Issue 40 - Article 2

The Global War on Terror trumps all? A timeline of the escalating crisis in Somalia from January 2007 to July 2008

October 9, 2008

Somalia is suffering its worst civil war since the collapse of the state, with the breakdown of clan protection mechanisms complicating all aspects, including the protection of displaced people. The crisis is affecting previously peaceful areas, including Somaliland and Puntland, as well as the wider region. The lack of coherence in Western donor governments’ agendas, their failure to call for accountability by the governments they fund, and their prioritisation of Western security interests over the humanitarian imperative are contributing to the escalating emergency.

This timeline provides an overview of the complex interplay of political, security and humanitarian agendas in the Somali context, the failure of the ‘military solution’ and the cost in human suffering. It identifies key events in the violent struggle in south-central Somalia; the attempts to advocate for accountability by all parties to basic principles of international humanitarian law; and ways in which all parties in the conflict have undermined humanitarian space to the point where there are virtually no means to reach populations in need and avert famine.

January 2007

    • Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is installed in Mogadishu after Ethiopian forces defeat the Council of Islamic Courts.


  • Kenya closes its border to people fleeing heavy fighting in Mogadishu and other areas of southern Somalia to prevent ‘terrorists’ from entering the country.



  • UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator declares a ‘window of opportunity’ and pushes NGOs ‘for immediate re-engagement’.



  • Several NGOs raise serious concerns that humanitarian aid is in danger of being used for political ends, threatening neutrality, impartiality, and independence.


February 2007

    • UN Security Council authorises six-month African Union mission of 8,000 peacekeepers (AMISOM) – no civilian protection is included in the mandate.


  • TFG President declares the first of many security sweeps in Mogadishu to disarm residents amidst worsening security.



  • UN and donors begin preparations for a national reconciliation conference.


March 2007

    • 1,200 Ugandan AMISOM troops arrive in Mogadishu amidst heavy battles between government and opposition forces.


  • Mass displacements from Mogadishu begin as people flee the violence. Humanitarian agencies are unable to respond adequately because of escalating violence.



  • Rhetoric of polarisation increases and TFG cracks down on civil society and local media.



  • Opposition forces fire mortar shells from civilian areas, Ethiopian/TFG forces respond with heavy artillery. ‘Any place from which a bullet is fired, we will bombard it, regardless of whoever is there.’ (TFG president, radio interview.)



  • UN Technical Assessment Mission begins planning for possible UN peacekeeping operation.



  • Suicide bomb attacks target the Ethiopian military in Mogadishu and environs.


April 2007

    • ‘A massive Ethiopian-led offensive to pacify an insurgency in the Somali capital left nearly 400 people dead between March 29 and April 1. Human rights groups say many of the victims were civilians and accuse the Ethiopians of using tanks and attack helicopters to fire indiscriminately into densely populated areas.’ (The Guardian)


  • Over a third of Mogadishu’s population flee the city in 3 weeks in ‘the worst fighting in 15 years’ (ICRC).



  • European Commission receives advice that the EC and its partners may be complicit in violations of international law through the provision of financial and technical assistance to Ethiopian and TFG forces who may have committed war crimes. ‘[A regional analyst] … predicted that even if there was compelling evidence of war crimes, the case would probably never get to court … because Ethiopia is a close American ally, valued as a bulwark against Islamic militants in the Horn of Africa.’ (New York Times)



  • IGAD Communiqué (April) blames ‘extremists’ for the fighting and applauds Ethiopia’s military intervention.



  • ‘Multilateral efforts to support Somalia have been undermined by the strategic concerns of other international actors – notably Ethiopia and the United States’. (Chatham House report)



  • US ambassador, acting UN RHC and others protest privately to the TFG President about impediments to aid delivery, including the TFG’s closure of airstrips used, insistence on inspecting aid consignments, looting of food deliveries by TFG militia, harassment of aid workers and extortion.



  • ‘Somalia’s “Transitional Federal Government” is in danger of becoming a severe embarrassment to Washington. It was the US, after all, that helped to propel it to power as part of its War on Terror last December when it encouraged Ethiopia’s repressive regime to remove the Union of Islamic Courts.’ (The Times)



  • Joint letter to all embassies/donors by a group of NGOs over humanitarian/human rights concerns. The UN and EC hold emergency meetings: the EU presidency makes the first public acknowledgement of atrocities, condemning the indiscriminate use of heavy artillery in Mogadishu and deliberate blocking of humanitarian supplies.



