ICC NOTE: Suicide bombings could be a new reality for East Africa as the influence of extreme Islam infiltrates the region.
Islamists Defeated in Somali, but Regional Concerns Remain
December 29, 2006
The fall of Somalia ‘s Islamists drew mixed reactions in Kenya , a country that is home to a large Somali community and which hosted a peace process that led to the formation of an interim administration.
The administration, known as the transitional federal government (TFG), has been unable to locate in Mogadishu before now, but the withdrawal of Islamists from the capital under fire from Ethiopian forces means it may now finally be able to do so.
A government spokesman was quoted Thursday as saying that Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Gedi and the TFG would now move from its temporary base in the town of Baidoa to Mogadishu .
The Islamists’ six-month rule was brought to an end when neighboring Ethiopia , claiming threats to its own national security and with tacit U.S. support, sent in troops to support the embattled TFG and rout the Islamists.
Another neighbor of Somalia , Kenya , has watched the unfolding events with concern, and for many Kenyans, anxieties remain.
Some Kenyans interviewed here said the Islamist retreat under fire could lead to a period of guerrilla war and to suicide attacks in cities like Nairobi , which hosts major regional and international institutions.
Others fear that such attacks would be directed against Christians in the region.
Islamic leader Muhammad Dor, secretary general of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya, has painted the defeat of Islamists as a conspiracy by Christians against Muslims. Ethiopia is considered a “Christian” country, although Muslims comprise almost half of the population.
Dor said Kenyan Muslims were ready to protect their brothers in Somalia , but he did not elaborate. The Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims also condemned the military incursion by Ethiopia .
In Nairobi ‘s Eastleigh Estate, which hosts about a half a million Somalis, the mood was gloomy after the retreat by Islamists.
Mohammed Mohammad, a businessman, said that while Somalis celebrated the return of the TFG, the intervention by Ethiopia had watered down the celebrations.
” Ethiopia is our great enemy. We cannot have it control the government of Somalia ,” said Mohammad.
Somalia has had uneasy relations with its expansive western neighbor since the early 1960s, and territorial disputes escalated into a full-scale war in 1976-78.
Since the Islamists took control of Mogadishu and other parts of southern Somalia last June, they have mounted a public incitement campaign against Ethiopia and declared a jihad against Addis Ababa last month.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said his troops’ entry into Somalia and victory over the Islamists had been motivated by the need to protect the TFG and to safeguard Ethiopians from terrorist attacks at home.
Kenyan lawmaker Paul Muite said driving out the Islamists may complicate efforts to bring stability to Somalia . Engaging them instead, he said, would make it less likely that they resort to guerrilla war.
“The region either engages the Islamists or risks another Iraq [in the Horn of Africa],” said Muite.
He also worried that Somalia could be turned into a battleground between rivals Ethiopia and Eritrea . According to a recent United Nations report on arms embargo violations in Somalia , Eritrea was among a number of outside countries that have been supporting the Islamists.
Worries about the future
For many of the Kenyans Cybercast News Service spoke to, concerns about the future of Somalia centered on the possibility that there could be more terrorist attacks in Kenya . Previous attacks and foreign governments’ advisories against travel to the country dealt a severe blow to Kenya ‘s crucial tourism sector.
The sector has recovered well, but Kenyans worry about the future.
“It would be unthinkable if such attacks were to target public areas like here in Nairobi ,” said Joyce Wambui, a high school teacher. “It would instill so much fear.”
Adan Mohamed, a media commentator on regional Islamic issues, said extremists would likely try to attack the most vulnerable targets — civilians — in countries known or suspected to have opposed the Islamists.
Uganda , for example, has offered arms and security personnel to the transitional government, he noted.
Somalia has been wracked by anarchy and without a central government since 1991, when former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was forced from power.
The TFG was formed in Nairobi after two years of negotiations between different clans and relocated to Baidoa last February. Its hopes to move to Mogadishu were dashed four months later, when the Islamists swept into the capital, defeating a coalition of warlords and businessmen, then controlling the city.
Some of those warlords are members of the TFG, and it remains to be seen how Somalis respond to the government’s appearance in Mogadishu .