Somalia: social collapse and imperialist war

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The depredations of imperialism in the Middle East and Asia have been so violent in recent years that the bourgeois media has been unable to black them out. Yet there has been less focus on the continuing confrontations taking place in Africa. Whole swathes of this continent have plunged into war and ruin, and yet the bourgeoisie is very careful to keep this away from the headlines. This is because Africa shows in frightening detail the real future that the capitalist mode of production has for humanity. Particularly instructive is the case of Somalia, as analysed in this article written by a close sympathiser.

Somalia in the Cold War

Throughout the Cold War, Somalia played a key role in the antagonism between the US and Russian-led blocs, whilst also attempting to pursue its own imperialist interests. First serving as a Russian client state, it rapidly switched sides in order to secure the Ogaden region from a weakened Ethiopia in the late 70s. This particularly bloody and senseless war nonetheless cemented its position in the US bloc, which made use of its strategically important naval bases to dominate the Red Sea and Arabian Sea.

Collapse and Decomposition

In the late 80s and early 90s, the Russian bloc completely collapsed, exhausted by the strain of competing with the superior US. The US bloc was not immune to this economic pressure, however, and Somalia had been pushed to the brink of social collapse by the protracted struggles of the Cold War. In 1991, the US-backed regime there crumbled and the state began to fragment. The US attempted to retrieve the situation by sending a “peace keeping” force under the banner of the UN. This effort was shipwrecked by the now infamous Battle of Mogadishu in 1993, which led to a swift and humiliating withdrawal by Uncle Sam.

Following the US withdrawal, Somalia effectively disintegrated as a nation-state, with regions claiming independence.  Today, there is still no central authority; power is exercised by regional militias. To a certain extent Somalia has stepped back to a debased version of pre-capitalist social organisation – based on clan and tribal forms. Somalia today thus expresses, in an advanced form, the same tendencies of decomposition that have also been noted in Russia and elsewhere: collapse of the state, complete gangsterisation of the economy, etc. Nonetheless, this has not prevented larger capitalists from exploiting the working class. Coca-cola opened a bottling plant in Mogadishu in 2004!

In May 2006, the capital Mogadishu was rent by a battle for control between two main factions: the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (ARPCT) and the Islamic Court Union (ICU). The former is a coalition of warlords connected to the Somali Transtional Government (STG) that rules central Somalia. At present, the ICU has the advantage, having routed the secular warlords and seized control of the capital.

The threat of wider war

The situation in Somalia is not simply the product of internal difficulties. Regional and global interests are driving various powers to intervene, stoking up wider tension in the region. The forces of the STG are strongly backed by Ethiopia. The STG is even said to have requested up to 20,000 Ethiopian troops to come to their aid[1] and rumours persist of Ethiopian forces operating on Somalian soil. Although the Ethiopian government has denied this, they have vowed to “crush” any ICU advance on Baidoa, seat of the STG[2]. Not to be outdone by Ethiopia, other regional powers are trying to get in on the game. Eritrea is providing arms and materiel to the ICU, undoubtedly as a way of containing any advance by its Ethiopian rival. Eritrea also has interests in Sudan, which is itself currently at war with Chad. Yemen, meanwhile, is rumoured to be supplying the STG, probably in pursuit of its own rivalry with Eritrea.

The US is also funneling support to the anti-Islamic coalitions[3], while US officials have accused the ICU of harbouring al-Qaeda. Under the pretext of the “War on Terror” it is attempting to reassert its military interests in the area – Somalian naval bases occupy an important strategic position, allowing the US to assert naval power across Eastern Africa, into the Middle East and into the Indian Ocean. This is part of an ongoing effort by the US. In 2003, Bush used a tour of Africa as a cover for building up US military power on the continent. Djibouti, which borders Somalia to the North, serves as a base for “more than 1,800 members of the US military [that] have been placed in Djibouti for counter-terrorism operations in the Horn of Africa[4].

The loss of Mogadishu will only make the US even more determined to assert itself in the region. Earlier this year, the Pentagon indicated that “the Middle East to the Horn of Africa, north Africa, central and south-east Asia and the northern Caucasus[5] would all be areas of operation for US forces. With its never-ending spiral of wars, social collapse, grinding poverty and repugnant barbarism Africa represents the future that capitalism has for the whole of humanity. The working class has nothing to gain from any accommodation with any faction of the bourgeoisie. Whether degenerated “radical” Islam or the moribund “great powers”, none have the capacity to take humanity beyond the catastrophic impasse it now faces. Only the working class and its communist revolution can offer anyway out.  DG, 1/9/06.