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''Somalia's New Reality: A Strategic Overview''
9 Jan 2008
Events during the weeks following PINR's December 11 report on Somalia have confirmed its judgment that the country has settled into a chronic condition of statelessness characterized by devolution of the political community to clan-based solidarities, dispersion of power to local warlords and insurgent groups, and resultant multi-faceted conflicts. [See: "Somalia Completes its Devolutionary Cycle"]
With the collapse of Somalia's internationally-supported Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.) after a power struggle between its president, Abdillahi Yusuf Ahmed, and its then prime minister, Ali Mohamed Gedi, ended with the latter's resignation on October 29, Somalia has lacked even the semblance of the possibility of an effectively functioning government. The new prime minister, Nur "Adde" Hassan Hussein, has already failed in a first attempt to name a cabinet and is negotiating on another list. The transitional parliament is factionalized along clan lines. The transitional high court is inoperative as a consequence of its chief justice's arrest by Yusuf's allies during the October power struggle. There is little likelihood that Somalia's failed transitional institutions can be made to function, much less mesh with one another, in the foreseeable future.
The T.F.G.'s abject failure has left Somalia without a domestic political protagonist that would play the role of offering a programmatic challenge or initiative to stabilize the country, and would draw on a power base that would make its challenge credible. The judgment that the T.F.G. has reached a dead end is becoming current among Somali intellectuals, the political and military opposition to the T.F.G., and external actors. There is no consensus, however, on how to pull Somalia out of chronic conflict, with many contending proposals springing from a common sense that a new chapter of Somalia's political history has opened.
A strategic overview of the current political situation in Somalia shows all the domestic and external players acting at cross-purposes, with none of them willing and/or able to transform the existing power configuration decisively. Since the defeat of the Islamic Courts Council (I.C.C.), which controlled most of southern and central Somalia and sought to set up a state based on Shari'a law, in December 2006 by an Ethiopian military intervention, the T.F.G. has been propped up militarily by a partial Ethiopian occupation and financially and diplomatically by Western donor powers and the United Nations.
Meanwhile, the militant elements of the Courts movement and disaffected clans have carried on a steady armed insurgency against the occupiers, and the political wing of the Courts has formed an alliance with other anti-T.F.G. elements from exile in Eritrea. At present, Addis Ababa -- strained by the insurgency, a separatist movement in its ethnic Somali Ogaden region and border tensions with Eritrea -- is increasingly desperate to end its occupation and has begun to criticize the donor powers for failing to support stabilization in Somalia adequately.
The donor powers continue to back the T.F.G. half-heartedly, unwilling to commit substantial resources to an unpromising cause. Emboldened by the T.F.G.'s collapse, Addis Ababa's exhaustion and the donor powers' tentative stance, the Courts-led opposition remains intransigent in its demand that the Ethiopian occupation must end before discussions on power sharing might begin. Pushed and pulled by the other major actors, the T.F.G. executive appeals for help that does not come.
An Imploded T.F.G.
The implosion of the T.F.G. is a direct result of the power struggle between Yusuf and Gedi, which was described in PINR's December 11 report. By maneuvering Gedi's resignation, Yusuf had sought to become Somalia's sole power broker; instead, he fell ill and was shoved aside by domestic factions and external actors, all of which launched bids for influence over the new transitional executive. [See: "Somalia Completes its Devolutionary Cycle"]
With clan factions, Addis Ababa and the donor powers presenting different candidates for the prime minister's post, Yusuf chose Hussein as a compromise candidate who lacked his own power base and was left without cover to respond to conflicting demands concerning the composition of his administration. On one side, factions in the transitional parliament pressed for a government composed of holdovers from the preceding administration; on the other side, the donor powers pushed for an "inclusive government" staffed by intellectuals and technocrats, moderate figures in the political opposition, and leaders of dissident clans.
Hussein initially presented a cabinet list drawn preponderantly from parliament, but it failed to gain approval due to opposition from clan-based factions that claimed that they were under-represented and had not been consulted. Addis Ababa, which had been marginalized by Hussein's appointment, and the donor powers, which had welcomed Hussein as a politically neutral "technocrat," made clear their "disappointment" with his list.
