Thursday, March 15, 2007

Journalists attacked in Mogadishu

The following report alleging harsh physical abuse of independent journalists in Mogadishu is very troubling. If true, it speaks poorly for the transitional government's intentions with respect to press freedom and human rights generally. Please share your comments below.

Shabelle Media Network (Somalia)
March 13, 2007

Mogadishu (Somali) - The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) is today shocked by the declining security situation of journalists in Mogadishu after journalists working for Mogadishu based independent Radio station, Shebelle Media Network, were ruthlessly beaten in two consecutive days. Three Shabelle journalists were beaten today, 12 March, after they went to the ex-building of the Somali Ministry of Defence, which is occupied by Ethiopian forces backing the Transitional Federal Government (TFG). The journalists Ismail Ali Abdi, Mohammed Ibrahim Raggeh and Mohammed Ibrahim Ali (known as Ruush) reportedly went there to confirm unproven news about the departure of the Ethiopian troops from the building, according to a member of the management of Radio Shebelle.

On Sunday, 11 March, journalist Abdirahman Yusuf of the Shabelle Radio, publicly known Al-Adala, was beaten in the neighbourhood of north Mogadishu by the armed forces of the TFG, while carrying out journalistic assignment. On Friday 9 March, Hassan Sade Dhaqane, a reporter for Horn Afrik Radio, was arrested by forces of the transitional government in KM4 area while making live coverage of disarray that existed at the sight. Government officials confirmed the arrest, but the journalist is up till now held in unidentified place.

"We resolutely denounce the fresh life-threatening attacks of journalists Ismail Ali Abdi, Mohammed Ibrahim Raggeh, Mohammed Ibrahim Ali, Abdirahman Yusuf and Hassan Sade Dhaqane," said Omar Faruk Osman, Secretary-General of the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ). "The time has come for the transitional government to completely examine and elucidate reasons behind the painful violations against Shabelle journalists" Omar Faruk Osman added.

"We are really troubled by the detention of Journalist Hassan Sade Dhaqane," said Omar Faruk Osman. "Arresting a journalist in the course of his duty and detaining him unduly are intolerable acts of aggression, and we appeal to the transitional government to immediately instruct its armed forces to release Hassan Sade Dhaqane and end violating journalists' rights". "This is the time the transitional government is to protect its citizens, mainly journalists, and not to assume them as spies or combatants," Omar Faruk added. NUSOJ commends the cooperation that Ugandan forces of the African Union peace-keeping mission in Somalia are making with the media.

2007 already became another year that journalists are facing grave abuses of their human rights. Journalist Ali Mohammed Omar was murdered on Friday, 16th February 2007, around 20:30hrs local time in Baidoa of Bay region in south-western Somalia by three men. The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) is supporting the Report of the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the situation in Somalia, which said "Limits to freedom of expression are a serious concern throughout Somalia....". In his Report released on 28th February 2007, the UN Secretary General said "I call on all Somali parties to provide unhindered humanitarian access for relief efforts, as well as guarantees for the safety and security of humanitarian aid workers, and to respect the fundamental human rights of all people in Somalia".

1 comment:

Joseph Peter said...

To state the obvious, the increase in violence and chaos in Mogadishu and the ominous reports of attacks directed towards journalists covering the conflict there, that have accompanied the decampment of the putative Transitional Federal Government("TFG") from its redoubt in Baidoa to Mogadishu, augur poorly for the prospects of the TFG, and portend a protracted conflict there, with a further increase in the already alarming level of death and destruction for the long suffering Somali people. When we contrast this misery and bloodshed with the brief period of relative calm and order in Mogadishu and its environs, in 2006, during the interregnum following the ouster of the warlords from Mogadishu by the Islamic Courts Union ("ICU"), and before Ethiopia's military invasion of Somalia to overthrow the ICU and install the TFG, we are compelled to analyze the role of the United States Government in fomenting this shambolic state of affairs in Somalia, if we are to harbor any realistic hope that the United States can change its disastrous policies that have contributed to the unfolding catastrophe on the Horn of Africa.

