Somali Islamist leaders voice defiance from Eritrean exile

Exiled Somali leaders in Eritrea issued a call to boycott a Mogadishu peace conference scheduled for next month, warning of further violence if it goes ahead. Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, leader of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), and Sheikh Sharif Hassan Aden, a former Somali parliament speaker, released the joint statement in Asmara.

“We would like to call for the Somali people to boycott this so-called reconciliation conference, which will be unsuccessful,” the statement read. It asserted that “all Somali stakeholders” should take part in any conference to forge a national unity government, dismissing the interim government’s position that opposition leaders can only take part as representatives of their clans, not of their movement.

Ahmed and Aden also called on Somalis to keep fighting the interim government and Ethiopian troops. They charged that the peace conference is intended to create a “sense of false legitimacy for the Ethiopian occupying forces.”

Meanwhile in Mogadishu, two civilians were killed and five others injured as Somali police opened fire on insurgents who had attacked a checkpoint. Four people, including two police officers, were also killed in the town of Warmahan May 23 as police clashed with presumed insurgents. (AlJazeera, May 24)

Interesting that Eritrea is hosting the exiled ICU leaders even as it has banned female genital mutilation, a barbarity carried out in the dubious name of “Islam.” In addition to offering support and sanctuary to the deposed ICU leaders, Eritrea has brokered dialogue among Somali clan leaders who oppose the Ethiopian occupation. Eritrea is playing an increasingly active role in the region, even deploying peacekeepers to the Chad-Sudan border. Eritrea is clearly trying to reinsert itself in the regional game, and build a counter-force to the pro-US Egypt-Ethiopia-Uganda bloc. This necessitates dealing with Islamists like the ICU and the Sudan regime. Yet President Isaias Afwerki’s speech on the occasion of Eritrea’s 16th Independence Day celebration May 25 took several swipes at regional rival Ethiopia—but made no reference to Islam. (Eritrean Ministry of Information, May 25)

So the alliance between Somalia’s Islamists and Eritrea’s secular dictatorship would appear to be one of convenience. How long will it last? And is Afwerki’s regime planting the seeds of its own destabilization?

See our last posts on Somalia, Eritrea and Horn of Africa.