If the theory of unintended consequences could be applied to states, the situation in Somalia offers a perfect illustration.
The Islamists who are now in control of Mogadishu got where they are because of a series of miscalculations, blunders and omissions by their rivals.
First came the US, which tried to forge together a band of the same old warlords in an effort to block the advance of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). America's overriding fear was that under the Islamists, anarchic Somalia would rapidly descend into a Taliban-like cesspit.
The scheme backfired. As the US is fast discovering, anything linked to America becomes an object of hatred in the Muslim world. The warlords, who were never popular, were being opportunistic: Their new-found "anti-terrorism" alliance with the US was obviously with an eye at American largesse. Still, their association, however peripheral, with the US in a Muslim country was the kiss of death.
The ICU, who took control in June, had other things going for them. Somalis have never had a tradition of religious radicalism. What the Islamists promised first and foremost was security, which Mogadishu residents have long been desperate for. Unlike the capricious warlords, the ICU had also become noted for their straightforward if rough meting out of justice in the lawless environs of Somalia they controlled.
They signified order, however imperfect. It is more or less the same phenomenon at work in Palestine, one which caught America off-guard, when Hamas won elections against the American-sanctioned, and ineffectual Palestinian Authority.
The Somali impasse has gone to highlight not just the contemporary problem the rise of Islamist movements poses for secular forces, but it amply demonstrates how the Islamists are capitalising on the weaknesses of secularists in Muslim countries to further the Islamist agenda.
The problem in Zanzibar – which is in political union with the mainland to form Tanzania – could be manifesting itself mainly as a compulsive assertion for self-determination. Elections last year ended on a controversial note with the opposition Civic United Front making a credible case that there was intimidation, if not manipulation, by the Chama Cha Mapinduzi, which controls both the Zanzibari and union governments. The isles President, Amani Abeid Karume, had to be sworn in under heavy guard, as supporters of his opponent, Hamad, run riot while many were arrested.
Still, like other predominantly Muslim societies, the Zanzibari situation has none-too-subtly been fired up by elements of religious particularism, not to mention race. Though the mainland has a large Muslim population of its own, it is Zanzibar with its deep-rooted Islamic culture through its historic links with the Arabian peninsula that has absorbed many of the Islamist undercurrents boiling up in the wider Islamic world, and it is no accident that key CUF activists are of a decidedly Islamist bent.
One interesting feature of Islamist movements in Africa and elsewhere is how adept they have become at playing the "democratic" card.
The irony for the West is that its championing of "democratisation" in the Muslim world has brought to the fore the same Islamist forces it most dislikes, like Hamas. In the beginning, it was easy for the West to look the other way – even to encourage – incumbent governments to stymie any democratic push for power by the Islamists. That was the case in 1991, when the Algerian military intervened in what was a virtual coup d'etat after the radical Islamic group, the FIS, swept parliamentary elections.
The paradox for the West is that you can no longer push to "democratise" Muslim regimes, on one hand, and then encourage the repression of one segment of its society.
One of the African countries where Western-style pluralism has led straight to an Islamic-sympathetic regime is Comoros. Last May, Muslim cleric Ahmed Abdallah Sambi, 49, won a commanding plurality of 58 per cent of the popular vote. His two secular rivals, long-serving politician Ibrahim Halidi and former French air force officer Mohammed Djafaari, trailed with 28 per cent and 13 per cent respectively.
Source: The Daily Nation
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