Although it is true that the ICU imposed Sharia law, the ICU was remarkably successful in banishing from Mogadishu the murderous and thuggish militiamen of the warlords who had held the good people of Mogadishu in a veritable state of terror for well over a decade and a half. In this context, Sharia represented a considerable improvement over the earlier lawless enviroment of a patchwork of militias commiting crimes and running rackets in what was, essentially, a lawless metropolis of over three million people.

The initial question to be raised about the recent role played by the United States is this: what is the taproot of the Zeitgeist that has caused the United States to follow such a benighted course?

My efforts to answer this question lead me, ineluctably, to an article penned by Harvard University Professor Samuel P. Huntington entitled "The Clash of Civilizations?", that appeared in the Summer of 1993 issue of the scholarly journal Foreign Affairs, in which future conflicts were envisaged, essentially, as a long, ideological struggle between, as the late Professor Edward Said summed it up, in 2001, in the aftermath of the terrible events of 11 September, "[t]he basic paradigm of West versus the rest(the cold war opposition reformulated)."

In the popular construct of Professor Huntington's proverbial "Clash of Civilizations," Islam is seen as the enemy of the Christian West. Putting aside the utter ignorance displayed by such a simplistic view, it becomes a particularly dangerous mindset in the face of the security challenges posed by the attacks on the American homeland on the 11th of September 2001.

The embrace of Professor Huntington's "vision" by the so-called neoconservative policymakers, who, apparently, still rule the roost in the White House these days, has had disasterous implications for American foreign policy in the Middle East. We need look no further than the fiasco in Iraq to see that. In this context, it is not at all bold to state that the incipient American misadventure in abetting Christian Ethiopia's efforts to create a vassal state in neighboring Moslem Somalia, holds the potential to cause as much, if not more, damage to American interests and prestige over the long term as that caused by the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Just as the realpolitik of the Cold War caused the Reagan Administration, in the 1980s, to favor the authoritarian regime of Siad Barre, in Somalia over the then Marxist regime in Addas Ababa, led by Mengistu Haile Mariam, in order, as it were, to check Soviet influence in the Horn of Africa, and, concomitantly, to obtain port access to deal with the threat posed by the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the current involvement of the United States on the Horn of Africa appears to have arisen from the notion, dubious though it is, that Somalia is but the latest front in the amorphous "War on Terror." Just as the invasion of Iraq has been touted by its supporters with the specious and inane clarion call that we must take on and kill "the terrorists" there so that we don't have to fight them here, the same is said to be true with regard to Somalia.

It might be said that the tilt of the United States towards Somalia in the 1980s achieved its stated objectives, even if the armaments provided to the Barre regime fell into the hands of the Somali warlords and, hence, increased the lethality of the clan conflict that ensued following the collapse of the Barre regime and persists to the present. However, the same cannot be said about the current conflict in Somalia. Instead of remediating the anarchy and chaos that could be the incubator for future terrorists, the deteriorating security situation in Mogadishu actually appears to have made matters worse, setting the stage for a widening of the conflict, just as the invasion of Iraq has actually created a veritable caldron of violence and hatred of the West in Mesopotamia that is breeding instability and terrorism there that could soon engulf the entire region.

However, what makes the situation in Somalia potentially worse than that in Iraq is that, whereas the involvement of the United States in Iraq has apparently unleashed a civil war among Arab Sunni Moslems, Kurdish Sunni Moslems and Shi'ite Moslems, the meddling in Somalia, especially the tacit U.S. backing of an Ethiopian invasion of Somalia could, conceivably, be a rallying cry for extremists throughout the Moslem world who seek, wrongly, to portray the United States as a Christian nation with a crusader-like penchant to attack and destroy Islam. This is certainly an incendiary issue, and it is striking how the press and policymakers in the United States appear to have been oblivious to the ominous implications of American interference in Somalia.

Before addressing the fundamental questions of the efficacy and morality of the current American strategy on the Horn of Africa, if it can be assumed that the current efforts of the United States to influence, if not ordain, events in Somalia represents a coherent plan at all, as opposed to a succession of disparate blunders, we need to focus on the flawed premise of the thinking that appears to inform such strategy, namely, that any movement to impose Sharia, anywhere, is an effort to create a haven for al-Qaida extremists that, ultimately, would pose a gathering threat to the United States homeland, or so the thinking goes. Put another way, the ICU sought to impose Sharia; ergo, the ICU, somehow, represents a threat to the West, specifically, the United States, and, therefore, the ICU must be vanquished.

