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The 'Axis of Anarchy'

About the author
Harun Hassan worked for Associated Press and the BBC in Somalia. He currently works as a freelancer.

With the war in Iraq over, George Bush and Tony Blair are still having difficulties convincing their critics that they were justified in taking this unprecedented military action. The capture and prosecution of Saddam Hussein or the immediate discovery of “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD) in Iraq would help their case. Still more people would be satisfied to see the occupiers accept an effective United Nations involvement in rebuilding Iraq. But even in the absence of these outcomes, I believe that they could recast the concept of pre-emptive war in such a way as to win support.

By finding new targets – by which I do not refer to the invasion of the remaining “axis of evil” countries – these two western leaders could show that they are genuinely committed to protecting world peace and liberating the oppressed. The “axis of evil” countries (defined as Iran, North Korea and Syria in President Bush’s speech of January 2002) are, for all their severe social and economic difficulties, relatively stable internally; whereas there are other trouble zones around the world where people are being far more violently oppressed, killed, raped, maimed, kidnapped and denied the right to live in peace. The epicentre of this “axis of anarchy”, as it might be called, is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Democratic Republic of Congo

AfricaMap of Africa
DRC, formerly Zaire, is the largest country in Africa. It is experiencing one of the most complicated and costly conflicts since 1945. In a terrible humanitarian catastrophe, at least 3.3 million people have died – the vast majority from starvation and disease, but many from deliberate bloodletting. Every week, there are massacres reported in some part of the country, as a result of bloody clashes between rival factions, ethnic groups, and government forces. On top of this, the country is a battleground for six other African countries: Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia take the DRC government’s side, while Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi support different armed rebels.

The mayhem started in 1996 when rebels led by the late Laurent Kabila toppled former dictator, Mobuto Sese Seko. Kabila was mysteriously assassinated in 1999, only for his son, Joseph to inherit the reign. An inclusive agreement brokered by former South African president, Nelson Mandela, was supposed to end the internal conflict and ensure the withdrawal of foreign troops from the diamond-rich country. Although some of the interfering countries claimed to have withdrawn their troops, there is still no independent verification and the chaos and killing continue.

After a visit from the UN undersecretary general for peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guehenno, the small and beleaguered UN force of 200 Uruguayan soldiers in the north-eastern province of Bunia – where Hema and Lenda forces are engaged in a vicious internecine war – has just been supplemented by a larger (mainly French) peacekeeping force in the region. Some of the militias in the DRC have threatened that they will treat the French troops as enemies. UK and US involvement could be pivotal here, if they could take a more active role in resolving the conflict.

East Africa

Intervention could also be stabilising to the east of DRC, where some of the deadliest terrorist attacks have taken place. Large parts of East Africa have been classified as a “no go” area for the British and Americans, while their own populations are also under threat from internal and regional conflicts. This zone covers Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Tanzania and last but not least, my own troubled country, Somalia.

The British government recently suspended all UK flights to and from Kenya, the East African country most popular with Western tourists. The United States had already been standing with one leg and running with the other, having given her embassy staff in Kenya the option to leave the country. Western interests in the region are believed to be under the threat of imminent terrorist attack.

Security concerns and terrorism are not a new part of life there. In Kenya and Tanzania, the US embassies in the capitals Nairobi and Dar es Salaam were the targets of the 1998 bombings which killed a total of nearly 300 people – mostly Kenyans and Tanzanians, and up to twenty Americans. Then, in October 2002, an hotel in Kenya’s coastal city of Mombassa occupied by Israeli tourists was the target of a bomb that killed sixteen people, including locals, while in a related attack, an Israeli airliner narrowly missed being hit in a missile.

Kenya in particular has suffered the effects of terrorism directed towards US and UK interests. The country lies between a number of war-ravaged countries – Somalia, Sudan, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. (Eritrea and Ethiopia to its north have their own severe security problems, having just finished their own battle over the disputed Badme enclave).


Somalia’s disintegration makes it a prominent member of the “axis of anarchy” states. The country has had no central government for thirteen years and is divided into separate fiefdoms ruled by uncompromising warlords. The chaos started in Somalia in 1991 when armed clan-rebels drove former dictator, Mohamed Siad Barre from power by force, only to turn the guns against each other, having failed to share power.

After years of political deadlock and armed conflict, the rival Somali factions have been meeting in Nairobi for the past seven months under the auspices of the regional umbrella, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which comprises Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Sudan, Djibouti, Eritrea and Somalia. IGAD is willing to commit peacekeeping troops in Somalia but only if well-equipped contingents come from high-profile states – primarily, the United States and Britain.

Diplomatic pressure and the threat of military force are required more than ever before in order to send a firm message to the Somali warlords, who are relaxing at the expense of Kenyan hospitality and European Union (EU) money. Worryingly, this is the fourteenth attempt to find a solution between people often described as one of the most homogeneous societies on earth. All Somalis practice the same religion, Islam, speak the same language and share the same culture.

The chances of success in the ongoing talks are slim according to close political observers of the region. If this is so, the culprit is the lack of transparency and the unwillingness of the warlords to contemplate power-sharing. While Kenya and the regional states try their best, the UK and US governments – former colonial power and military and financial backer respectively – pursue a policy of indifference towards Somalia, despite their concerns over the region becoming a “safe haven for terrorists”.

The case for military measures

With a series of military interventions in Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq behind them, surely now is the time for the Americans and British to extend their forceful concern with legitimacy and stability to the appalling situation unfolding in those “axis of anarchy” states. A few hundred unscrupulous and disorganised militias in Somalia, Liberia, Ivory Coast or DRC would be likely to disappear at the first serious application of the “shock and awe” treatment applied during the war in Iraq.

No doubt, the sceptics who opposed both this recent war and some of these earlier interventions (and I too opposed the invasion of Iraq and still do) would be vocal in condemnation of any concerted US-British action. But I hope they would join a challenge to the world’s most powerful leaders to prove that they care about world peace and the suffering of innocent people, regardless of a county’s strategic location and potential resources.

The argument for western intervention is primarily a moral one – to save lives, restore security, and offer a minimum of hope to people deprived of the minimum conditions of a sustainable life. But there are also material and strategic arguments for the same outcome. The discovery of huge oil reserves along the coastline of Somalia (the longest in Africa, close to the Gulf and a key junction between east and west), and the existence of massive diamond and other mineral resources in the DRC, are testimony to the potential wealth of the region; while the dangers to US and British interests posed by terrorist actions in, or planned in, the region present reasons of self-interest for a focused involvement there.

Many fellow Somalis, and citizens of other nations in the region, will call me short-sighted or even unpatriotic to advocate US and British military intervention, but the argument should be measured against the potential real benefit of those who presently suffer in the killing zones of East Africa. There, George Bush and Tony Blair have an opportunity to live up to their declarations in favour of world peace and human rights. I will be contented if they make a serious contribution to stemming the chaos and suffering in these “axis of anarchy” states – even at the cost of support for the doctrine of “pre-emptive war”.

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