Somalia: A New Front Against Terrorism
Published on: Feb 05, 2007

On December 14, Mrs. Frazer finally announced that the UIC was controlled by al-Qaeda.29 While the presence of members of al-Qaeda in Mogadishu (like in Paris or London) was not impossible, how could it become the crux of the situation? Washington’s approach during the summer was based on a simple hypothesis, one that had not worked elsewhere: it was most important to engage the moderates and isolate the radicals, who were identified without nuance as al-Qaeda clones. This approach was doomed for several reasons. First, the foreign threatwhether one agrees with Ethiopia or notwas an important motivation for the diverse Courts to stay together. Second, the political situation was very unstable and everyone’s position would change greatly from June to December. As noted above, Hasan Dahir first appeared to be an extremist. However, to use two examples that are usually at the heart of American diplomacy, he is the one who proposed including women in the advisory council and he participated in a civil ceremony for World AIDS Day. It is always possible to distinguish the moderates and radicals at a given instant over a given problem but these divisions are not permanent and do not apply to every major question. Finally, there is the idea that the United States purposefully heightened the divisions for an American-made fitna: instead of encouraging dialogue, the American position prevented it. In this sense, the European attitude was more realistic since they wagered on the decanting of a solution through political dialogue and the internal adjustments that dialogue requires. The result, however, was not wonderful. We would have to take into account the petty rivalries between EU representatives in Nairobi, the practice of dealing with Somali problems from their embassies in Kenya without setting foot in the country, and the relative lack of interest among European governments in Somalia, all of which do not bode well for initiatives that might anger American allies.

Jendayi Frazer’s position was not unanimously accepted in her administration30 or in the intelligence community31 since John Negroponte, director of the intelligence services, rejected such a categorical interpretation a few days before the invasion. In fact, based on the information available when this article was written, it appears that several cards were played to provide American support for Ethiopian intervention. More time is needed before the following hypotheses can be confirmed or disallowed.

The first hypothesis is that this invasion is a turning point in the fight against terrorism. As some authors have noted,32 in conformance with the priorities listed in the Quadrennial Defense Review in 2005, American policy intends to grant certain countries the status of “new regional power” in the fight against terrorism. This designation has several advantages in the case of Ethiopia: its army does not hesitate to respond to attacks and the regime has already dismissed the criticism of the international media. This strategy also gives an increased role to the Pentagon over the CIA and State Department. Although international events argue for a police approach to fighting terrorism, this policy favors a military approach. The effects of this development will only be negative as we will witness in the evolution of the Somali situation over the coming months and the mobilization of international Islamist and Jihadist movements to turn Somalia into a new front. Jendayi Frazer would finally be right.

The second hypothesis is that this intervention occurred at a time when America’s Iraq policy was called into question by the victory of the Democrats in the November 2006 elections. By increasing the American presence in Djibouti and warning of the al-Qaeda threat, sectors of the administration wanted to show that they were not wrong and that opposition to its policies should be limited. Military success does not seem to have led to political victory. The security situation in the territory formerly held by the Courts is growing worse. The TFG has not listened to Jendayi Frazer’s calls for dialogue.

After creating the conditions for the crisis, the United States is now turning to the Europeans to manage a situation for which the Americans are responsible and to finance the African force that is supposed to stabilize Somalia. As neo-conservative Robert Kagan put it in 2001, “superpowers don’t do windows.” It is also revealing to see Washington call for an African force in Somalia at the same time as it criticizes the failure of African Union soldiers in Darfur. But with the administration living out the final days of its reign, contradictions are not its concern.

An African Iraq?

The question now facing us is how the situation will evolve. With Ethiopian troops in the Somali capital, the war is over but so is security. Disturbances are limited in other parts of the country: the Ethiopians are hunting both militant and refugee Oromos; rumors are spreading of executions of dozens of Court partisans but no independent observation has corroborated them for the moment. The Jihad announced by the leaders of the Courts seems unlikely. Yet the most likely scenario in the absence of real political dialogue is an African Iraq. What does this expression mean?

Like in Iraq, the American-Ethiopian invasion removed the conditions of national authority in Somalia. The end of the UIC marks the provisional end of the centralization that took place in June with the arrival of a single influence over a large portion of the country. Now there is a return to the constellation of local situations that evolve more in terms of local history and local interests than national or foreign policies.