Having failed to satisfy parliament and having alienated the major external actors, Hussein dissolved his proposed cabinet on December 16 and jumped to the side of the donor powers, promising to reduce the cabinet to 18 ministers from the previous 31, and to choose nine from outside parliament. The donor powers had pressed for a reduction in cabinet posts in order to streamline the T.F.G. executive and make it more efficient, and had demanded ministers be named from outside parliament in order to make the T.F.G. more representative of previously excluded political forces and to infuse it with expertise.
Hussein's problems in forming a cabinet spring from the weakness of his position. Lacking his own power base, Hussein is subjected to contradictory demands for clan-based domestic factions for representation in his government and from the donor powers for an effective administration and broader power sharing. It is highly unlikely that he can satisfy both demands or even either one alone. As Hussein attempts to please the donors, he will rouse the opposition of the factions, which have on their side the fact that the T.F.G. is based on a system of clan representation. Just because the factions failed to unite on Hussein's original list does not mean that they will be ready to acquiesce in a reduced list that will diminish their power substantially.
It is also unlikely that even if a list satisfying the donor powers carries parliament, they will provide the financial and technical aid necessary for the T.F.G. actually to govern, deliver services and initiate reconstruction. Hussein appears to be in an untenable position and the T.F.G. appears to be destined to continued failure.
A Resurgent Opposition
The failure of the T.F.G. has been underscored by statements from some of its own officials that the security situation in Somalia has gone out of control. On December 13, Sheikh Qasim Ibrahim Nur, director of security at the National Security Ministry, announced that 80 percent of the country was outside the control of the T.F.G., and that the Courts' forces had regrouped and were "everywhere." Presidential spokesman Mohamed Mahmoud Nur followed, saying that the Courts' fighters had been reinforced by up to 4,500 foreign jihadists. Both officials appealed to external actors for immediate help.
On December 20, the T.F.G.'s temporary interior minister, Mohammed Mahmoud Guled, appealed specifically to the Arab League for aid in hunting down al-Qaeda cells in Somalia that he said are working with an alliance of the radical Islamist Youth Mujahideen Movement (Y.M.M.), which had split from the I.C.C. after the Ethiopian intervention, and "old leaders from the Courts" to intensify the insurgency against the Ethiopian occupation.
Although the grim assessments of T.F.G. officials are possibly exaggerated in order to get the attention of external actors, PINR's monitoring of daily reports of violent events confirms that despite continued Ethiopian attempts to crush it, the insurgency continues unabated and has spread to most of the regions of Somalia south of the sub-state of Puntland.
More significant than the mere continuation of the insurgency are signs that the opposition has begun to coalesce around a more militant line emphasizing armed resistance. Warnings from T.F.G. officials that the Y.M.M. and the Courts' leadership had healed their rift were confirmed through December. On December 10, Yusuf Indha'ade, defense minister of the Courts-dominated Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (A.R.S.), who had been reported to have joined with the Y.M.M., declared that the T.F.G. was a "colonial government" and that Hussein was a "yes-man" for Yusuf.
On December 16, Mukhtar Ali Robow, former deputy defense minister of the I.C.C. and then commander of the Y.M.M., announced from the Bay region -- where the T.F.G.'s transitional capital Baidoa is located -- that his forces were planning to launch "the most enormous attacks," and repeated that the Y.M.M. was committed to establishing a Somali state based on Shari'a law. (Robow was reported to have been replaced in late December by Sheikh Mukhtar Abdirahman Abu-Zubeyr, who had trained in Afghanistan under the Taliban, and is likely to continue the hard line.)
On December 18, A.R.S. spokesman Sheikh Abdirahim Mudey said that Courts officials and fighters were "everywhere" in Somalia. He denied that the insurgents were preparing to invade the key southern port city of Kismayo, adding "we are there right now." On December 16, a Y.M.M. commander in Kismayo had told the Associated Press that he was sending fighters to Somalia's official capital Mogadishu "every day" to engage the Ethiopians.
Although both the speaker of the transitional parliament, Adan Madobe Mohamed, and the U.N. special envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, reported discussions between the T.F.G. and some A.R.S. leaders, those reports were not confirmed by the A.R.S. and, according to Madobe, met with mixed results. On balance, it appears that the opposition senses Hussein's weakness, allowing the hawks to gain preponderant influence. Whether or not the military option is timely for the Courts, the fact that it is being taken makes it nearly impossible for Hussein to woo the opposition into his government and thereby satisfy the donor powers, which want to isolate the militants by co-opting the moderate opposition.
