History repeats itself: Now in Somalia

When former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan criticised the US military invasion of Iraq as an “illegal” act, he was blasted by right wing neo-conservatives in the US. Annan was implicitly accusing the administration of President George W. Bush of violating the United Nations charter because it did not receive the authorisation of the Security Council to launch a military strike on Iraq four years ago. Since history has a way of repeating itself, the international community is now faced with a parallel situation following the Ethiopian military invasion of neighbouring Somalia last month and the subsequent US air strikes allegedly against Al Qaeda targets.

But at a press conference on Thursday, the new UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, fast gaining notoriety for ducking politically sensitive issues, refused to sit in judgment of the Ethiopian and US transgressions in the Horn of Africa. When he avoided answering two questions seeking his views on “the unilateral intervention by the Americans” in Somalia, a third reporter was more blunt. “One last try on Somalia,” he told the secretary-general. “Do you think - yes or no - that what the US has done in bombing Somalia and having Special Forces on the ground is in any way in contravention of international law?” The Secretary-General: “As a matter of principle, I will not answer anything in such a ‘yes or no’ manner. I think I have answered that question already.”

The conflict in Somalia was triggered by a long simmering dispute between Somalia’s transitional government in Baidoa and the Islamic force in Mogadishu. The US has been providing support to the transitional government on the ground that the Islamic force has ties to Al Qaeda. Bill Fletcher, Jr., a visiting professor at Brooklyn College-City University of New York and immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, said that the Ethiopians need to withdraw and there needs to be an African Union (AU) force there to help with reconstruction and reconciliation.

“The only way that the Transitional Government will succeed is if they broaden their base rather than relying on Ethiopian firepower,” he added. The US, he said, should clearly stay out of Somalia. Fletcher also pointed out that Somalia has now become a site for a proxy fight between the two sides, with the Ethiopians supporting the Somali transitional government and the Eritreans allegedly supporting the Union of Islamic Courts.

“Not only does Ethiopia face the prospect of a deadly, long-term conflict to its South, but the USA faces the prospect of potential involvement should the conflict evolve either into another Ethiopian/Eritrean War, or should the Union of Islamic Courts gain public sympathy because they are seen as victims of the one global superpower,” Fletcher declared. Early this month, a divided Security Council discussed a draft resolution calling for “all foreign forces (to) immediately withdraw from the territories of Somalia and cease their military operations inside Somalia.”

But that paragraph was in dispute because of opposition, primarily from the Untied States and most members of the Council. The draft, with strong support from the League of Arab states, was the brainchild of Qatar, a non-permanent member and current president of Security Council. — IPS