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Ethiopia invasion throws Somalia further into crisis
THE LONG-suffering Somali people, after enjoying six months of relative stability, have once again seen their country thrown into chaos. This time, Ethiopian troops supporting the weak Somali 'transitional federal government' invaded and swept aside the militias of the ruling Union of Islamic Courts (UIC).
The routing of the UIC - who seized power in June 2006 after ousting a coalition of Somalia's warlords - came after several leading clans in the capital Mogadishu withdrew their support for the UIC.
But events in Somalia are not simply a localised conflict in a 'failed state', they reveal a regional conflict in the Horn of Africa and a wider struggle involving US imperialism's 'war on terror'.
Ten countries have been supplying arms in the Somalia conflict, using the country as a proxy battlefield. Neighbouring Eritrea had been supporting the UIC in order to fight its old Ethiopian foe. Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia have also been supporting the UIC along with a few thousand foreign fighters from other Arab and African states.
The US Bush administration had backed Somalia's warlords who were battling with the Islamist UIC. After the UIC triumphed, the US, along with the United Nations, continued to back the remnants of the warlords in the so-called Somalia transitional federal government, whose authority didn't run beyond the town of Baidoa.
However, Ethiopia, which fought two territorial wars with Somalia during the last 45 years, backed by the US, launched an invasion two weeks ago - ostensibly to support the 'transitional government' against the 'Islamic terrorists' of the UIC.
The US has maintained that the UIC were constructing a 'Taliban-like' state in Somalia with links to al-Qa'ida. But although elements within the UIC were advocating a hardline imposition of Sharia law, to most Somalis who had endured 15 years of terror under a 'coalition' of warlords, the UIC (backed by Somalian businessmen) had restored civil government and begun to rebuild the country's shattered infrastructure. The country is desperately poor, with an average life expectancy of 46 while 219 in every 1,000 children die before the age of five.
The UIC, resting on a weak capitalist economy, would not have been able to ameliorate the suffering of the poor. However, Somalia's population again faces an uncertain future, not least from thousands of occupying Ethiopian troops and Somalian clan leaders.
As if to underline the current precarious political situation in the country, an attempt last weekend to disarm the inhabitants of Mogadishu (some 100,000 AK 47 rifles are believed to be held amongst the population) led to hundreds rioting against the new regime.
It's also unclear whether the defeated Islamist militias will regroup and start a war of resistance against the occupation. Such a prospect has led to the US navy patrolling offshore and launching airstrikes. And Kenyan troops have rushed to the Kenyan border with Somalia to prevent fleeing militiamen crossing, as well as a new influx of refugees.
There are calls from some African countries' leaders for an African Union (AU) peacekeeping force to be sent to 'stabilise' the country. The US, concerned that a political power vacuum will open up in the country if Ethiopia withdraws its troops "within weeks", says it will immediately fund an AU force to the tune of $14 million.
However, the current failure of AU troops to prevent genocide in Darfur and the UN's previous failure to impose 'peace' in Somalia, shows that these forces offer no solution.
The country's recent history shows that capitalism and feudalism cannot develop one of the poorest regions of the world. It will take the development of a united working-class force to pose an alternative to the current regime.
Decades of civil strife
IN 1960 Somalia gained independence from Britain and Italy. In October 1969 General Said Barre seized power establishing a "socialist" regime - in reality, (despite some progress in social fields such as education), it was a military-police dictatorship backed by the Soviet Union.
Instead of developing the country, Barre launched military offensives against Ethiopia, attempting to annex the Ogaden plateau region in 1976.
Backed by Cuban troops, Ethiopia repelled the incursions. The Soviet Union withdrew its support of Barre's regime.
In the aftermath, Somalia's economy was shattered and a weakened president Barre assumed more dictatorial powers. These factors led to internal factionalism.
In 1991, Mohammad Ali Mahdi (following a brief civil war) sought power as factional fighting between clans split the country, with General Mohammad Farah Aidid controlling the capital Mogadishu.
Bloody inter-clan fighting ensued, while the mass of the population starved. An estimated 300,000 people died and 1.5 million were forced to flee to neighbouring areas.
In response to this crisis, the United Nations (UN) sent a humanitarian mission and a 'peacekeeping' force in 1992.
The militias clashed with UN 'peacekeepers' and US troops initiated operations to capture Aidid and his lieutenants. This led to the 'black hawk down' incident in which 18 US soldiers were killed and the subsequent humiliating withdrawal of US forces. UN forces withdrew completely by 1995.
After the 11 September 2001 attacks, the US labelled Somalia a terrorist state and imposed further sanctions on the country.
In June 2006 militias of the Union of Islamic Courts ousted the warlords.
In The Socialist 11 January 2007:
Socialist Party news and analysis
Violence against women
Socialist Party review
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news