September witnessed a bloody attack by between ten and fifteen Al-Shabaab militants upon Nairobi’s prestigious Westgate Mall, a partly Israeli-owned complex which offers the country’s elite and well-heeled tourists the “supreme experience of shopping“. The rescue operation stretched over several days and concluded with a death toll estimated at over seventy, with many wounded and unaccounted for.
The attack appeared to have been meticulously planned, with some reports suggesting that machine guns had earlier been smuggled into the shopping centre and stashed in a shop rented for that purpose. By contrast, the response of state security was marked by incompetence and corruption, with different spokesmen unable to agree a consistent narrative as events unfolded. The collapse of three storeys of the Mall, causing many of the casualties, was at first attributed to the militants burning mattresses in order to create a diversion, then later to a suicide bomb. Unofficial reports disagreed, suggesting that in fact the collapse had been caused by the security forces firing rocket-propelled grenades indoors. Further doubt was thrown on the competence and integrity of the security forces when it emerged that, even as the siege dragged on, thousands of dollars worth of jewellery and electronic equipment was being looted by persons unknown.
This act of terror attracted a good deal of lurid media attention and handwringing. What was missing from most coverage however was any serious attempt to explain how such an event came about in the first place. The impression given was that this destruction had come out of a clear blue sky, a completely random and motiveless outrage perpetrated by evil Muslim bombers against an unsuspecting civilian population.
The moral outrage which greeted the slaughter of three or four score unfortunate Nairobi shoppers contrasted starkly with the resounding silence from the same quarters concerning the many thousands of Somali men, women and children who have died, and continue to die, as a result of over thirty years of imperialist meddling in the Horn of Africa, culminating in the current occupation and attempted break-up of Somalia by Kenyan, Ethiopian and other African forces acting shamefully on behalf of the British, US and French imperialist powers.
Yet even in the imperialist media, glimpses of reality could not be completely avoided. Whatever may be thought about Al Shabaab’s tactics and ideology, nobody can claim to be in doubt about their motives after the very clear statements its spokesman offered in an interview with Channel 4 News. These statements had little to say about religious matters, but plenty to say about defending the unity and independence of Somalia and resisting imperialism.
“The reason we attacked is to defend our people, our country, because Kenya attacked us, they are still controlling parts of our land. We have been peaceful neighbours, but they are the ones who attacked us and we are defending ourselves. Whether you are Muslim or Christian, the law says you have to defend yourself from those who attack you… We have told the Kenyans and those who come to Kenya that we will not tolerate what Kenya is doing to us. We told them we would defend ourselves and we warned them about travelling to Kenya. Kenyans have blood on their hands. Anyone who is prepared to come to Kenya must be prepared to face the reality, and we don’t fear Europeans and Americans because we are not weak. And we are saying to the Europeans and the Americans who have been supporting those who have been attacking us, you should tell the Kenyans to stop their aggression if you want to be safe… We are saying to the British, since we believe they are helping the Kenyans, and Kenyans are their slaves, they should tell the Kenyans, they should order back the Kenyan army out of Somalia.”
Contrary to Kenyan government assertions that the illegal invasion by some 4,000 of its troops in October 2011 was triggered by a spate of cross-border abductions allegedly carried out by Al-Shabaab, a cable released by WikiLeaks makes clear that the invasion had been planned for at least the previous two years, and always had as its goal the creation of an artificial Jubaland buffer state. Whilst Kenya presents this as a defensive measure to protect its shipping and tourism from destabilisation, it should be noted that the Jubaland area sits on a large body of untapped oil, and that it is Somalia which has itself been the longstanding victim of destabilisation by imperialism and its cowardly allies. The so-called “Jubaland Initiative” is in fact part of a much wider plan to balkanize the country, just as has already started to happen with the earlier establishment of another pretend statelet in the North East, “Puntland“, under whose auspices the Canadian company Africa Oil has already begun drilling.
Unlike Uganda’s invasion of 2007, which took the precaution of covering its naked aggression with the fig leaf of UN approval and going in under the banner of the African Union Mission (Amisom), Kenya did not even bother with these niceties. Indeed, the government did not trouble to seek approval from its own parliament, as the country’s constitution requires. The government of the then prime minister Raila Odinga, Washington’s faithful friend in Nairobi, was confident that the “international community” would soon enough offer its retrospective blessing. Sure enough the invading Kenyan forces were then allowed to huddle under the Amisom umbrella, alongside forces from Uganda, Djibouti and Sierra Leone, crucially backed up by the French navy and by drones flying out of US bases in Ethiopia and Djibouti. The Kenyan forces, with much help from the West, managed to drive Al Shabaab from the important southern seaport of Kismayu, thereby helping Amisom to consolidate its grip on Mogadishu.
