Somalia still suffers as gunmen and pirates rule

By Alice Stevens

On 24 August, militiamen disguised in army uniform stormed a hotel in Mogadishu and killed 32 people, including six members of parliament and five members of Somalia’s security forces.

Two weeks later, Somalia’s main airport in Mogadishu was attacked by suicide bombers, and five insurgents blew themselves up as they attempted to reach the terminal. At least eight people were killed in the attack. Al-Qaeda affiliates, al-Shabab, who control most of the capital and the country, have claimed responsibility for both attacks.

Somalia has not had a secure government since the collapse of the government of Siad Barre in 1991. Since then, the country has experienced almost constant warfare as Islamic fundamentalists wage war in an attempt to topple the Western-backed transitional government.

Though protected by African Union troops, the government is weak and ineffectual, and unable to help the majority of the population. The Mogadishu airport is one of the government’s few areas of control in the war-torn capital, and the recent attacks have starkly highlighted the government’s failure to protect its citizens and impose order over anarchy.

The conflict in Somalia is one of international significance. Hundreds of foreign militants are currently in Somalia supporting extremist groups like al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam. Like al-Qaeda, al-Shabab has an international agenda. During the World Cup, in July 2010, they carried out bombings in Kampala, Uganda, killing more than 70 civilians.

Such events have led to an increase in international assistance to Somalia. While Somalia’s own military is almost nonexistent, there are currently about 7000 African Union troops in Mogadishu. Furthermore, the country’s rampant piracy has attracted the attention of navies from around the world. However, the government cannot rely only on international support. Without radical internal change, the violence will continue to ravage the country.

“Change of a community can’t come from outside if the community itself doesn’t make a change,” Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed recently told a Mogadishu news conference. Insurgent control and lack of popular support for the current Somali government have prompted some analysts to propose that the government should be allowed to fall.

It is argued that if Islamist fundamentalists take power, the population would soon tire of a repressive regime and replace it with a less extreme government. At least in that case the government would have popular backing. Even with international intervention, the current government cannot hope to defeat the violence and power of groups like al-Shabab without the support of the Somali people.