Like the Iraqi people in the spring of 2003, the Somali people took note of the TFG and Ethiopian victory. It noted the relative international silence over Ethiopian intervention and expects the international aid promised by Washington to arrive. Hostility towards the Ethiopian presence is, generally speaking, counterbalanced by this hope. But it will not last. It seems clear that the TFG has no intention of sharing the resources allocated to it now or in the future. Since its creation, it has never shared its resources and has not changed on returning to the capital. In the best case scenario, the international community will try to work around the TFG, but the lack of security (and its own bureaucracy) will significantly reduce the impact of international action. Social unrest will therefore grow. The Somali people will not be unanimous; just as in Iraq, old antagonisms will not miraculously converge into national unity against an aggressor. On the contrary, there is a greater risk of social involution and an increase of divisions and contradictions. We can again make the comparison with Iraq where the international presence pushed the Shiite and Sunni communities to compete for power while rapidly eroding ties between communities.

We should also discuss the forms of involvement in the war. In Iraq, talk of foreign Jihadists is less prevalent than of a plurality of groups with different political agendas and different attitudes towards Iraqi citizens. Similarly, in Somalia, armed opposition groups will reveal the deep ideological differences, diverse political projects and varying attitudes towards civilians that were already present in the Islamic Courts. To no one’s surprise, there will be an international Jihadist element corresponding to the self-fulfilling prophecy of the American world view. But there will also be local Islamist groups who will be unwilling to relinquish control to foreigners in a national struggle. Militias will also appear reflecting the failure of the clans, sub-clans and trans-clan interest groups to join in the allocation of international aid.

If these predictions have any truth to them, the neighboring countries of Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia will also experience repercussions from this interventionism. There are Islamic identity groups in these countries who now have no reason to resort to violence. But if their countries decide to follow Washington and Addis Ababa, they will have a reason. The use of preventative measures would criminalize these Muslim communities and marginalize them as citizens. The current attitude of the Kenyan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Raphael Tuju, who aligned himself with the TFG hardliners, can only serve to heighten tensions in his country.


Analysis of the American-Ethiopian intervention argues in favor of a series of political decisions that will probably never be considered since they require the international community to display some measure of self-reflection and realism.

The first thing to be done is a modification in the regional framework. The Algiers Agreement must be enacted. The Ethiopian regime can no longer claim the role of regional police officer as an excuse to imprison its parliamentary opposition and sometimes physically eliminate its opponents who take refuge in neighboring countries. By the same token, Eritrea can no longer play the regional spoiler as it has done with diligence since 2002. Its behavior can only be explained by the ambiguity of its relations with Washington. We should note Jendayi Frazer’s silence concerning Eritrean influence in the Islamic Courts: suddenly criticizing the most secular state in Africa when attempting to condemn radical Islam might be confusing.

The European Union cannot accept the current TFG and Ethiopian blackmail passing through Washington: pick us or chaos, an African force that we control or the return of al-Qaeda. An African or UN force with no concomitant political process is doomed to fail. We can see the frightening results in Darfur and there is no need to submit the African Union with its American pressures and institutional solidarities (like the IGAD and others) to a further major failure. Instead of discussing the composition of a military force, it would be better to establish a political context where it makes sense.

The countries of Europe must convince themselves that a realistic solution is not one that rubber stamps Ethiopian wishes. Ethiopia has benefited from the lack of security on its southern border: it has been promoted to the status of strategic ally with Washington for that very reason. If the region were normalized, the Ethiopian regime would appear as the fading authoritarian government that it is. By bowing to American and Ethiopian interpretations, Europeans would establish the framework for a lasting crisis.

But what political process is needed? At present, if nothing is done, we run the risk of seeing the people responsible for the failure of the Islamic Courts return as leaders of an armed opposition to the occupation. This would bode ill for Somalia’s future. We need to deal a new hand. That means organizing a new reconciliation conference where the TFG would be reduced to its component elements without particular support or recognition from the international community and where the different Islamic organizations excluded in 2002 and the other groups already represented in 2002 would be full participants.

Political dialogue without exclusivity, dialogue that does not take a shape dictated by a foreign occupying force is now the only, albeit difficult, way to prevent the return of war and a new front between the United States and the Jihadists.


1 Prejudices are hard to erase, and not only in the West. The Muslim community in Ethiopia is the largest religious community in the country but it is not a majority. The Ethiopian regime is secular, as reflected by its leaders, Marxist-Leninists from Tigray who converted to free trade policies in the early 1990's.

2 “Africa: U.S. Official Sees 'Credible and Capable' Force As Key to Peace in Somalia” at

3 Full of errors and incredibly biased for those who know Somali politicians and businessmen, a book from the period demonstrated this idea: Medhane Tadesse, Al-Ittihad. Political Islam and Black Economy in Somalia, Addis Ababa: Meag Press, 2002.

4 More than five years later, no proof of these accusations has even been given despite the seizure of the company’s assets in Dubai. Its director was able to return to Mogadishu as a free man in 2003 and played an important role in the Islamic Courts.

