The news this morning is that warlords affiliated with islamic parties have captured Mogadishu, and that the warlords allied with US forces appear to be fleeing the city. The winning coalition of warlords have declared that the city is now under the jurisdiction of Sharia courts. It’s impossible to say whether US support for the anti-Sharia forces was a deciding factor, but Reuters reports, “Many Somalis have moved to the Islamic side because of Washington’s perceived support for the warlords, residents say.”
The “government” of Somalia is based in Baidoa, over 200km away. Government officials haven’t been able to enter Mogadishu, never mind bid for control of it. The spokesman of the government has expressed his hope that the Islamic coalition will contact the government soon and begin talks.
Meanwhile, the comparatively stable north – Somaliland – considers itself an entirely separate country. The New York Times ran a piece today that has a decidedly condescending tone to it, with author Marc Lacey opening with an anecdote about the tendency of Somaliland’s government to berate people who consider it a part of Somalia. Given that Somaliland has police – rather than gunmen – in the streets, an airline and a phone company, it makes some sense that the country doesn’t want to be identified with its southern neighbor. Somaliland also has a port in Berbera, which Ethiopia is very interested in gaining access to. As a result, Ethiopia is treating Somaliland’s president as a head of state, not as a “governor”, as Lacey describes him.
Perhaps Somaliland can find some hope in Montenegro, which has declared independence from Serbia. Other “micro-states” throughout the former Eastern Bloc are taking inspiration and may demand similar referenda on independence – Transdnistra, South Ossetia and Abkhazia would likely receive support from Moscow if they pulled away, while Nagorno-Karabagh already recieves support from Armenia. One problem for Somaliland? It’s not realistic to hold a referendum in a state without a government… and perhaps a referendum on Somaliland independence isn’t the first thing on the mind of the gunmen who’ve just captured Mogadishu in the name of Sharia courts.