To be sure, in June of 2006, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Jendayi Frazier, foreshadowed American efforts to topple the ICU by contending that the ICU was sheltering three suspects implicated in the 1998 East African embassy bombings and the 2002 Mombassa hotel bombing, and, since the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, in December of 2006, approving commentaries from the State Department have, typically, been accompanied by reference to the three terrorist suspects said to be sheltered by the ICU in Somalia. However, what has by and large gone unsaid is that none of the suspects is Somali (one is said to be from the Comoros Islands, another is said to be a Kenyan and the third is said to be Sudanese), much less how three foreigners said to be marauding in Somalia could ever, possibly, pose any credible threat to the United States, either in the near term or else over the long term. Moreover, there appears to have been precious little consideration of the dearth of evidence of significant Islamic extremism in the ICU, and even less of the incompatability of Islamic extremism with Islam as practiced by Somalis.

Instead, for six months or so leading up to the invasion of Somalia by Ethiopia the pronouncements from the Bush Administration about the ICU were suffused with a steady drumbeat about the three terrorist suspects supposedly harbored by the ICU, the clear implication being that the ICU is a terrorist organization that must be destroyed. It did not pass unnoticed in the region that, in the lead up to the invasion, virtually nothing was said by the Administration concerning the significant abuses of human rights by the Ethiopian regime.

Even more incongrous, and palpably absurd to boot, was the notion advanced by many inside the Administration, that the ICU was on the road to imposing an astringent, Taliban-like regime on Somalia.

That Wahhabisim (Salafism) has only appeared to have generated a negligible toehold in Somalia among a few fanatical followers in the Northern Somali city of Bosaso, and among far fewer souls on the radical fringe of the ICU in Mogadishu, has passed virtually unnoticed among those who have demonized wholesale the ICU. In a sense, calling Somalia under the ICU an "al-Qaida haven" is akin to branding France as racist merely because the excrable Jean-Marie Le Pen and his Front National political party enjoy some modest support at the margins of French politics.

Even if it could be said that there exists some sort of diffuse security threat in Somalia, arising from the fact that three dangerous fugitives are said to remain at large there, the known military operations of the United States military in the region seem to be grotesquely disproportionate, with operations conducted by the U.S.S. Eisenhower aircraft carrier conducting operations off the coast, in conjunction with C-130 gunship raids conducted out of a base in Djibouti.

Whereas American policy towards Somalia in the latter stages of the Cold War may have had some defensible basis in fact, the efforts of the neoconservatives to crush the ICU appear to be utterly indefensible. Indeed, the analogy of using an elephant to swat a flea seems like an understatement here. Worse still, such efforts, if not soon reversed, may well bring about exactly the opposite result to that intended, namely, an increase in support among Somalis, to say nothing of other Moslems across the globe, for the sort of quasi-religious extremism and terrorism that has, hitherto been antithetical to Somali sensibilities.

Whither the professed aims of recent American meddling in the strife that has so bedeviled the Somali people over the past twenty-five years, and the effectiveness, or, more aptly, ineffectiveness, of such hamhanded efforts, there remains an overriding series of profound legal and moral questions that come to mind, a few of which are set forth here, to-wit:

1.) As I queried in one of my earlier postings on this topic, where is the Congresssional authorization for the President to wage war in Somalia? (phrased differently: can the President simply use the putative justification of the "War on Terror" to conduct military operations anywhere, without Congressional authorization?);

2.) Is it justifiable to cause degradation and loss of life on a massive scale to a society and a culture in an effort to apprehend three fugitives who do not pose an imminent threat to the safety and well-being of the United States?

3.) And, as I also mentioned in one of my earlier postings: has any thought been given to the implications of casually equating Islam with extremism? (put another way: Isn't the wholesale demonization of Islam because of the poisonous perversion of Islam by Osama bin Laden and his followers akin to condeming Christianity because of the heresies of David Koresh and the Rev. Jim Jones?).

