Friday, January 5, 2007
alt.muslim interviews Somali social worker Hussein Yusuf (himself a refugee) in order to help put the current conflict in Somalia into perspective.
Born into a life of privilege as the son of a provincial governor in Somalia, Hussein Yusuf's life changed forever in 1991 when insurgents drove his family out of Mogadishu. His family returned to Somalia several times after, where his father had set up feeding stations for refugees and forbade his son Hussein from joining the army.
At the age of 18, Hussein fled to Yemen where he landed a job with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, despite a formal higher education, because of his research skills and fluency in English, Somali, and Arabic. While in Yemen, he interviewed refugees for repatriation, collected security data and coordinated repatriation programs for a caseload of 10,000 refugees.
He eventually ended up in the US where he is currently a master's of Social Work student at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
Let's start with 1991 and the overthrow of Somali President Mohamed Siad Barre. How did this impact Somalia and your family?
After the overthrow of Siad Barre, Somalia became fragmented as various tribes fought over the leadership of the government. Despite their attempts, no tribe was able to gain adequate control and anarchy reigned for the next fifteen years.
During this time, my family took refuge in Ethiopia. My father, not wanting to be away from home for long, decided to return to Somalia to start our lives over again after only a few months. All of this was in spite of the present dangers that persisted. Unfortunately, our tribal defense forces were overtaken after our return forcing us to cross the border once again. This happened several times, until finally in 1996, the last time we fled, I moved to Yemen.
Eventually I came to the United States in August of 2000. The war was tragic for everyone. My brother was killed, as were several other members of my family. This is the story of every Somali family. So many good people lost loved ones and property. According to CNN, over 100,000 died during the period 1991-1992 alone.
The US, as well as the UN, made several efforts to intervene, both using military force and with humanitarian assistance, to prevent the conflict from exacerbating.
Looking back, how are the US and UN interventions during the early 1990s regarded by Somalis?
Many Somalis initially regarded the role of the United States and United Nations favorably because their involvement saved many lives in the first months of the conflict. With a strong securing force, citizens were able to receive food from NGOs who previously were unable to distribute aid due to the armed militias hijacking food. The situation got out of control, after the US and the UN begun engaging nation building efforts. Many tribes felt threatened because of their potential to lose power. In Mogadishu, General Aideed, a well-known warlord, went as far as to fight against the US forces.
This eventually led to the withdrawal of the US and UN forces in 1995 and the subsequent return to a fragmented system of government for Somalia. With every tribe for itself, Puntland and Somaliland regions were free to form their own governing bodies apart from greater Somalia.
On September 18, the first suicide bombing in Somali history occurred, targeting President Abdullahi Yusuf. What is the significance - if any - of this event?
This is a very serious concern to Somalis because, from what I know of my people, it is not our nature to blow ourselves up, for any reason. The UIC movement, allowed Islamists to attract a large number of Middle-Easterners, who came to support what they saw as the spread of Islam in Somalia. The September suicide bombing shook many Somalis and caused them to become weary and suspicious of the Islamists presence in Somalia. They came to teach a different kind of Islam, almost alien to the Somalis understanding of Islam.
An alarming contempt for the expression of Sufism, the Qadiriya, Salihiya or Shia faiths was a common practice of this movement. It worried many of us, and I think a lot of people are happy to see them gone.
Somalis, by nature, are very suspicious of foreign powers, especially those with a theological bent on ruling the country. Even though groups in Saudi Arabia were successful in funding and arming most of this movement, they really did not succeed in convincing the Somali people to join their movement.
As soon as they were defeated, music blasted in every radio station in Mogadishu and women again wore their traditional Somali dresses. I think the movement had the potential to pose a serious threat, primarily to the Somali people and also to the surrounding region. The UIC calling for a jihad against Ethiopia stands as a testament of this.
What are the origins of the Council of Islamic Courts? What was their motive in declaring war against Ethiopia on October 9, 2006?
I think their motive to declare a jihad against Ethiopia was to force Ethiopia to withdraw its help from the Somali government. In addition, Ethiopia rules a region primarily populated by Somalis, and it was over this region that the two countries fought. Somali went to war with Ethiopia in 1977 and I think the UIC used this visceral pretext to mobilize people.
What is your forecast for Somalia? What can be done to curb the conflict?
I am very hopeful. As long as we, as Somalis, attempt to control our tribal instincts, this government has a good chance of succeeding. This is my prayer and hope.