US in Somalia: ‘We still need the Americans for security’
By Andrew Harding
Tensions are rising sharply in Somalia, as the country’s fragile political system wrestles with a bitterly contested election process, the withdrawal of some vital US military forces, and renewed concerns about an increasingly well-resourced militant Islamist insurgency.
(bbc)—Diplomats and observers are warning that the country – three decades after it collapsed into anarchy – is once again at a crossroads, with recent progress on rebuilding a shattered state now at risk.
“Somalia is at an important pivotal moment,” the UN Secretary General’s special representative James Swann told the BBC, warning that “posturing and brinkmanship” by the country’s national and regional leaders – as they argue over a delayed and watered-down parliamentary election process – could lead to violence.
A group of powerful organisations and states – including the UN, the EU and the African Union’s peacekeeping mission – has issued a forceful statement urging Somalia’s political elites to seek dialogue. “Any threat of use of violence is not acceptable,” they wrote.
Somalia was due to hold its first “one-person-one-vote” election last year – a huge milestone for a long-fractured nation. But clan-dominated opposition parties are boycotting the process over concerns about rigging, a carefully-brokered deal is now in tatters, and the country’s President, Mohamed Abdullahi “Farmaajo”, is being blamed by some for seeking to impose his will on Somalia’s increasingly assertive regional leaders. “It could turn out to be a disaster if it’s not put back on the right track with these current elections. Everybody knows our democracy is in jeopardy, and we need to fix it,” said Mr Farmaajo’s former national security advisor, Hussein Sheikh Ali.
Adding to a nervous mood in the capital, Mogadishu – a city once torn apart by rival clan warlords – is a growing concern about al-Shabab militants.
The Islamist group withdrew from the city, and was pushed out of most other Somali towns, by African Union and Somali troops, but it retains an overwhelming hold on the countryside.
It has also begun to operate what amounts to a shadow government within Mogadishu, where it taxes and intimidates many businesses, administers Sharia courts, carries out targeted killings, and stages suicide attacks on hotels and government offices.
“Everybody is taxed by al-Shabab, directly or indirectly, including the president – the food he eats is being taxed [by them],” Mr Farmaajo’s former advisor told the BBC.
“They have been getting stronger over the last four years. A lot of people underestimate al-Shabab and say they’re becoming mafia-like. But they’re a well-organised and coherent organisation with a strategic vision to conquer this country.”
Even after what happened we are ready to deny al-Shabab and to defend ourselves”