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Op-Ed

Somalia: A Symbol of the Decaying World Order

Omer Jama, December 22, 2008

The piracy off the coast of Somalia is similar to the decay in world financial and political order.

For nearly two decades, world media has described Somalia using a litany of adjectives. Some have been accurate, others have been politically expedient and nearly all have been uniformly negative. This nation of 10 million has been called "the worst humanitarian crisis in the world." A "war-torn nation" that is the "poster child of failed states." It has been dismissed as "a basket case," accused of being "a haven for terrorists" and attacked as "the third front in the War on Terror." More recently, it has come to be known as the piracy capital of the world.

It came as no surprise, then, when the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) unanimously adopted resolution 1846 on December 16th, 2008, authorizing any nation the use of "all necessary means" to combat piracy in Somalia. To the casual observer, this resolution seems like a triumph of international law and order. Indeed, it shows that cooperation between nations may finally bring an end to the criminal enterprise whose victims are not only foreign seafarers but innocent Somalis as well. Alas, closer inspection of the resolution in light of others that came before it reveals otherwise.

Somalia's current infamy began when a humanitarian intervention by the world community led by the United States went terribly wrong in 1993. That intervention was in response to UNSC resolution 774 of 1992, adopted when the world watched in horror how a raging civil war caused the violent death of thousands, the displacement of millions and placed nearly the entire population of the country on the verge of starvation.

Caught in a firefight with Somali warlords who, among other criminal activities, got rich selling donated food aid, the United States lost 18 of its soldiers and shortly after withdrew all its forces from the country.

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By 1994, Somali civilians were left to fend for themselves against warring factions and armed criminal gangs. In the decade that followed, the UNSC would issue more resolutions on Somalia. Yet, the more it tried, the worse things got in Somalia, it seemed.

Meanwhile, and in violation of numerous UNSC resolutions, neighboring countries actively armed their favorite warlords in an effort to gain a foothold in any future Somali government. Warlords were sought and often coveted for their brutality. Next door Ethiopia, in particular, was most active in keeping the warlords violently engaged with one another. It was all too happy that Somali warlords kept feeding on the civilian population as long as it had its horse in the race.

Fast forward to Christmas Eve 2006 when Ethiopian troops poured into Somalia and raced to Mogadishu, the bullet-ridden capital of the country.

Leading up to the invasion, the Islamic Courts, a union of local religious groups, defeated a coalition of warlords clandestinely financed by the United States. This ill-fated victory brought to an end a decade and a half of lawlessness and warlord rule. But while Somalis besieged by warlords celebrated, the Islamic Courts' victory was largely seen as a take-over by fundamentalists ready to launch attacks on Ethiopia and may be even the West.

Occupied with its own invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States financed an Ethiopian invasion of Somalia with military training, logistical aid and the occasional aerial bombardment. The aim was to overthrow the Islamic Courts and install the wildly unpopular Transitional Federal Government. A government largely made up of the very same warlords and criminals that fed on the population for decades.

The illegality of Ethiopia's invasion under international law aside, what followed was the violent death of nearly 10,000 civilians and the largest displacement of people in modern history as Mogadishu, a city of 2 million, was nearly emptied of its residents. And today, as in 1993, Somalia is yet again on the verge of a massive famine.

Ethiopia, for its part, has benefited enormously from the War on Terror. A poor nation by any standard, it is ruled with an iron fist by a dictator whose abysmal record on human rights places him in a special category even among African dictators.

Flush now with cash and military aid, Ethiopia not only has the muscle to violently suppress dissent within its borders, it also has the means and, more importantly, the political cover to commit its widely documented war crimes and crimes against humanity with impunity.

Among the most flagrant of these unlawful acts are the repeated and wanton bombardments of civilian populated areas in Somalia and its own Ogaden region. And despite its brazen violation of human rights, Ethiopia continues to receive financial, military and political aid from the West.

Which brings us back to UNSC resolution 1846. The United Nations Secretary General only a few days ago said that Somalia's problems were beyond the capabilities of United Nations peace keepers and that no volunteers had been found for a coalition. Yet, the UNSC unanimously approved resolution 1846 virtually authorizing any nation to fight pirates in Somalia, even on land.

Never mind that piracy is a direct consequence of lawlessness in Somalia that was ignored or actively agitated for decades, the UNSC and the international community at large wish now to cure the symptom rather than the disease.

The piracy off the coast of Somalia is similar to the decay in world financial and political order. All require remedies to their root causes and not band aid solutions.

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