  • Anti-NGO rhetoric by TFG Prime Minister reported in The Times.



  • Pro-TFG forces prevail and Prime Minister declares victory.



  • Conflict spreads to the wider region – militants attack a Chinese oil installation in Ethiopia.



  • Suicide bomb attacks target the Ethiopian military in Mogadishu and near Afgoye.


May 2007

    • Mass exodus continues; the humanitarian situation deteriorates dramatically.


  • The TFG and UN agree to form a committee for humanitarian coordination but only one meeting is held and the committee fails to materialise.



  • The UN Emergency Relief Coordinator calls Somalia ‘the most dangerous place for aid workers in the world’.



  • NGO lobbying of the EU results in General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) recognition of some NGO concerns regarding lack of humanitarian access.



  • Roadside bomb kills five AMISOM peacekeepers in Mogadishu.


June 2007

    • UN reports that an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in Mogadishu is obstructing the implementation of humanitarian activities.


  • Suicide bomb attacks on Ethiopian convoy and PM’s residence in Mogadishu.



  • NGO advocacy on behalf of Somali civil society organisations increases after the TFG cracks down on local NGOs, media and human rights organisations.


July 2007

    • National Reconciliation Conference opens in Mogadishu, despite worsening conditions, and runs for a month.


  • Mogadishu hospitals supported by the Red Cross treat 3,000 war-wounded from January–July 2007. The ICRC reiterates the need for neutral and independent humanitarian action.



  • Continuing reports of assassinations of civic activists, human rights defenders and political leaders by unknown parties, and of summary executions and arbitrary arrests following house-to-house searches by TFG/Ethiopian forces, with 1,500 persons unaccounted for (report of Independent Expert on Human Rights).



  • Deteriorating security and kidnapping of internationals in Puntland result in reduced international presence.


August 2007

    • Human Rights Watch report covering March–April fighting in Mogadishu accuses all parties (Ethiopian, TFG and opposition forces) of war crimes, and the UN Security Council of indifference.


  • Targeted killing of two leading journalists in Mogadishu brings to eight the total killed in 2007.



  • AMISOM mandate is extended – still no civilian protection component, despite extensive lobbying.



  • TFG-appointed mayor of Mogadishu states publicly that, by assisting displaced people, NGOs are feeding terrorists.



  • Somali population in need of emergency assistance increases from 1m to 1.5m (UN Food Security Analysis Unit, FSAU).



  • Humanitarian access decreases with proliferation of checkpoints (238 around Mogadishu alone) and extortion by militia (freelance and in TFG uniforms).


September 2007

    • NGOs lobby the International Contact Group on accountability issues, but none of the concerns are reflected in the communiqué.


  • A donor representative questions whether there is any significant displacement of people from Mogadishu in a meeting with NGOs in Nairobi.



  • The Independent Expert on Human Rights in Somalia reinforces the August Human Rights Watch report, but fails to persuade the UN to boost its human rights monitoring for Somalia.


October 2007

    • Opposition groups form the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS) in Eritrea.


  • TFG arrests WFP officer in Mogadishu, triggering a UN outcry. The following day a donor pledges several million dollars to the TFG.



  • Suicide bomb attack targets an Ethiopian military base in Baidoa.



  • 40 NGOs issue a press release warning of an impending humanitarian catastrophe and lack of access due to escalating insecurity, reminding the international community and all parties to the conflict of their responsibilities to protect civilians, allow humanitarian aid delivery, and respect humanitarian space and the safety of humanitarian workers.


November 2007

    • Prime Minister Gedi resigns.


  • Ethiopia moves reinforcements into Mogadishu amidst the heaviest fighting since April.



  • Warnings of an impending security sweep by TFG authorities drive up to 100,000 people from Mogadishu in three days. Somali NGOs attempt to respond.



  • UN Senior Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) describes Somalia’s crisis as the worst in Africa and suggests using the International Criminal Court as a means to curb the violence.



