Courts Open Old Wounds

By Omaar, Rageh | New Statesman (1996), August 28, 2006 | Go to article overview

Courts Open Old Wounds


Omaar, Rageh, New Statesman (1996)


The past few months have witnessed the most dramatic and profound developments in Somalia since the collapse of the US military intervention 13 years ago, a mission that failed when what should have been a humanitarian project became a "counter-terrorism" operation. The changes emphasise the position of the Horn of Africa at the very heart of the so-called "war on terror"--and yet you could be forgiven for not having spotted a thing about it in the media.

After the withdrawal of US forces, Somalia and its capital were in effect abandoned to the warlords who had driven them out. There was no government, no rule of law. Somalia was a textbook failed state, similar in some ways to Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal, though even more chaotic, if that were possible. The warlords plundered the country, did whatever they wanted, and their militias helped themselves to whatever took their fancy.

Earlier this year, however, the warlords were driven out of Mogadishu by a puritanical and radical Islamist movement, the Union of Islamic Courts. Again the parallels with Afghanistan, the rise of the Taliban movement and the overthrow of the mujahedin are obvious. As with the Taliban, the Union of Islamic Courts came from the grass roots. Ordinary people had had enough of the warlords and their militias and their failure to provide basic services and the rule of law. The Union's court system, based on sharia law, began as a way for ordinary people, businessmen and clan leaders to provide local governance and assert some control over the militiamen. …

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