Hussein has also had little success with the dissident clans linked in the Hawiye Tradition and Unity Council, which have resisted the Ethiopian occupation in Mogadishu, have suffered most from Ethiopian crackdowns and population displacements, and whose leaders have been arrested or gone into hiding. Speaking from a safe haven, Tradition and Unity leader Mohamed Hassan Haad told ISN Security Watch that Hussein does not represent the Hawiye clan family and "does not have the blessing of the elders."
An Impatient Ethiopia
The consensus of all domestic and external actors, as well as analysts and journalists, affirms that the T.F.G. could not currently survive the withdrawal of Ethiopian military support. After a year of occupying Somalia, however, Addis Ababa -- faced with the T.F.G.'s implosion and the persistence of the insurgency -- is losing patience with the donor powers over their failure to give sufficient support for the expansion of a small and ineffective African Union peacekeeping mission (AMISOM) in Mogadishu, and appears to be considering a policy shift that would distance it from the T.F.G., over which it no longer has preponderant influence.
Addis Ababa wants a robust international or regional peacekeeping mission to be implemented that would replace its forces in Somalia, but sees little promise that its interest will be satisfied. At present, there are 1,600 Ugandan troops in Mogadishu out of a projected force of 8,000, with an advance party of Burundian peacekeepers on the ground to prepare for a deployment of 1,700.
The rift between the donor powers, which favor an Ethiopian withdrawal, but only on the condition that there is an effective replacement for the occupation, and Addis Ababa surfaced on December 20, when Ethiopia's prime minister, Meles Zenawi, told the BBC that even increasing the present AMISOM deployment to half its projected number would "go a long way to making the appropriate environment for us to withdraw." He joined his remarks to a condemnation of U.N. humanitarian agencies for their charges that the occupation had been committing serious human rights abuses in its crackdown on the insurgency, saying that the situation in Somalia -- as "bad as it is -- could do with less hype and exaggeration."
On December 10, an Ethiopian government statement had attacked the donor powers and regional states for not delivering on their pledges to recruit and supply a peacekeeping force: " Ethiopia has single-handedly been playing its role by bearing the large responsibility that the international community and countries failed to accomplish in collaboration or individually."
Signs that Addis Ababa was reconsidering its strategy toward Somalia appeared in an interview with Ethiopia's foreign minister, Seyoum Mesfin, published in the newspaper Nouvelles d'Addis and posted on December 12 on the Nazret website. Mesfin remarked that " Somalia cannot be reconstituted in the old way," noting that the country's regions were "insisting on decentralized state structures." He concluded that the "new reality" needed to be "addressed by peaceful means."
Both Zenawi's public expression of displeasure with the donor powers and Mesfin's acknowledgment of a "new reality" in Somalia indicate Addis Ababa's slackening resolve to continue the occupation. Ethiopia would be satisfied with a "decentralized" Somalia, which would eliminate the latter as a potential security threat and would allow Addis Ababa to gain influence through its traditional divide-and-rule strategy.
Addis Ababa has made it clear that it is not a reluctant ally of the donor powers, to which it is tied by a marriage of convenience that is under severe strain. Although Addis Ababa, which is itself financially dependent on donor powers, is unlikely to make any precipitous policy shift, it is preparing an exit strategy. Ethiopia's faltering commitment does not bode well for Hussein's prospects of staying afloat.
An Irresolute "International Community"
If Ethiopia is the T.F.G.'s military support, the donor powers -- the United States, the European Union and the U.N. -- are its economic lifeline; without them, not only would there be no aid to alleviate Somalia's devastating humanitarian crisis, but there also would be no funds to sustain the T.F.G.'s existence.
Having, for the moment, taken center stage by pressing Hussein into their corner, the donor powers are confronted with Somalia's "new reality" -- an imploded T.F.G. on which they have staked themselves, a defiant and militant Courts-led opposition alliance, and a flagging Addis Ababa. Reluctant to take up the challenge to be a protagonist, they have stood pat in their diplomatic support of the T.F.G. and their unwillingness to make that support materially effective, dealing Hussein his final blow.
