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From: Berhan Sium (eretrawi@yahoo.com)
Date: Wed Jun 03 2009 - 22:34:00 EDT

Selam Dehai,

I commend the writer of this commentary, Afrah Negash, for such a well thought-out, concise and sharp analysis of the situation in Somalia. I would recommend her to submit it as an op-ed piece to the mainstream US newspapers (such as Washington Post) as well as online publications such as AntiWar.com and CounterPunch.org.

Moreover, this piece provides excellent talking points for Eritrean activists and advocacy/lobby groups such as the Organization of Eritrean Americans (OEA) as they work tirelessly to advocate for change in US policy towards the Horn of Africa.

If US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Ambassador Johnnie Carson, is to be persuader to change course to a more positive and constructively engaging US foreign policy towards Africa in general, and the Horn and Eritrea in particular, then we Eritreans in America need to sing from the same chorus book as this one by Afrah Negash, abd constantly repeat the refrain that the Obama administration must engage us in "Change we can believe in" as we had given it our wholehearted endorsement during the election campaign.

We must be realistic, however. If we look at Afghanistan/Pakistan, for example, Obama is acting more imperialistic than the Bush neocon regime and is taking a more belligerent and warmongering stance -- which, IMO, will spell more disaster to US interests than the Iraq debacle, and may even lead to total state collapse in Pakistan, and finally the dreaded falling of WMD into the wrong hands.

All peace-loving activists from the Horn of Africa (Eritreans, Somalis, Ethiopians and Sudanese) need to form an active alliance to lobby the Obama administration that it doesn't follow along similar course in Somalia too. Of course, the most decisive factor in this regard is events on the ground in Somalia by Somali actors, which may change the dynamics drastically and force policy options for the US towards a positive direction.

Berhan Sium


From: Afrah Negash (fwd@dehai.org)
Date: Wed Jun 03 2009 - 21:17:33 EDT


Afrah Negash

President Barack Obama has certainly inherited a dangerously fast-developing crisis in Somalia that can have far-reaching implications for regional and global security. Unlocking this intractable crisis demands a careful long-term strategy that detaches the new Administration from earlier Bush policies and its disastrous consequences. Unfortunately, the hope for a shift in policy that many had expected, is fast evaporating as Ambassador Johnnie Carson, President Obamas new Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of African Affairs seems determined to reproduce the old policy but in new bottles.

Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sub-Committee on Africa, Ambassador Carson, called for developing a coordinated strategy regarding Somalia; which in itself is an important proposition but meaningless if it is not accompanied with broadening of views and vision of the crisis and political actors involved. Ambassador Carson seems unable to abandon the old and narrow confines of counterterrorism and humanitarian assistance. This approach ignores the abundant evidence found in the increased levels of violence, extremism and anti-Americanism in Somalia.

It is imperative, therefore, for the new Administration to make a clean break with the past through redefining and implementing a long-term strategy endeavoring support to the re-formation of a stable Somali polity and an inclusive government. Such strategy shall, in the long term, better serve U.S. interests by promoting a more secure and peaceful region.

To begin with, there is a need to lend more weight to order over anarchy and dialogue over ideological absolutism. Over the past eight years, the Bush Administration committed one political blunder after another by labeling those holding opposing views as terrorists, and by its unrelenting crusade to impose its worldview by force. Hence, in Somalia, in total disregard to the fact that the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) proved to have been the only party capable of establishing law and order, stability and effective control since state-collapse, the U.S. administration labeled them as terrorists. Accordingly, Washington endorsed and supported the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia. This U.S.-backed military intervention had the opposite effect to what Washington intended. It isolated the people that the U.S. gambled on and strengthened the credibility and popularity of those who resisted the occupation. For all of the above reasons, Washingtons new national
 security team must recognize terrorism and piracy as a dir
ect manifestation of statelessness and not the vice versa.

Secondly, Washington needs to focus on supporting Somalis to form their own government. Political institutions arise from mediation processes of conflict and cooperation between different social forces and their efforts to resolve their differences and enhance their cooperation. External intervention on such dynamic procedures and processes has proved to be unworkable, if not even disastrous. Over the past decade, the international community has attempted to impose governments in Somalia. Such efforts proved to be largely ineffective as it failed to incorporate critical stakeholders because of the fear of spoilers or because the international community could not stomach them.

Invariably, such imposed regimes, whatsoever international legitimacy may be bestowed upon them, are seen by large segments of the population as an imposition, lacking the basic social contract between government and the governed. Without effective control over territory and/or public support, these governments, remained confined to a particular locality. A case in point is the inability of the Abdullahi Yusuf government to get out of Baidoa until the Ethiopia invasion. Similarly, the present TFG controls small portions of Mogadishu, while other forces occupying larger parts of the country, as the Ambassador Carson has admitted.

Thirdly, the U.S. must seek to improve its image among the Somali people that has been seriously damaged by its support for the Ethiopian invasion which resulted in the death of tens of thousands and the displacement of several millions Somalis; not to mention statements by some senior officials of the Bush Administration, notably Assistant Secretary Jendayi Frazer, regarding the status of Somaliland. In order to restore its credibility as an important stakeholder in the stability of Somalia, the new administration needs to publicly disassociate itself from the divisive policies of the past and adopt a more coherent, conciliatory and inclusive strategy for dealing with Somalia.

In conclusion, to bring about stability and a functioning state to Somalia, which in turn will end piracy and enmity to the U.S., the Obama administration must adopt a comprehensive approach based on a better understanding of regional and local political dynamics coupled with a clearer and more pragmatic approach towards the various Somali stakeholders.


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