From the outset the puppet Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has been racked with internal dissensions, provoking Hillary Clinton to wring her hands over “people inside and outside the TFG who seek to undermine Somalia’s peace and security or to delay or even prevent the political transition”. The TFG (lately rebranded as the Somali Federal Government), whose writ barely runs beyond the confines of Mogadishu itself, with vast swathes of the rural population still looking to Al-Shabaab for leadership in resisting foreign aggression, felt its shaky “national” pretensions further challenged by the sight of Somalia’s Kenyan neighbours throwing their weight around in the south. A leaked diplomatic letter from the SFG accused the Kenyans of deviating from their supposed role as “neutral peacekeepers” by backing one Somali faction against others, arresting a senior Somali army officer and using heavy weaponry against civilians.
Kenya in fact is doing no more and no less than is intended by its paymasters in the West. By playing on clan rivalries in the region in order to annex a ” buffer state“, they are assisting the imperialist strategy of balkanising the country, the better to suck it dry of its oil and keep it weak and divided. Sure enough, in August this year the SFG was pressured into signing an agreement with the warlord Ahmed Madobe, whose Ras Kamboni militia have been acting as Kenya’s hired guns, opening the way to the invention of a clan-based Jubaland statelet.
The ICC: “a farcical pantomime”
Such conflicts erupting between competing flunkeys of imperialism, in the process exposing Washington’s crass efforts at recolonising Africa, are compounded by its misfiring plans within Kenya itself. Thinking to have guaranteed the electoral triumph of Odinga’s US-friendly government by prevailing on the International Criminal Court to have his rival Uhuru Kenyatta up on charges relating to electoral violence back in 2007, the Obama administration was truly gobsmacked to see Uhuru Kenyatta sail to victory by a comfortable majority. Whereas the October 2011 invasion of Somalia had been presided over by a regime meeting Washington’s approval, the blowback from the invasion is now being handled by a government led by men whom Washington was only yesterday wanting to see banged up. The African Union, painfully aware of the key role played by Kenya in Amisom’s struggle to suppress Al-Shabaab, has hastily declared that no sitting head of state should be prosecuted by an international tribunal.
Mr Kenyatta’s response to the Westgate Mall massacre was as one would expect from the leader of a nation which has just suffered a major terror offensive, but time alone will tell with what degree of eagerness the new administration in Nairobi will warm to the counter-insurgency role Washington has reserved for the Kenyan military. The fact that, more than ten years into its life, the ICC has indicted only African suspects might make more than one African leader think twice about the wisdom of entrusting the fate of African nations to the tender mercies of the “international community“.
As Mr Kenyatta told the African Union in closed session, the ICC “has been reduced into a painfully farcical pantomime, a travesty that adds insult to the injury of victims,” adding that it “stopped being the home of justice the day it became the toy of declining imperial powers.” The United States itself refuses to ratify the ICC and holds a veto in the UNSC, hoping never to be held to account for its war crimes in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, to mention only the most recent in its long criminal history.
Somalia: a history of oppression and resistance
Shortly after gaining its independence, Somalia sought to follow a progressive path, looking to the Soviet Union for protection and embracing a socialist orientation. Sadly, the country fell prey to the blandishments of US imperialism, falling for promises of economic and military support in exchange for its assistance in 1978 in attacking progressive Ethiopia. The just rebuff suffered at the hands of Ethiopian and Cuban forces sparked an extended economic and political crisis, resulting in 1991 in the collapse of the Siad Barre government. Looking to capitalise on the resultant vacuum, Washington in 1992 sent 12,000 marines to invade. The ensuing occupation awoke the spirit of national resistance. The uprising against occupation which erupted in 1993 culminated the following year with the occupation forces being driven out at gunpoint, a massive humiliation for the US and its allies despite their overwhelmingly superior firepower.
Out of this reborn spirit of national resistance, and in the teeth of all the meddling and bullying from the Washington, Paris and London, there emerged a unifying force in the form of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). For a brief spell, from 2000 to 2006, a degree of stability and order was restored to the country. To the great relief of Mogadishu citizens the streets were cleaned again, rubbish was collected, the seaport was reopened, planes could once more fly in and out of Mogadishu International and measures were taken to curb piracy.
Stung by the refusal of Somalia to resign itself to the imposed status of a “failed state“, the West decided to punish the country from a safe distance, backing the 2007 invasion and occupation by Ethiopia, a country which had itself by now fallen back into neo-colonial tutelage, in a bloody campaign that cost countless lives.