The U.N.'s envoy to Somalia, Ould-Abdallah, understood the gravity of the situation, the slim opportunity presented by the donor powers' momentary position of influence, and the new reality. In advance of a Security Council meeting on Somalia on December 19, he told the Financial Times that international efforts in Somalia had been "half-hearted" and were dissipating, even as the insurgency had "escalated." He warned that a robust peacekeeping presence would be essential to "political progress" in Somalia, and concluded: "The credibility of the U.N. is at stake."
Ould-Abdallah expanded upon his comments when he addressed the Security Council and bluntly stated that its "wait-and-see attitude" was a prescription for failure in Somalia, and that it was "time to decide whether to give up and withdraw aid" or to "find a new strategy." He suggested trying to convince Saudi Arabia to coordinate a mission to expand AMISOM that would be recruited from Muslim countries and would receive logistical support from "one or two NATO states."
On December 19, the Security Council took up Somalia and issued a non-binding presidential statement disregarding Ould-Abdallah's warning and plea, and reaffirming its previous policies, including support for AMISOM and calls for contributions to it, calls for "full and all-inclusive national reconciliation," and calls to strengthen efforts to provide humanitarian relief. The Council said that Hussein's appointment offered "a renewed opportunity to make further progress," and called for the T.F.G. to provide a "roadmap" for the transitional period that is supposed to end in 2009 with national elections held under a permanent constitution that has not yet begun to be drafted.
As a Somali proverb would have it, the T.F.G. has become "sand in the hands" of the donor powers. They fail to acknowledge the new reality in Somalia because any other alternative seems to be too costly to them. They realize that in Somalia's current security environment, a broadened peacekeeping mission would be a high stakes gamble, would be difficult to recruit for, and would be expensive to fund were it to be effective. They are ambivalent about dealing with the Courts. They fear the destabilizing effects of "decentralization," yet are unwilling to expend the resources for nation-building. That is why they clutch the sands of the T.F.G. and watch statelessness settle in.
On December 21, the African Union Peace and Security Council (P.S.C.) issued its own statement, scoring the international community for failing to "seize the window of opportunity" opened up by the Ethiopian intervention. The P.S.C. concluded that the international community and Somalia's domestic political actors needed "to explore new avenues in order to effectively address the current situation and to muster the required political will and resources."
With general acknowledgment among the major actors in Somalia's conflicts -- except for the donor powers -- that the country has returned to its former condition of statelessness -- the meaning of Mesfin's "new reality" -- what "new avenues" might there be that would lead to stabilization?
One possibility is the revival of the Islamic state that had begun to develop when the Courts movement controlled much of southern and central Somalia in 2006. That alternative, which seemed to have been eliminated by the Ethiopian intervention, has again become actionable, although its probability of realization remains low, given resistance from the other major players and much of Somali society. Nonetheless, at the moment, the opposition is the only actor evincing momentum.
The other alternatives for Somalia's political future, which are increasingly proposed and debated on Somali websites, break with the T.F.G.'s hybrid structure of a central government grafted on a system of clan representation, taking one of its elements for a new political formula. Centralists recommend a unified and streamlined government transcending clan representation, where as decentralists urge a "bottom-up" approach in which regional conferences would pave the way for local conflict resolution and the establishment of legitimate regional administrations.
The roadblock to progress up either "new avenue" is the lack of mobilized popular impetus, which, in consequence, means that the impulse to move would have to be provided by external actors with the will to commit the required resources. In practical terms, the centralist approach finds its correlate in the attempts of the donor powers to impose an efficient central government on the clan-based T.F.G., and the decentralist approach translates into the proposal circulating in the U.S. military and reportedly in Addis Ababa to cantonize Somalia in order to contain the insurgency.
Neither of the practical alternatives would draw Somalia out of statelessness, the first because the T.F.G. executive is too weak to bear its burden, and the second -- especially if it would involve recognizing the independence of the self-declared republic of Somaliland -- because it would void the possibility of an integrated political community in Somalia.
The "required political will and resources" that would lift Somalia out of its "new reality" are nowhere to be found.
Report Drafted By:
Dr. Michael A. Weinstein
Source: International Analyst Network