  • NGOs send a joint statement to EU member states raising humanitarian and accountability concerns. EU Parliament calls for increased accountability.



  • TFG stops aid shipments; the move is reversed after new Prime Minister Nur Hassan intercedes.


December 2007

    • The SRSG calls for a clear course of action on Somalia as the status quo has failed. UN Security Council appears indifferent.


  • NGOs lobby EU Foreign Ministers on Somalia, resulting in a GAERC resolution stating humanitarian concerns.



  • Political actors again ask NGOs to accept armed AMISOM/TFG escorts to ease access.



  • AMISOM is declared a legitimate target by hardline opposition forces. 200 Burundian peacekeepers join Ugandan troops in Mogadishu.



  • Internationals are kidnapped in Puntland. Reported ransom payments by embassies (without local consultations) increase the kidnap risk; further reduction in the international presence.



  • Media coverage of the Somali crisis wanes as post-election violence erupts in Kenya.


January 2008

    • One year on: the security situation in Mogadishu and elsewhere continues to deteriorate. Civilians are the primary victims of attacks by all sides. Intimidation and assassinations of different figures by unknown parties continue.


  • The 15km road between Mogadishu and Afgooye town hosts approximately 230,000 people displaced in 2007.



  • The same road has five checkpoints manned by competing TFG authorities all demanding ‘tax’, resulting in estimated costs of $460 per truck and hindering humanitarian access to vulnerable populations. Despite letters issued by the TFG exempting aid workers from ‘taxes’ at roadblocks, demands continue, often by TFG forces (OCHA).



  • A roadside bomb attack on an MSF convoy in Kismayo kills two international aid workers and three bystanders. The public demonstrates against the attack. (MSF subsequently closed its operation in March.)


February 2008

    • The majority of the south-central population shows persisting rates of malnutrition above the UN’s emergency threshold of 15% (OCHA).


  • UN SRSG says the international community must focus on ending impunity in Somalia, where warlords have committed gross human rights abuses against civilians for many years.



  • A UN national officer is released after 13 months’ detention by Ethiopian forces: there is no public comment.


March 2008

    • The scale and organisation of attacks by armed opposition groups increase and attacks spread to different areas of south-central Somalia.


  • US missile strikes in Dhobley town near the Kenyan border result in over 1,700 people fleeing into Kenya and to Kismayo (UNHCR).



  • A spokesman for a hard-line opposition group al-Shabaab threatens retaliatory action against individuals working for the US government and NGOs.



  • TFG Prime Minister offers to negotiate with internal and external opposition, including al-Shabaab.



  • US State Department lists al-Shabaab as a terrorist organisation.



  • Civil society, professionals and diaspora representatives from south-central Somalia call on all parties to the conflict to enable humanitarian access (Entebbe Communiqué).



  • 44 NGOs issue a second public statement drawing attention to the deteriorating humanitarian situation and rapidly declining access in Somalia.



  • ‘Somalia continues to bleed … because NGOs … are fomenting trouble so the donor dollar can continue flowing’ – Somali Political Consular in Nairobi (Standard, 12 March 2008).



  • Mayor of Mogadishu again states publicly that, by assisting IDPs, NGOs are feeding terrorists.



  • Attacks on aid agencies and aid deliveries increase.



  • ‘Mogadishu is more capriciously violent than it has ever been, with roadside bombs, militias shelling one another across neighborhoods, doctors getting shot in the head and 10-year-olds hurling grenades.’ (The New York Times)


April 2008

    • Two internationals are kidnapped in southern Somalia.


  • Mogadishu suffers the worst fighting in months between TFG/Ethiopian and armed opposition groups, resulting in over 50 civilians dead and 120 wounded, together with credible reports of atrocities, increased lawlessness, and looting by armed elements in TFG and Ethiopian uniforms.



  • Suicide bomb attack kills an AMISOM peacekeeper in Mogadishu.



  • NGOs and UN humanitarian agencies again express alarm that Somalia is ‘on the eve of a humanitarian catastrophe’, with drought, food insecurity, conflict and lack of access affecting millions of Somalis.



  • Attack targets UN international staff in an apparent failed kidnap attempt in Puntland; the UN reduces its international presence.



