Some good news from Somalia

Richard Dowden (of the Royal African Society) in today’s Independent argues that the Islamic Courts militia which recently seized power in Mogadishu (and may take control of other areas) is not a new Taliban, but the response initially of Mogadishu’s business community, and more recently of ordinary people, to the ravages of the country’s warlords, who have received US backing:

Somali businessmen, fed up with having their goods stolen at gunpoint, began funding Islamic courts in Mogadishu to try to establish some law and order. Presided over by Islamic lawyers, the courts formed a Union in 2004, although they remained clan-based - the Habr Gedir court in south Mogadishu cannot charge an Abgal from the north of the city.

Espying al-Qa’ida activists in Mogadishu, America’s securocrats reckoned they were being protected by these Islamic courts. They decided to hire some guns to go and get the bad guys. They chose Mogadishu’s warlords, and in February and March CIA planes delivered hundreds of thousands of dollars through Isaley airstrip north of Mogadishu. The three warlords, armed with new weaponry, created the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism.

Not the restoration of law and order, mind you (then again, the military junta in Burma talked of law and order …)

In May young men with guns poured into the capital from all over Somalia to attack the warlords. After a few fierce battles, it was all over. The warlords fled. At a stroke Washington had achieved the very opposite of what it intended and added an extraordinary and unintended bonus: peace in much of Somalia.

And you might like to know something of the background of the Islamic Courts Union’s leader;

The hesitant and placatory chairman of the Islamic Courts Union, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed Sheik Ahmed, is a member of a Sufi sect. He denies any intention to set up an Islamic state, condemns the desecration of the Christian cemetery in Mogadishu and says he wants to talk to President Yusuf and the Americans.

Somalia has no tradition of Islamic Wahabi militancy - until very recently Somali women did not cover their heads or arms. Somalia’s home-grown Islamist movement, al-Itahad, died out some time ago, and the attempt last week by some Islamic Court officers to stop people watching the World Cup in local TV cinemas was quickly stopped. No one tells Somalis what they can watch on TV.

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