5 Intergovenmental Authority on Development, whose members include Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan.

6 An opponent of Mohamed Siyad Barre as early as 1979, Abdullahi Yusuf is a member of the Majerten/Darod clan and was president of Puntland (northeast of Somalia where his clan lives).

7 The only published record comes from the reports of the International Crisis Group during this period:


9 Ali Mohamed Geedi belongs to the Warsengeli/Harti/Abgal. He is a close relative to a powerful faction leader, Mohamed Dhere, based in Jowhar north of Mogadishu and comes from the same sub-clan as Bashir Rage with whom American missionaries stay when visiting the Somali capital.

10 Roland Marchal, “Somalia” in Andreas Mehler, Henning Melber, Klass van Walraven, eds., Africa Yearbook: Politics, Economy and Society South of the Sahara in 2005, Leiden & Boston, Brill, 2006. The other TFG faction was practically thrown out of Kenya in June and took up residence in Jowhar.

11 A further example to counter those who hold the simplistic view that the clan is the basic unit of analysis in Somali politics.

12 Craig Timberg, “Mistaken entry into clan dispute led to US black eyes on Somalia”, Washington Post, July 2, 2006.

13 He was rewarded since he and his associates gained around ten seats on the advisory council of the Islamic Courts. Proof that Somali Islamism is not immune to economic reality.

14 Interviews Dhuusa Maareeb, July 2006; Mogadishu, September 2006.

15 Roland Marchal, "Mogadiscio dans la guerre civile : rêves d’Etat ", Paris, Les Etudes du CERI, N° 69, 2000.

16 At the risk of shocking common understanding, a large portion of its members are more sociological Muslims or apolitical religious personalities instead of Osama Bin Laden disciples. Their true weakness was not religious devotion but the inability to work together. 

17 Described as one of the most radical leaders by the international media, Hasan Dahir was not viewed the same way by the people of Mogadishu. International opinion is based on his presence on an American list of leaders of terrorist organizations and not on the concrete choices he made in 2006. Another blind spot in the international perspective.

18 Martin Fletcher, “Battle-scarred nation is at peace with itself… but still facing war”, The Times (London), December 16, 2006.

19 Roland Marchal, “Islamic political dynamics in the Somali civil war” in Alex de Waal (ed.), Islamism and its Enemies in the Horn of Africa, London: Hurst and Co., 2004.

20 Many militia members worked for the factions before June 2006 and hoped to demonstrate their “return” to Islam through this religious radicalism.

21 Early in the war, Skikh Janagow was nominated to convince the Mogadishu clans to choose the Courts over a powerful faction leader, Mohamed Quanyere.

22 Read their three latest reports, which are full of mistakes and fabrications but contributed to naming the UIT as a branch of al-Qaeda:

23 One would be surprised to see how many Rahanweyn, Bantus and Dir in the most radical Islamist movements. The same type of positioning took place in Puntland: the Islamists mostly come from small coastal clans that are more in sync with Persian Gulf Islam but marginalized in regional clan politics because of their small numbers and their inability to summon a significant militia force.

24 We should distinguish the Italian special envoy who was the only one during this crisis who constantly tried to bring the parties together. But the other Europeans were often absent: the French became partially involved in August, the British wavered between their analysis and their alliance with Washington, the Norwegians were fitfully active and the others did not show up. 

25 The relative conversion of the armed opposition groups in Ethiopia to Islam is undeniable even though its reality in the field is less concrete. Hostility to a regime that continues to claim its national representation when it only encompasses a small clique from an ethnic minority has led to numerous ideological shifts, especially when the opposition in Parliament has paid such a heavy price for being opponents of the regime. But rather than question the local reasons that caused these changes, the Ethiopian government has skillfully played the international terrorism card. As for the Europeans, they are politely silent.

26 Unable to enact the decision of the International Court of Justice concerning the border between these two countries, the international community has allowed the conflict to persist in Ethiopia without getting involved.

27 While there are obviously no public documents that would allow us to answer this question, reading the reports of the experts delegated by the United Nations Security Council can give us a good idea of the manipulations possible.

28 Marc Lazaretti and Marc Lacey, “Efforts by CIA Fail in Somalia, Officials Charge,” The New York Times, June 8, 2006.

29 Agence France Presse, "Somalie: Al-Qaïda a pris le contrôle des tribunaux islamistes, selon Washington", December 15, 2006.

30 Interview December 2006.

31 Karen de Young, “US Sees Growing Threats in Somalia”, The Washington Post, December 18, 2006.

32 Peter Beinart, “Return of the Nixon doctrine”, Time Magazine, January 5, 2007. Vance Serchuk, “Ethiopia versus the Islamists”, The Weekly Standard, January 15, 2007.