace and unity. This is a problem reminiscent of events transpiring in Afghanistan. To the extent to which it gets involved in civil wars it tends to exacerbate all conflicts, if not internationalize them.
What could the Obama administration do now? A recent conference on Somalia held in Turkey was important in reminding the world of the on-going Somali crisis. The international community was appealed to for funds and other support to a peace process. The USA has made financial contributions but rather than focusing on what it will take to bring the warring parties to the table, it seems more directed towards implementing a variant of the 'war against terrorism' scenario in Somalia.
To this extent, the USA cannot play the role of the honest broker. What it can do, however, is to insist that foreign government and non-government actors that have interfered in the internal affairs of Somalia, should totally withdraw. This means that countries, such as Ethiopia and, to a lesser extent Eritrea, that have engaged in a proxy war in Somalia through supporting different sides, must completely and totally disengage.
The Obama administration must support peace efforts advanced by the African Union and the United Nations. It must tone down its incendiary rhetoric that does nothing than further the polarization of the conflict. But it must remember that a political settlement to the Somali conflict can simply not be imposed from the outside. It must come about as a result of disengagement by interfering parties and the neutralization of those forces within Somalia that are determined to carry out wars of annihilation. Only in this way will Somalia gain peace and unity rather than exist in a state of perpetual war of all against all.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and the co-author of "Solidarity Divided." 


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