  • ‘War-ravaged Somalia is in the worst shape it has been in for years – which, for this devastated country that has not had a proper government for nearly a generation, is really saying something. Yet, neither of the two resolutions currently in preparation at the UN Security Council mentions the 85 dead in Mogadishu last weekend, or the exodus of newly displaced persons from that city, or Ethiopian shelling of civilian areas or the dwindling international humanitarian response.’ (International Herald Tribune)



  • The International Contact Group invites the humanitarian community to brief its meeting. ICG Communiqué calls on all parties to the conflict to respect International Humanitarian Law and protect civilians, but fails to include measures to hold parties accountable.



  • Central Somalia joins southern regions in the humanitarian emergency phase (FSAU).


May 2008

    • ‘The gates of jihad are wide open in the Horn of Africa’ – al-Shabaab spokesman, media interview.


  • US military strike in Dhusamareeb, central Somalia, kills the military leader of al-Shabaab, Aden Hashi Ayro.



  • Al-Shabaab leaders state that international aid workers are legitimate targets.



  • Threats to kidnap or kill national and international aid workers increase dramatically. The UN and EC restrict humanitarian flights into Somalia.



  • The number of checkpoints across south-central Somalia more than doubles since January 2007 (147 to 390: OCHA).



  • Public demonstrations in Mogadishu against inflation (attributed to currency printing), refusal of traders to accept Somali currency and escalating food prices.



  • Despite extensive lobbying by humanitarian agencies, both the UN Security Council Resolution on Somalia and the EU’s GAERC Conclusions are weak on accountability, humanitarian access and human rights.


June 2008

    • The ICRC says that Somalia is experiencing its ‘worst tragedy of the past decade’.


  • The UN-brokered Djibouti peace agreement between the TFG and a faction of the ARS is rejected by key opposition figures including the ARS based in Eritrea; the main combatants (Ethiopia and al-Shabaab) are not party to the talks.



  • Targeting of national staff intensifies, further reducing access to south-central Somalia. A hardline jihadist group claims killings of aid workers, according to the Somali media. Three peace activists are assassinated in three weeks, bringing to six the total of aid workers killed (with a further seven abducted) in June alone.



  • UN report on children in Somalia accuses both the TFG and the armed opposition of committing grave human rights violations against children. The UN monitoring report on the arms embargo says all sides in the conflict are selling weapons in contravention of the embargo, and that ‘the Somali police force no longer differs from other actors in the armed conflict’.



  • UK television documentary exposes conditions in Mogadishu and Afgooye, and UK government funding of key TFG officials accused of war crimes.


July 2008

    • Following the assassination of the most senior UNDP national officer in Mogadishu and other killings, al-Shabaab, ARS factions and the TFG blame each other for targeting aid workers. (Reuters, VoA, al-Jazeera)


  • Targeted attacks on aid workers are at their highest ever levels, access at its lowest. From January–July 2008, 20 aid workers are killed and 13 currently held hostage, some for several months (NGO Security office advisory); more than eight ships have been hijacked for ransom (including food aid shipments).



  • The ARS splits following an aborted meeting in Yemen.



  • The mayor of Mogadishu is dismissed by the Prime Minister but says only the President can discharge him, exposing rifts within the TFG.



  • US State Department official Jendayi Fraser says the US did not approve Ethiopian action in Somalia; disputed ARS leader Dahir Aweys says that the ARS will protect aid workers (VoA).



  • WFP says that Somalia could face a similar situation to the famine of the early 1990s unless the security situation improves.



  • The deterioration in the humanitarian situation accelerates due to hyperinflation, deepening drought and worsening security, hampering local trade and blocking humanitarian access, with proliferating checkpoints, extortion, criminality, assassinations, roadside bombs, shelling and armed clashes.



  • 180,000 (1 in 6) children under 5 are acutely malnourished in south-central Somalia and in displaced populations and need immediate supplementary nutrition. Prices of all cereals (local and imported) are at record highs and rising at alarming rates; deepening drought pushes pastoralists into humanitarian emergency in central Somalia; over 2.6 million people need emergency assistance (up 40% since January 2007) and this could rise to 3.5 million by December (FSAU).



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