NEWS 2005



How long must Somalis suffer?


Kenya Times


By Fr Joachim Omolo Ouko, AJ

Now that Somalia President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed left Nairobi for his war-torn country, the question that remains unanswered is whether his departure will restore peace in the country where famine, war, and all the crimes that go along with them has existed for decades.

Although President Yusuf says he is confident of ending the infighting that had delayed the move for nine months, inter-clan fighting which broke out on Monday in the town of Beletweyne, south-central Somalia which left at least 30 people dead and more than 70 wounded and hundreds more displaced in the violence, in its one week now is indeed a challenge to his government.

The fighting, which broke out when militias from the Galje'el and Jajele sub-clans clashed on the west side of the town triggered by a land dispute and revenge killings for the deaths of two Jajele men last week and one Galje'el man on Sunday has forced about 7,000 Somalis to flee to Kenya for safety.

The fact that Hotels in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, gave members of Somalia's transitional government up to Wednesday to vacate the rooms they have occupied for almost three years, one may argue that Somalia government did not leave Kenya on their own free will but due to condition they were given. It has cost Kenya taxpayers money 1billion shillings to host Somalia government since then.

The government had been given enough money to pay their bills until next week, when they were expected to relocate to Somalia. The government of Kenya did not wish to continue giving more money towards that endeavor.

It is due to this fact that Kenya's ambassador to Somalia, Muhammad Abdi was forced to issue a statement that demanded all Somali MPs and government officials to start leaving Kenya by 14 June, adding that where to go in Somalia is a decision for the Somali government.

Although the Somali officials, whose accommodation was being paid for by the international community and IGAD, were not being kicked out of Kenya, this condition was binding them all.

Earlier on the Somalia government, which includes several faction leaders, could not relocate sooner because of security considerations. These are some facts that prove that had it not because of come increasing pressure from the Kenyan government and western diplomats to do so, Somalia government would still be in Kenya to date.

The statement by interim Somali President and Prime Minister Ali Muhammad Gedi that the government cannot function in Mogadishu until the city is pacified and secured are some statements that do worry a lot for the stability of that country.

There is already disagreement between former faction leaders and current cabinet ministers such as National Security Minister Muhammad Qanyare Afrah, Commerce Minister Muse Sudi Yalahow, Housing and Public Works Minister Usman Hasan Ali Atto and the Religious Affairs Minister Omar Muhammad "Finish", who hold the view that Mogadishu poses no immediate threat to the functioning of the interim government.

Baidoa is one of the towns to which the Nairobi-based transitional government wants to relocate on a temporary basis until Mogadishu is secured. The Shatigudud-Madobe alliance supports the interim government's position, while Habsade is opposed to it.

"The fighting in Baidoa is another manifestation of a widening rift within members of the transitional federal institutions.

The conflict in Baidoa is rooted in a power struggle within the senior ranks of the RRA that resulted in a split in 2001.The town has changed hands several times since then.

Efforts by elders and religious leaders to intervene between the two sides have been unsuccessful so far despite the promise by President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya that logistical support for the peace keeping mission from the African Union that will support the establishment of the transitional government in Somali with bid to stability.

Without foreign peacekeepers, Yusuf fears militia rule in Somalia will prevent ministers and their teams from carrying out their work in safety, free from violence and extortion.

At least 100 members of the 275-strong parliament, led by Speaker Sharif Hassan Shaykh Aden, are in Mogadishu in an attempt to stabilise the city. They have been convincing faction leaders to disarm and encamp their militias.

But as the first operation to rid Mogadishu of illegal roadblocks manned by armed militia began last Tuesday, in a move aimed at restoring security to the war-torn city, a radio journalist who was covering a protest by bus and truck drivers near the Somali capital, Mogadishu was killed on Sunday.

A militiaman manning a checkpoint on the Mogadishu-Afgoye Road, 30 km from the capital, shot dead Duniya Muhaydin Nur, 26, on Sunday as she covered the protest for her radio station, HornAfrik, which is based in Mogadishu. Duniya "was killed by a single bullet fired at the back of her taxi. She died instantly.

