In Somalia, thousands have fled the capital of Mogadishu as government forces continue to fight opposition Islamist fighters. Fierce street fighting over the past month has claimed hundreds of lives. Just last week, bombs killed two lawmakers, the country’s security minister, the police commander of Mogadishu and nearly two dozen civilians. We speak to Somali American writer and human rights activist Sadia Ali Aden. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
We turn now to Somalia, where thousands have fled the capital of Mogadishu as government forces continue to fight opposition Islamist fighters. Fierce street fighting over the past month has claimed hundreds of lives. Just last week, bombs killed two lawmakers, the country’s security minister, the police commander of Mogadishu, and nearly two dozen civilians.
On Saturday, Parliament Speaker Sheikh Aden Mohamed Madobe urged the neighboring countries of Ethiopia, Kenya, Yemen and Djibouti to immediately send troops to Somalia. He also asked the wider international community to assist Somalia against, quote, “foreign fighters” and “terrorists.”
SHEIKH ADEN MOHAMED MADOBE: [translated] We are also calling on the international community, especially the US, the EU and the Arab League, to play their role in helping ensure the survival of Somalia from an aggressive enemy of terrorists.
Some news sources, including Al Jazeera, reported Sunday that Ethiopian troops had returned to Somalia. The Ethiopian government spokesperson, however, told reporters that Ethiopia would not invade Somalia without an international mandate.
Kenya’s Foreign Minister said Sunday that his country would not, quote, “just sit by and watch the situation in Somalia deteriorate beyond where it is.” Somalia’s Islamist al-Shabab militia issued a stern warning against any intervention by neighboring countries.
Meanwhile, the number of people displaced by the fighting continues to rise. The humanitarian situation is dire, with over a third of the country — that is, some four million people — dependent on international agencies for aid.
Mumina Abdi and her family were forced to leave their home in an impoverished Mogadishu neighborhood for a camp for the internally displaced.
MUMINA ABDI: [translated] We don’t have enough money or materials to build shelter for my children. I used to wash clothes for a living and stayed in the Kaaraan district, but we had to flee from our district to here. We’re helpless during the rainy season.
To find out more about what’s happening in Somalia now, we’re joined from Washington, DC, by the Somali American human rights activist and writer Sadia Ali Aden. She is the co-founder of the Somali Diaspora Network.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Sadia. Tell us what’s happening.
SADIA ALI ADEN:
Well, what’s happening in Somalia is heartbreaking. As you have just described — co-host has described, you have a humanitarian crisis, a serious humanitarian crisis — the worst in Africa. Over one million people internally displaced, 3.5 million on the verge of starvation. And you have thousands and thousands new — thousands of new internally displaced civilians, as you have just, also Juan has just described, that have resulted from the newly started conflict.
So, what you have is a government that has been elected in a neighboring country, Djibouti, that has arrived in Mogadishu and has thought that it has established a serious base in Mogadishu, that has been met with a serious challenge by the opposition groups. And remember, these opposition groups are the same people who were part of the Islamic Courts.
The Islamic Courts, as you remember, has brought six months of peace in Somalia, a semblance of peace, the best Somalis have seen since the civil war has started. But that, Islamic Courts have broken up into two factions now, or three, I should say, which is the government, the unity government united with the Sheikh Sharif group; and Al-Shabab, the military wing of the former Islamic Courts; and then you have the Hizbul Islam, which is led by Sheikh Aweys, which is one of the other leaders of Islamic Courts. So, they’re all struggling for power.
And the idea is, from the opposition, to topple the government. And there is no dialogue. There is no serious reconciliation that’s taking place. The civilians are caught in the middle. Whenever, also something, weapons hit or anything arrives on the side of the African troops, AMISOM, they respond with heavy artillery, shelling, which kills civilians.
So, the civilians have nowhere to go. And those who have arrived in the refuge area, the UN is reporting, particularly women, are being raped. And also, both sides are not caring for the civilians. And both sides are recruiting children to go frontline, under the age of fifteen. And this is reported also by the UNHCR and UNICEF.
What about the role of Ethiopia and some of the other neighboring countries? Obviously, Ethiopia invaded for a time and then pulled its troops out. What should be the role of these neighboring countries?
