The Imperial System: Hierarchy, Networks and Clients. The Case of Somalia
By James Petras*
Feb 20, 2007, 08:19
The imperial system is much more complex than what is commonly referred to as the “US Empire”. The US Empire, with its vast network of financial investments, military bases, multi-national corporations and client states, is the single most important component of the global imperial system (1). Nevertheless, it is overly simplistic to overlook the complex hierarchies, networks, follower states and clients that define the contemporary imperial system (2). To understand empire and imperialism today requires us to look at the complex and changing system of imperial stratification.
The Case of Somalia: Black Masks – White Faces
The recent Ethiopian invasion of Somalia (December 2006) and overthrow of the de-facto governing Islamic Courts Union (ICU)or Supreme Council of Islamic Courts and imposition of a self-styled ‘transitional government’ of warlords is an excellent case study of the centrality of collaborator regimes in sustaining and expanding the US empire.
From 1991 with the overthrow of the government of Siad Barre until the middle of 2006, Somalia was ravaged by conflicts between feuding warlords based in clan-controlled fiefdoms (3). During the US/UN invasion and temporary occupation of Mogadishu in the mid-1990’s there were massacres of over 10,000 Somali civilians and the killing and wounding of a few dozen US/UN soldiers (4). During the lawless 1990’s small local groups, whose leaders later made up the ICU, began organizing community-based organizations against warlord depredations. Based on its success in building community-based movements, which cut across tribal and clan allegiances; the ICU began to eject the corrupt warlords ending extortion payments imposed on businesses and households (5). In June 2006 this loose coalition of Islamic clerics, jurists, workers, security forces and traders drove the most powerful warlords out of the capital, Mogadishu. The ICU gained widespread support among a multitude of market venders and trades people. In the total absence of anything resembling a government, the ICU began to provide security, the rule of law and protection of households and property against criminal predators (6). An extensive network of social welfare centers and programs, health clinics, soup kitchens and primary schools, were set up serving large numbers of refugees, displaced peasants and the urban poor. This enhanced popular support for the ICU.
After having driven the last of the warlords from Mogadishu and most of the countryside, the ICU established a de-facto government, which was recognized and welcomed by the great majority of Somalis and covered over 90% of the population (7a). All accounts, even those hostile to the ICU, pointed out that the Somali people welcomed the end of warlord rule and the establishment of law and order under the ICU.
The basis of the popular support for the Islam Courts during its short rule (from June to December 2006) rested on several factors. The ICU was a relatively honest administration, which ended warlord corruption and extortion. Personal safety and property were protected, ending arbitrary seizures and kidnappings by warlords and their armed thugs. The ICU is a broad multi-tendency movement that includes moderates and radical Islamists, civilian politicians and armed fighters, liberals and populists, electoralists and authoritarians (7). Most important, the Courts succeeded in unifying the country and creating some semblance of nationhood, overcoming clan fragmentation. In the process of unifying the country, the Islamic Courts government re-affirmed Somali sovereignty and opposition to US imperialist intervention in the Middle East and particularly in the Horn of Africa via its Ethiopian client regime.
US Intervention: The United Nations, Military Occupation, Warlords and Proxies
The recent history of US efforts to incorporate Somalia into its network of African client states began during the early 1990’s under President Clinton (8). While most commentators today rightly refer to Bush as an obsessive war-monger for his wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they forget that President Clinton, in his time, engaged in several overlapping and sequential acts of war in Somalia, Iraq, Sudan and Yugoslavia. Clinton’s military actions and the embargoes killed and maimed thousands of Somalis, resulted in 500,000 deaths among Iraqi children alone and caused thousands of civilian deaths and injuries in the Balkans. Clinton ordered the destruction of Sudan’s main pharmaceutical plant producing vital vaccines and drugs essential for both humans and their livestock leading to a critical shortage of these essential vaccines and treatments (9). President Clinton dispatched thousands of US troops to Somalia to occupy the country under the guise of a ‘humanitarian mission’ in 1994 (10).
Washington intervened to bolster its favored pliant war-lord against another, against the advice of the Italian commanders of the UN troops in Somalia. Two-dozen US troops were killed in a botched assassination attempt and furious residents paraded their mutilated bodies in the streets of the Somali capital. Washington sent helicopter gunships, which shelled heavily, populated areas of Mogadishu, killing and maiming thousands of civilians in retaliation.
The US was ultimately forced to withdraw its soldiers as Congressional and public opinion turned overwhelmingly against Clinton’s messy little war. The United Nations, which no longed needed to provide a cover for US intervention, also withdrew. Clinton’s policy turned toward securing one subset of client warlords against the others, a policy which continued under the Bush Administration. The current ‘President’ of the US puppet regime, dubbed the ‘Transitional Federal Government’, is Abdullahi Yusuf. He is a veteran warlord deeply involved in all of the corrupt and lawless depredations which characterized Somalia between 1991 to 2006 (12). Yusuf had been President of the self-styled autonomous Puntland breakaway state in the 1990’s.
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