Two years of brutal occupation also saw Somalia plunged back into yet another devastating famine. Uncle Sam is a past master at manipulating the supply of food aid to reward its friends and punish its enemies, the very practice of which the media like to accuse Al-Shabaab. A UN report says that between 2010 and 2012 at least a quarter of a million Somalis starved to death. Many of those were people fleeing the invasion and occupation of the south by Ethiopia and Amison. Drought caused the famine, but US policy multiplied the death toll, first by sponsoring the invasion which drove people from their lands and then by cutting off food aid to anywhere Al-Shabaab had influence – i.e. all over the rural areas. According to Ken Menkhaus, professor of Political Science at Davidson College in North Carolina, the US’s anti-terror laws were used to obstruct assistance from reaching famine victims in desperate need of aid. Speaking in a seminar at Helsinki University, he said humanitarian organisations suspended food aid delivery to drought-struck areas controlled by Al-Shabaab for fear of violating the USA Patriot Act.
Under the double impact of military force and engineered famine, the ICU lost ground and was driven back. Resistance did not cease, however. The role of national resistance effectively devolved to those elements of the ICU which refused the path of collaboration. The struggle was taken up in particular by the youth – or, in Arabic, “Al-Shabaab“.
When the Ethiopian occupation ended in 2009, Washington made sure there was in place an “internationally recognised” puppet government to try to keep the lid on the resistance and act in a comprador role. Whilst some elements of the ICU opted to collaborate with these puppets, others continued to take the path of resistance, notably including Al-Shabaab. The youth wing of the ICU now took up the resistance struggle, declaring war against the “transitional” government and demanding the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Somali soil. There are currently estimated to be some 25,000 such foreign troops in Somalia under the banner of Amisom.
Nobody should underestimate the role of Britain in all this, although its current military involvement remains shadowy. As a former colonial power it is no stranger to the practice of oppression, and as a monopoly capitalist power with an overweening need to plunder resources and dominate markets it is right up there with the US, France and Israel.
Whilst many on the left find it more comfortable to characterise British imperialism as “a poodle of America“, the reality is that British imperialism is not simply led astray by the US but actively pursues its own blood-stained agenda. Back in February 2012 David Cameron hosted an international conference in London, ostensibly to talk about “rebuilding” Somalia – code for dividing up the spoils. The conference included all the big imperialist powers, plus the UN’s Ban Ki-moon and a token representative of the puppet Somali “government”. We commented at the time that “The British spearheading of the conference is due in no small part to the aggressive manoeuvring of Britain’s own oil multinational, BP, which clearly hopes to play a major role in tapping in to Somalia’s substantial oil reserves. To aid the corporation in this ambition, the British government has worked hard to create close ties with the ‘Transitional Federal Government’. A representative from the TFG in Puntland told the Observer: ‘We have spoken to a number of UK officials, some have offered to help us with the future management of oil revenues. They will help us build our capacity to maximise future earnings from the oil industry … We need those with the necessary technical knowhow, we plan to talk to BP at the right time.'” (Proletarian, April 2012)
Nor should we fail to note that the very guns which were turned upon the hapless shoppers in Nairobi were in all likelihood an overspill from the flood of lethal weaponry poured into the hands of counterrevolutionaries in Libya and Syria, with the active assistance of the same British government which is supposedly tasked with the protection of its own citizens. How this task is furthered by first violating Somalia’s sovereignty and then furnishing its outraged citizens with the means of launching a revenge attack is a question that should be addressed to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
The future for Somalia
What form Somalia’s national struggle will take going forward is as yet unclear. Some reports suggest that within Al-Shabaab itself there is tension between those whose primary focus remains the national defence of Somalia against imperialist oppression and others who are seduced by feudalist pipedreams about establishing a universal caliphate under theocratic rule. Whilst it is the case that some of the most spirited resistance to imperialism has clothed itself in mullah’s robes, recent experience in Syria and Egypt serves as a painful reminder of the limitations such feudal ideology imposes upon the struggle, leaving such movements vulnerable to manipulation by imperialism. One has only to consider the counterrevolutionary role played by Al Qaeda in Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the jihadists in the northern Sinai to understand the self-defeating perils to which this flawed ideology can expose the struggle against imperialism.
But whatever form it may take, it is certain that Somalia’s national struggle will not cease. It is the incurable crisis of monopoly capitalism which is behind Washington’s feverish efforts to reverse a hundred years of historical development and recolonise the continent of Africa. And it is the oppressed masses of the world who cannot but press forward to confound these colonial aspirations, with the full force of history at their backs.
Hands off Somalia!