SADIA ALI ADEN:
Well, the role of these neighboring countries should have been what it has been at the beginning, which was welcome the Somali refugees, civilians, women, children and elderly, who were fleeing from the conflict between the warring factions, the warlords.
But what it has become, as soon as the war started, especially with Ethiopians, was to arm militias against each other, to arm warlords against each other, and to facilitate the continuation of the civil war, Somali civil war. Therefore, Ethiopia and Kenya have not — have become the enemies who have contributed to the instability of Somalia. And Sheikh Aden Mohamed Nuur, Sheikh Aden Madobe, the Speaker of the Parliament, calling for the intervention of these neighboring countries, frontline states, such as Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya, was met with shock by the Somali community, particularly those in the diaspora and those who know the brutality of the Ethiopian forces.
So, he cannot, of course, call for intervention from international court, international world, because Sheikh Aden doesn’t have the authority to call. Even the Parliament doesn’t have, because the Parliament, as you know, is at 550 right now, and it’s based on 4.5 formula, which is clan-based, four major clans and others, which is the minority groups. So these people in the Parliament, the majority of them, do not really represent the Somali people, much less the clans or the regions that they say they represent. Therefore, they can’t.
Sadia, the last time Ethiopia invaded, it was backed by the United States. What is the role of the United States here? Backed by the United States when a more stable government, the Islamic Courts, was in power. That destabilized them.
SADIA ALI ADEN:
Absolutely. What the former government, Bush administration, has done was the United States has withdrawn from Somalia in 1993 after the infamous “Black Hawk Down” that took the eighteen American soldiers and killed thousands of civilians. It was a hands-off policy.
And then, after September 11, Bush administration has decided to reengage, but not with the local authorities, but with warlords. And those warlords have actually — want to hunt for traditional leaders, religious leaders. And there was uprise, grassroot uprise, and that was what produced Islamic Courts.
Those Islamic Courts that brought the stability and the peace were toppled by the Ethiopian government, the Ethiopian troops, with the help, of course, of the administration — of Bush administration. And those have fled to Asmara, and then they became Alliance of Re-liberation of Somalia. They have formed an organization, and then they broke up into two: one led by Sheikh Sharif, the other led by Aweys.
So, what now? We’re realizing now and we have realized and argued for the longest was supporting warlords and engaging Ethiopia to take care of the problems of Somalia is not the best way to go. It was a foreign policy that has failed, that has not succeeded. It was misguided. Therefore, Obama administration should take divorce from that foreign policy established from the Bush administration’s eight years of administration and reengage Somalia, but engage with the people, engage with the local authorities, not with the warlords, and not to use Ethiopia as intervening or mediating government to take care of the problems of Somalia.
Sadia, about a minute we have left, I’d like to ask you, the Western press has often mentioned the presence of — increasing presence of foreign fighters, many of them supposedly linked to al-Qaeda, in Somalia. How accurate is that, in your assessment?
SADIA ALI ADEN:
They’re not accurate. We don’t know what’s inside Somalia, the same way that we didn’t know when the original — the earlier administration has also claimed. But what the foreign international community or foreign journalists should do is go inside and investigate and find out the truth about Somalia and make the next process to help this government reestablish peace in Somalia to be homegrown, home-found and run by the Somalis, the same way that the two administrations that are built in Somalia in northeast and northwest of Somalia that have succeeded.
Sadia, finally, the way we know about Somalia usually in the United States is because of piracy, what happens —
SADIA ALI ADEN:
—- to US ships or international ships overseas -— I mean, in the high seas. In these last few seconds, can you talk about that issue and how it relates to what’s happening in Somalia today?
SADIA ALI ADEN:
The piracy is a symptom; it’s not the disease. The disease lies on land. It’s that Somalia needs a serious political solution. The piracy is resulted from illegal fishing and toxic waste dumping, nuclear waste dumping. And what the international community needs to do is introduce a resolution banning all these nations to stop the illegal fishing and the illegal toxic waste dumping in Somalia. And that’s the real issue in Somalia.
Sadia, we’ll have to leave it there.
SADIA ALI ADEN:
Sadia Ali Aden, a Somali American writer and human rights activist who is co-founder of the Somali Diaspora Network.