June 14, 2007


Somalis yearn for Islamic rulers to return and tame the warlords (Steve Bloomfield, 15 June 2007, Independent)

Local people, from teen-agers to elders, now talk of the brief period of rule by the Islamic Courts in wistful tones. For the first time in a generation, there was a level of security in the district that few had believed was possible. The various clan-based militias which terrorised the region, setting up checkpoints and settling disputes with guns, buried their arms.

Before the Courts' arrival, there had been nine roadblocks along the route from Marere to Kismaayo, a port town roughly 100 miles away. Controlled by individual militia groups, they demanded money from everyone who passed. Under the Courts, the roadblocks disappeared.

The effect was immediate. The price of food in Marere fell as traders travelling from Kismaayo no longer had to factor in the cost of roadblocks. The cost of travelling between Marere and Kismaayo also fell - from 100,000 shillings to just 30,000. One commodity increased in price: cigarettes. The Courts banned smoking, along with the chewing of khat, a mild narcotic popular throughout Somalia. The price of a packet of cigarettes rose from 6,000 shillings to 20,000. But strict conservative policies like this began to erode much of the UIC's popular support in Mogadishu.

With the demise of the Courts, the militias have dug up their weapons and the checkpoints and insecurity have returned. A vehicle belonging to Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF) was shot at two weeks ago. MSF, which runs a hospital and feeding centre in Marere, was forced to evacuate its small team of expatriate staff.

"If the Islamic Courts came back, not just this area but the whole of Somalia will be safer," said Mohammed Abdullahi Gure, chairman of Marere elders' committee. "People used to fear the Islamic Courts. The government does not have the holy Koran so they do not fear them." The UIC's presence in Marere district was limited, but effective, Mr Gure said. A commander was appointed, based in the village of Gududey. He had just one technical - the souped-up 4x4s armed with machine guns - and a handful of soldiers, but few were prepared to risk committing a crime.

"There wasn't a militia man who would move with guns," said Mr Gure. "They feared because they were told the Islamic Courts forces would have the Holy Koran as their guide." Without the sharia law which the UIC imposed, Mr Gure and his committee of elders are unable to keep the peace. There is no system of justice in Marere. The men who shot at MSF were forced to write a letter apologising for their actions but they continue to live freely in the community.

The weak transitional government is now entering its sixth month based in Mogadishu but it is still struggling to assert its authority, reliant on the support of Ethiopian troops. In an Ethiopian-led offensive in April, up to 400,000 people fled the capital as the government attempted to pacify an insurgency.

For all the things it's done right, the Administration's inability to differentiate among Islamic parties and work with some of them instead of against all of them is taking a toll.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 14, 2007 12:55 PM
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