Leading article: A conflict with dangerous regional ramifications

Share

Somali government troops staged a triumphal entry into the capital, Mogadishu, yesterday and the Prime Minister promised to dedicate himself to solving the country's myriad problems through peaceful means. Leaders of the Islamic grouping that had held sway in the capital for six months fled in advance of their arrival. The official picture was one of flower-strewn streets, order joyfully restored, and the prospect of national unity and stability to come.

The reality was, and is, rather different. While many people appeared to welcome the troops - a not unreasonable response to the arrival of a conquering force - there was also gunfire and looting. Those who had supported the Islamic regime with arms changed out of their uniforms and into civilian clothes, the better to melt into the background. Their leaders meanwhile broadcast their intention to rejoin battle from the south.

There are many other reasons why the change of power in Mogadishu risks creating at least as many difficulties as it solves. The Union of Islamic Courts had succeeded in bringing law and order to the capital after 16 years of warlordism interspersed with anarchy. Its particular brand of sharia law was not the most refined, but it appeared - with a few exceptions - to be tolerated. If the new government cannot ensure security, a return to chaos will be inevitable.

The omens are not good. The troops that entered Mogadishu yesterday belong to the transitional government formed three years ago. Until now, though, this government has never been strong enough to establish itself in the capital, despite the moral support of the United Nations and the African Union. It remained holed up in the town of Baidoa and could only watch as the Union of Islamic Courts gained ground.

There is nothing about yesterday's advance that suggests this government is in any better position to take power and unify the country from the capital. It was facilitated only by the overt intervention of troops from neighbouring Ethiopia and under cover of Ethiopian air power. Somalia has fought two wars against Ethiopia within living memory. If there is one thing that might bring the disparate Somali clans together, it is the presence of Ethiopian forces on their territory. Sooner or later, new bloodshed would seem inevitable.

The most disturbing aspects of this week's developments, however, are the geographical and political ramifications. It is barely one week ago that we seemed to be looking at a civil war between the Union of Islamic Courts and an ineffectual transitional government that would be contained within Somalia's borders. A UN Security Council resolution providing for an African Union force to support the government was widely seen as impossible to realise. Then on 24 December, the Ethiopian government admitted what the Islamic Courts had long charged: that its troops were active in Somalia. Strikes on Mogadishu airport followed, and then a land offensive. Somalia may now have a national government, but it is one that holds power only at the behest of the rulers in Addis Ababa. The hand of the United States, which also fears a fundamentalist Islamic regime in Somalia, can also be detected behind Ethiopia's action.

In place of an internal conflict that could be contained within Somalia's borders, we must now contemplate a new war in another strategic region, at another frontier of the Christian and Muslim worlds. It is a war, moreover, in which the neighbours, the Arab world, and the United States all see themselves as having a stake. This makes a rapid UN solution unlikely. Unfortunately, it also suggests that the situation in Somalia could become a good deal worse before it gets any better.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Analyst

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading indepen...

Recruitment Genius: Linux Systems Administrator

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Systems Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: ICT Infrastructure Manager

£27000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Edinburgh city centre Scho...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Britain's Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, arrives with his son Prince George at the Lindo Wing to visit his wife and newborn daughter at St. Mary's Hospital in Paddington, west London, Britain, 02 May 2015  

Prince George's £18,000 birthday gift speaks volumes about Britain's widening wealth inequality

Olivia Acland
Nicky Clarke has criticised the Duchess of Cambridge for having grey hair  

Letting one’s hair turn grey would be the most subversive Royal act

Rosie Millard
Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'