Moving beyond the issues of the misunderstanding of Somalia and Islam that has so hampered American judgment about what is at stake in Somalia, and has contributed to the flawed execution of our policy there, to say nothing of the legal and moral questions raised by our involvement there, we need to address the appropriate steps to be understaken in order to restore American credibility and honor in the region, as well as to help the Somali people to find the peace and stability that has eluded them for far too long. Here,I am obliged to defer to the ten excellent suggestions about what to do, and what not to do, about Somalia, that were posted on 8 March 2007, by the Honorable Trusten Frank Crigler, former Ambassador of the United States to Somalia (1987-1990), as I find myself unable to improve on his erudition and wisdom as to the best pathway for the United States to follow. For ready reference, I have reprinted his ten points below:

the U.S. should or should NOT do about Somalia

1. Forget force, think conciliation. Resist the temptation to throw armed "peacekeepers," whether ours or someone else's, at Somalia's problems. Instead, press for enforcement of the Security Council's total arms embargo—against everyone. In place of weapons, offer mediators, conciliators, brokers. Get Somalis talking to each other again, as they did in Nairobi. And be patient—don't expect a breakthrough overnight.

2. Don't take sides. So long as we continue to view Somalia in terms of good guys and bad guys, we're certain to choose the wrong side. By picking favorites, we only reinforce the ethnic and cultural divisions we should be helping Somalis overcome.

3. Don't project our terrorism issues onto Somalia. Somalia is not a War on Terror battlefield and isn't likely to become one (unless we make it happen). Embassy bombings elsewhere in Africa notwithstanding, the handful of Somali "radicals" on our terrorist list are simply incapable of seriously damaging vital U.S. interests. Chasing down suspected Al Qaeda followers only turns moderate Somalis into enemies.

4. Don't try to "rescue" Somalia by applying made-in-USA solutions. Resist tutoring them, even with the best of intentions, in how to organize their politics. Let them rediscover and update the traditional systems that served them well enough for a thousand years. We proved a decade ago that we didn't have the answers to Somalia's problems, and we still don't.

5. Don't take on the task of keeping peace in the Horn of Africa. Resist the imperial urge. No one appointed us to take on that task, much less to hire the Ethiopians, Ugandans, or Kenyans—each with its own private agenda in the Horn—as our surrogates. When the Berlin Wall fell, we swore we would not become the world's sheriff, but we're becoming just that.

6. Send a diplomat to be our eyes and ears in Somalia. Despite the risks, make the grand gesture. Establish an official presence, at least part time. Send a courageous veteran FSO to set up an office in Mog; establish regular contact with political leaders, the clergy, the business community, and NGO people; and report back regularly to Washington on what's really happening.

7. Consult seriously with friends and allies about joint, non-military, confidence-building steps. Listen carefully to what the British, Italians, Saudis, Omanis, and Scandinavians say; they know Somalia better than we do. Explore ways to be jointly supportive of reconciliation.

8. Be genuinely neutral. Don't be sucked into taking sides in clan or factional disputes. Resist being used by one side or another in settling local scores. Asking Somalis to "finger" terrorists has been highly disruptive of conciliation efforts. . . . and absurdly naïve.

9. Do good works and make them visible. Send food and medicine through NGOs. Nothing won us more Somali friends and admirers than "Operation Restore Hope." They danced in the streets when our troops arrived and pushed aside the warlords' militias when we brought food to the hungry and medicine to the sick. The mission only went sour when we undertook to repair the "root causes" of the country's disorder; we should have quit while we were ahead.

10. Try making friends. Deep down, the vast majority of Somalis love and admire Americans. Treat them as valuable friends and seek their collaboration as equals. Allying ourselves with warlords and with Ethiopia, to oust a faction that had actually done some good for lots of people, was a colossal PR mistake that won't be easily undone.

The Somalis are a resilient people with a rich and vibrant culture, and they are deserving of our assistance and understanding as they struggle to resolve and reconcile their differences, our own past disagreements with them notwithstanding. They are also deserving of our respect. What they do not need is the sort of arrogance, callousness, dismissiveness and belligerency that has been meted out to them in an illbegotten "War on Terror", as this brusque treatment of a proud, if troubled, people can only serve to exacerbate their troubles and insecurity, and our own as well.

Joseph Peter Drennan