This week brought yet more troubling news about the Islamist takeover of Somalia. The Union of Islamic Courts, which currently controls the capital of Mogadishu, has adopted a policy of confrontation towards all NGOs and civil society groups.
"[T]he Islamists' head for the social affairs Sheik Fanah also pointed out that NGOs under any name could not hold any meeting or a news conference without the Islamists' knowledge."
This is disastrous for Mogadishu, which is extremely poor and relies on outside assistance to meet its basic needs. As I wrote about during my recent visit to Mogadishu, "Store shelves are completely empty except for Coca Cola products (Somalis need their Fanta Orange!). There are no decent or even half-decent restaurants, there being no tourists or expat workers. All there is to eat, if you're lucky enough to find it, is rice with a splash of watery tomato sauce, which tastes even more foul than it sounds. The streets are empty. There are no big markets." Remember, too, that warlord-induced famines are not new to Somalia.
Somalia also occupies a crucial position in East Africa. It is surrounded by countries most of whose governments are led by Christians or secular-minded leaders. Yet many of these countries have large Muslim populations that are in the process of being radicalized. At the same time, Somalia has access to crucial shipping ports, making it easy for it to serve as a haven for illicit weapons smuggling, as well as being able to hold its landlocked neighbors hostage.
As I explained in June in an article in the Somaliland Times, unless the United States is prepared to support the breakaway statelet of Somaliland - which is democratic and non-sectarian - the situation in Somalia will continue to deteriorate in an anti-American direction. Somaliland can provide the United States with reliable intelligence on developments in Mogadishu, as well as a foothold into the country and is, perhaps, the most poignant manifestation of what the Bush Doctrine was designed to encourage - the spread of liberal democracy to guarantee America's basic security needs.
If pursuing an explicitly pro-Somaliland position is too heady for the Bush administration, then its best hope, at this point, is supporting Ethiopia's efforts in the country, which are largely positive. Ethiopia is working to stabilize and support the democratically-elected transitional government based in Baidao, as well as guarantee its access to ports in North-East Somalia (also known as Puntland).
The situation in Somalia has not reached crisis stage, nor will it, probably, for years to come - but we don't need to search too far into U.S. history to find examples of failed states taken over by Islamist militants who then conspired to harm the United States. Unless someone explains why we should expect Somalia to be an exception to the rule, ignoring its descent into jihadism is an utterly reckless solution.