Notes From the Margins…

And Now For Our Next Act: Somalia

  • December 23, 2011
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Within days of the US withdrawal, Iraq is already slipping back towards the sectarian violence that was triggered in the first place by the 2003 Anglo/British ‘intervention’.   After ten years in Afghanistan, British troops are supporting the corrupt Karzai government and its warlord administration whose single growth industry is the heroin trade.   After yet another ‘intervention’ that was supposedly intended to prevent a massacre and ushered in a war in which as many as 50,000 people may have died, Libya remains unstable and stalked by violent racist militias.

But the Coalition government has clearly got the bit between its teeth.  Next month Cameron will be hosting an international conference  on Somalia.   And today  the Independent announces that “senior Foreign Office officials” are considering the use of the RAF to provide reconnaissance and support to African troops in Somalia fighting on behalf of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) against the al-Shabaab militia.

What has prompted these developments?  According to Cameron, Somalia is a “failed state that directly threatens Britain’s interests”.  The International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell is more specific, declaring that

“Somalia is a direct threat to the UK’s security because it is one of the most dysfunctional countries in the world…It is a place from which emanates piracy, drug running, this weight of people trying to come to a more attractive economic shore.    There are probably more British passport holders engaged in terrorist training in Somalia than in any other country in the world.”

Yes, we can’t have this “weight of people trying to come to a more attractive economic shore”,  when those shores might include the UK.  There are other reasons for British – and Western – concern with Somalia’s dysfunction.   Somalia has a key strategic location viz a viz oil transport routes through the gulf of Aden and the Arabian sea.  It also has oil reserves itself, which a number of countries, including the United States, have shown interest in for years.

Western attempts to control Somalia and support its utterly corrupt and disastrous ‘government’ also belongs to the broader geostrategic attempts by the United States to neutralise Chinese influence in China – an objective reflected in a number of military programmes across the continent carried out under the auspices of Pentagon’s Africom command, such as the recent deployment of US troops against the Lord’s Resistance Army in Somalia.

Such interests will no doubt by played down in any future ‘intervention’.  Expect to hear a great deal about the evils of the al-Shabaab militia, how Somalia is a stain on the world’s conscience and how ‘we’ cannot stand idly by etc.

There is no doubt that al-Shabaab is a brutal and horrendous outfit.  But until 2006 it was only one component of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a conservative  broad-based Islamist movement that had been fighting the Transitional Federal Government since the late 90s, with support from Eritrea.   In 2006 the ICU controlled much of southern Somalia, which enjoyed  a brief period of stability after decades of civil war and the TFG’s misrule.

The ICU also appears to have been genuinely popular, and this became clear in  July 2006, when Ethiopia invaded the country in support of the TFG, with political backing and direct military support from the United States, which effectively alleged that the ICU was a branch of al-Qaeda.   In 2007, USA Today reported that “the United States has quietly poured weapons and military advisers into Ethiopia” over the previous year.

In addition to funding what was to some extent a proxy invasion, US Special Forces from bases in Djibouti have also taken part in military operations against Somali rebels, and the military has also targeted  ‘al Qaeda’ operatives with drone missile strikes.

The Ethiopian invasion generated a massive surge of violence in Somalia, which pushed a radicalised al-Shabaab to the forefront of a nationalist/religious war against the TFG and the ‘crusader Ethiopian invasion forces.’

Not for the first – or the last –  time, the US had helped make a bad situation worse.

Today the United States, France, Ethiopia, Kenya, and various African troops are all involved in Somalia, together with an assortment of private military contractors and special forces,  in an attempt to prop up a warlord government that has no credibility or popularity inside Somalia.

All these protagonists have their own motivations, none of which include the welfare of the Somali people, and none have them have achieved anything except to intensify the chaos, bloodshed and instability.  Some of them, such as the Kenyan and Ethiopian armies, have allegedly committed war crimes against the civilian population – for which no one is ever likely to be brought to justice

Now the old Bullingdonians want to get in on the act.   In a country that is in the midst of its worst famine since the 1990s, that has been torn apart by decades of war, Her Majesty’s Government proposes to return to its old colonial battleground in ‘Somaliland’ once again and add another dose of righteous violence, which only proves once again what cynical, calculating and ultimately disgusting bastards we have allowed ourselves to be ruled by.

So let’s all sing along with Military Wives, and enjoy the festive season, and next year we will once again cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war from 20,000 feet.

That may not  sort Somalia out, but British Aerospace will be pleased, and that’s good for all of us, isn’t it?


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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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