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Uganda bombings: Obama mustn't meddle in Somalia

The Uganda bombings are a sad reminder of the ways that Washington’s intervention has exacerbated problems in Somalia.

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The 20-year conflict in Somalia has finally bled past its borders: Two bombings hit the Ugandan capital Sunday as locals watched the World Cup. Al Shabab, an armed Islamic group in Somalia, has claimed credit for the attacks. Just last week, a Shabab threat to attack Uganda and Burundi was dismissed by authorities.

Western officials and media have predictably spun this as an anti-soccer attack, which will fit neatly into the “they hate us for our freedoms” zeitgeist – Osama bin Laden and other Islamic disgruntleds are simply at war with modernity itself, you see.

Worse, we may be facing calls to intervene further in a renewed Somali civil war – after all, it now has international consequences. But the West, and especially the US, should stay out of it. Despite frequent claims that Shabab “has ties” to Al Qaeda, the connection is limited to rhetorical support. And for all the warnings about the dangers of a “failed state” in the Horn of Africa, Somalia’s bearing on American security is marginal at most.

A long history of intervention

The US has a long history of intervention in Somalia. Dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was courted by both the US and the Soviet Union throughout his post-colonial rule. In 1991 opposing militias overthrew Barre’s regime and made Mogadishu a battleground in which up to 20,000 people were killed. The militias were hijacking UN food aid and trading it for weapons, which prompted a US-led intervention to safeguard distribution to a starving population.

In 1993, the infamous defeat of US troops by the ragtag forces of warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid, an event known to Americans as “Black Hawk Down,” caused President Clinton to order US withdrawal.

War gave way in the late 1990s to the businesslike Somalis embracing commerce over conflict. The early 2000s were a comparative golden age of living standards for a population which had rarely seen the likes of running water, electricity, phone, and Internet service, trash pickup, schooling, and health care – all now provided in a market unhampered by taxation or regulation. In less than a decade, Somalis went from starving to prosperous, by African standards.

Incredibly, after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Washington began contracting Aidid’s son (a former US Marine) and other warlords to “fight Al Qaeda,” which Bush officials feared could operate freely in the “power vacuum” of stateless Somalia. But millions in cash and weapons simply unleashed a renewed contest for power as the favored militias ignored Al Qaeda and attacked their rivals.


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