by robin sivapalan
THE North London Workers’ Liberty forum “What next in Somalia after military intervention?” on 22 February was attended by about 70 people, including many Somalis living locally in Wembley.
Abdi Hassan from the Somali Civil Liberties and Human Rights Right organisation outlined the picture on the ground in Somalia, with nightly raids by the government and Ethiopian forces resulting in a growing death toll, disappearances and mass displacement. He characterised the actions of the Transitional Federal Government as amounting to war crimes, a barely disguised act of genocide being perpetrated by President Abdullahi Yusef’s tribe, whose people dominate the TFG. He described the suppression and intimidation of journalists trying to get news out, and called for a Peace and National Reconciliation conference to be convened on neutral territory in Europe. As it stands, Yusef has scheduled it for Mogadishu in April.
With President Yusef in London for a routine hospital appointment (which attracted protests), Mohamud Guled, apparently the envoy to Britain of the TFG, failed to attend. He would not have been welcomed by the vast majority of Somalis present, many of whom strongly supported the Union of Islamic Courts. Dawn Butler, the Labour MP for Brent South, spoke briefly, mainly to say that she was there to listen and learn and extend her support to her sizeable Somali constituency. Her closing speech basically demanded that young Somalis get their act together, seize the benefits of the free education here, and come to her with a clear united voice. Bizarre, apolitical and condescending!
Cathy Nugent, editor of Solidarity, explained the basic socialist and democratic perspective of separating private religious worship from organised political structures and government. While acknowledging the relative stability brought about in the south through the development of the UIC structure, and while dismissing the propaganda that equates the UIC and al-Qaeda, she argued for a politics based on uniting the oppressed and exploited on the basis of their economic and social interests, rather than seeking to unify people politically under the banner of Islam.
The discussion and contributions from the floor were lively and informed and had a sense of urgency. It is easy to see why the UIC has so much support from the Somali diaspora in Wembley who now fear for their families and friends. The locking up of warlords by the UIC militia, sponsored by the small business class, has created the space to open sea and air ports, schools and hospitals. The imposition of a more conservative and repressive form of sharia law to a society where previously it had had little grip was seen by some as a necessary strong arm of law and order and a way of transcending tribalism with a unifying ideology that everyone could subscribe to.
North London Workers’ Liberty aims to build on the discussions initiated through this forum; meetings are being arranged with T&G branches in bus garages where there are many Somali drivers. African Union troops from Uganda are now in Somalia. The escalating conflict is devastating the lives of those who remain. Socialists in the labour movement must at least make solidarity with Somali workers living and studying in the UK.
The Somali community in London suffer some of the worst injustices of the education and criminal justice systems. Addressing the hardship of Somalis in London, where the second international conference of the diaspora is due to take place this month, could provide an experience of workers’ solidarity and democracy where ideas for a more hopeful future for Somalia can be aired.