Islamist Rebel Threat Pressures Somalia’s Neighbors Kenya and Ethiopia

Islamist Rebel Threat Pressures Somalias Neighbors Kenya and Ethiopia

If there was any doubt as to the character of the state that threatens to emerge in Somalia should Islamist rebels overthrow
the embattled government, it was dispelled on June 22, when a militia court sentenced four men accused of stealing three mobile phones and two
AK-47s to the amputation of their right hands and left legs. The
sentence, whose execution
was postponed after the al-Shabaab court
decided the hot weather might cause
the four men to bleed to death, was condemned as “cruel, inhuman and
degrading” by Amnesty
International. The incident highlighted both the kind
of neighbor
Kenya and Ethiopia might soon face and the question of whether
either country should intervene to prevent
such a calamity.

Pressure to do just that increased on June 22, when Somali President Sheikh
Sheikh Ahmed declared a state of emergency and African Union
President Jean
Ping backed calls for armed
intervention, saying the
Somali government “has the right to seek
support from A.U. members states and the larger international
Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga met his Somali
counterpart, Omar Abdirashid
Sharmarke, in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi to
discuss the seven-week onslaught
by the Islamists that has killed
hundreds, including several senior
government figures, and displaced
more than 100,000 — adding to the millions
of Somalis already living
as refugees and dependent on food aid. After the
meeting, Sharmarke said,
“In this critical time of our history, I think you might
help. We are
dealing with a threat that can engulf the entire region. Our
forces need military assistance, and we hope the world [will] do
part very urgently.”

Odinga agreed the situation in Somalia was
“really threatening” and needed
“urgent international attention.” If
Mogadishu falls, the consequences will
be very grieving, he said. He
also appeared to refer obliquely to al-Shabaab
threats to attack Nairobi, saying, “Kenya has been affected by this obvious
Like Ethiopian leaders, however, Odinga stopped short of publicly committing
troops. Reports from Somalia’s western border with Ethiopia claimed that
troops had entered Somalia on June 22, despite a statement from
Addis Ababa that
it would not enter the country without an
international mandate. Ethiopia
invaded Somalia in late 2006 to topple
a previous Islamist government.

Despite the presence of up to 2,000 U.S. special-forces troops in
Djibouti, to
Somalia’s north, and an unprecedented international naval force involving
than 20 countries off the Somali coast to fight the piracy that has grown, in part, out of the chaos on land, non-African countries consistently
reject the
notion of intervening onshore. This is partly out of fear
of the
consequences: a U.N.-backed U.S. intervention in Somalia in 1993 cost
American lives in events later portrayed in the book and film Black Hawk

Al-Shabaab, originally the armed wing of the Islamic Courts Union — the
government Ethiopia toppled in 2006-07 — also grew into
something far more
menacing during its resistance and eventual defeat
of Ethiopian forces,
attracting vocal support from Osama bin Laden,
imposing the strictest Shari’a
law and attracting hundreds of foreign
jihadists from the Middle East, South
Asia and the West to its ranks.

In addition, international troops are already deployed across Africa
hot spots such as Darfur and the Democratic Republic of Congo as
well as a
long list of post-conflict zones. Overstretched and
under-motivated by lack
of success in Darfur and Congo, the world is
increasingly looking to a more
confident and assertive Africa to solve
its own problems. On June 22, Odinga
appealed to the “IGAD
[Intergovernmental Authority on Development in Eastern
Africa], A.U., E.U., U.S.A., the U.N., all to combine forces” but acknowledged
that despite
similar appeals from the government in Mogadishu,
“unfortunately, no
country has come forward.” — With reporting by Abdiaziz
Hassan / Nairobi