Features

Swift justice, long haul

"Swift justice, long haul" Continued...

Issue: "Hope or hype?," Jan. 20, 2007

Underscoring the divisions among Somalis, not everyone agreed with the panel's praise for the Islamic Courts. Zeynab Abdullahi, a Washington-area engineer, leapt out of her chair, whisked her shawl off her shoulders, and draped it over her head in a veil: This, she said, was what the Courts wanted for women.

Nor was the Islamic Courts' Islam similar to Somalia's historical, nomadic brand, Abdullahi said: "'Who was Muhammad?' I asked my grandmother, and [she would say], 'Just some Arab.'" Abudallahi worried that the Islamic Courts wanted to impose their laws-and their jihad-on all of Somalia.

With the Islamists gone, however, "this is an opportunity for Somalia to be able to get over 16 years of civil war and death and destruction," Abdullahi later said.

Peace in Somalia would also soothe the country's neighbors. In Uganda, which does not border Somalia, President Yoweri Museveni offered about 800 troops for peacekeeping, hoping in the long run to stanch a flourishing small arms trade that extends from Somalia into Uganda's restive northern provinces.

Besides protecting its vulnerable east, Kenya would also like to avert an influx of Somali refugees into its already swollen Dadaab Camp. In early January officials sealed Kenya's borders to prevent escaping Islamists seeping in. Refugees have been turning up at the Kenyan frontier for months, fearing full-scale war.

But southern Somalis are also grappling with natural, not just man-made, disasters. After they lost crops and livestock to a two-year drought, devastating floods late last year displaced tens of thousands. But with the violence, most international humanitarian groups have fled, largely leaving local nonprofits to meet food and medical needs.

"People had not really recovered from the drought before this catastrophe of excess water," explained Reuben Nzuki, a disaster management advisor for the U.K.-based group Tearfund. "Food has not been grown and [there are not] enough animals to provide for the people."

Omar hoped, too, that Kenya would allow flights to enter from Mogadishu and injured, unarmed refugees to cross its borders. Medical care is scarce in Somalia, and Somalis know by word-of-mouth that Kijabe Hospital offers good care. Omar speaks to patients and their families, and often checks on how some in Nairobi are healing after treatment.

That's when he gets to talk about life in Somalia. "To me and a lot of others the way we see it is Rome was not built in a day," Omar said. "The thing we have to ask ourselves is if the Somali government is growing in the right direction. This government is starting from zero."

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