A very young and dedicated journalist who had a big heart for the suffering women and children was shot because she hosted "a very popular" call-in radio programme titled "Mogadishu Today", covering issues affecting minorities, women and children in Somalia.

Her being passionate about the difficulties faced by these vulnerable groups won her a prize in heaven where we believe she is going to pray for the everlasting peace in Somalia.

Duniya is not the only journalist killed on the line of work in Somalia. In February this year, a producer with the British Broadcasting Corporation, Kate Peyton, was shot dead outside her hotel in Mogadishu.

In May, another HornAfrik journalist, Abdallah Nurdin Ahmad, was shot and wounded, also in Mogadishu, when an unidentified gunman shot him three times.

Somalia has had no effective central government since the collapse of the late President Siad Barre's administration in 1991. Since then, faction leaders have carved the country into rival fiefdoms, many of which are wracked by violence.

An interim government was set up in neighbouring Kenya in October 2004 following peace talks, sponsored by the regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, between Somalia's various clans and factions.

Historically, after years as Italian and British colonies, Somalia gained its independence in 1960. Siad Barre assumed control of the country in a dictatorship. Aideed spent the late 1960s and early 1970s in prison for planning a coup against Barre. Barre eventually freed Aideed and made him ambassador to India, Sri Lanka and Singapore.

By 1990, Barre's dictatorship had crumbled, and he was deposed. Aideed became a prominent leader of the United Somali Congress (USC), one of the rebelling factions. USC Somalian ex-patriates in Italy then proclaimed Ali Mahdi President of the Republic of Somalia, a claim recognized by very few inside the country.

Civil War Begins

In June 1991, Aideed was elected chairman of the United Somali Congress by a two-thirds vote, but Ali Mahdi refused to step down as President. By October 1991, Ali Mahdi had formed a government of eight ministers, and the Italian government promised massive financial support.

Civil war erupted as various clan-based military factions competed for control after the collapse of Barre's regime.

Aideed's militia forces gained the upper hand, confining Mahdi's supporters to a portion of Somalia's capital, Mogadishu. Aideed then concentrated his efforts on violent factions in southern Somalia, which were largely responsible for the famine in that region.

In March and June 1993, six clans from northern and central Somalia sided with Aideed, adopting the traditional Somali political system known as the Xeer (pronounced "hair"). In a bloody civil war with devastation on all sides, Aideed's faction was emerging as the center of a coalition.

Since then Mogadishu has become a place of unpredictable death, with no one in authority and no one capable of enforcing a social commitment to order. Everyone appears armed. Whoever draws first carries the day, since there is no civil authority to punish someone who robs or kills.

Estimates of human casualties since fighting began in September and then escalated to high intensity on November 17, 1991, are based on review of daily and weekly hospital records, which are kept with varying degrees of reliability and regularity.

Based on these records, the ICRC believes that approximately 30,000 people have been wounded or killed in the last five months of fighting.

Yet the food and medical situation in Mogadishu will worsen with the passage of time.

According to medical personnel, people are slowly becoming visibly thinner (even Somali hospital staff who are surviving on one meal a day provided by the ICRC).

Severe malnutrition among the civilian population is becoming more widespread. There is no central electric power or water supply for the city. Most of the water mains have been tapped.

Yet still, the psychological effects on children of the current war are extremely difficult to assess. Tens of thousands have lost a parent; many have lost both.

Thousands have been injured. None have been to school for more than a year. All are familiar with different forms of weaponry and with their effects.

Casual observation suggests that many children, especially boys, are behaving in a manner that would normally indicate severe delinquency or disturbance.

Many children have joined the forces or have become looters. Occasionally, boys under ten years of age are seen wielding automatic weapons, and it is common to see boys of twelve years or so manning checkpoints or serving in fighting units.