Academic journal article International Journal of Humanities and Peace

The Elusive Quest for Peace in the Horn of Africa: The Regional Attributes of Civil War in Somalia

Academic journal article International Journal of Humanities and Peace

The Elusive Quest for Peace in the Horn of Africa: The Regional Attributes of Civil War in Somalia

Article excerpt

A major post-Cold War challenge for Sub-Saharan Africa is putting an end to internecine conflicts. Civil wars undermine human development and democratic governance. Africa's wars waste the Continent's scarce human and financial resources, help incumbent leaders postpone democratic and economic reforms, and undermine regional economic cooperation and integration. The relationship between conflicts and development, however, is not a one-way street. Poverty and weak political institutions also give rise to conflicts.

A key feature of civil wars or intrastate conflicts in Africa is that they spring from specific regional contexts involving national and international interests. Like many of Africa's regional resource wars that usually involve proxies of border states (2), interstate conflicts in Horn of Africa, also known as Northeast Africa, are fought through proxies of neighboring national armies. But what is perhaps peculiar about the Horn (3), which has the dubious distinction of being the only part of the world with a long-standing case of stateless society (4), is that inter-state and intrastate conflicts in this sub region of Eastern Africa occur simultaneously (5) and frequently (6).

The latest crisis in Somalia takes on the interstate patterns of conflicts in the Horn. After decades of statelessness and mayhem, following the collapse of Somalia's one party government in 1991, Somalia is again in crisis. Recent events in Somalia indicate that it is only a matter of time before the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) clash with the moribund internationally backed Transitional Federal Government of Somalia (TFG) based in Baidoa in Northern Somalia. The current crisis surfaced when the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), a rising Islam-nationalist force, recently defeated US-backed warlords, and controlled Mogadishu, the traditional capital of Somalia. Having controlled the capital, the UIC is bracing itself for yet another showdown with the TFG. The TFG was formed out of numerous peace negotiations among various Somalia political groups over a long period of time.

Despite the significant international support it enjoys and its democratic pretenses, the TFG has not been able to establish a legitimate and effective national government. Initially, it was basically a government in exile, unable to return to Somalia because of its weak security and governance apparatus. When it ultimately relocated to southern Somalia from exile in Kenya, it was with the financial and political backing of the international community (the African Union and the United Nations) and the active support of Ethiopia, which, given its historical border conflict with Somalia, has a vested interest in discouraging the formation of a hostile Somali government. In short, the image and legitimacy of TFG suffers not only from its inability to form a functioning authority, but also because of its links with Ethiopia, which many Somalis see as a spoiler.

The Emergence of the Union of Islamic Courts

Following several months of heavy clashes, the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) has scored a decisive victory against Mogadishu's major faction leaders, taken control of the capital city and its environs, and established itself as the dominant authority throughout much of southern Somalia. The prospects for a bitter showdown between the Courts and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), based in Baidoa, remain very real. (7)

While the TFG was struggling to expand its limited authority beyond Baidoa and build a legitimate Federal government, a loosely organized clan-based Sharia Courts became increasingly popular in southern Somalia because of their capacity to deliver a modicum of security and justice based on Islamic jurisprudence. Unlike the warlords, which appropriated exorbitant taxes in exchange for haphazard security, the Islamic Courts have emerged as credible providers of security and social services amid decades of lawlessness. …

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