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By Abdalla A. Hirad



Someone once said: “There are two tragedies in life. One is not to have your hearts content; the other is to have it”. It is true. In eventualities, the joy and jubilation associated with the desire end right there. It seems that the TFG is in a situation similar to this. For a long time, the shaky government sought international support and recognition. Finally, the Security Council of the United Nations provided its unequivocal support—in a Presidential Statement, last week —thanks to Hassan Dahir Aweys of Al-Itihad al-Islami and company. Now the question in the minds of many observers and analysts is how will the TFG use such support? How will they spend the newly acquired “political capital”, if I may borrow President Bush’s famous phrase? The question is legitimate because the success or failure of the TFG, in the interim, depends very much on how it immediately uses this international support. It also means that international support on its own merit does not mean anything, unless it is backed by an irreducible minimum of local support. The local support is directly dependent on winning the opposition.


Now there are two ways to approach this. One way is to wage a sure to win war—God forbid; the other is to immediately enter into negotiations and seek compromise with the opposition. History and human wisdom attest to the cost-effectiveness and more frequent success of the latter approach—attaining influence by peaceful means. Despite the beaten track record of the success of the peaceful approach, a party to a conflict may sometimes choose against it and use violence instead. That is the dilemma for the TFG. Should it use its newly acquired political capital for war to try and emasculate the opposition or use it for peaceful purposes and try and win the opposition through negotiations? This author does not wish to second guess the intention of the TNG, but this paper seeks to consider the fear of many Somalis—including some supporters of the TFG—that war may be rekindled between the TFG and the Islamists. I must hasten to add that: that fear is also legitimate as long as the TFG remains averted to resume negotiations with the Islamists, and vice versa.


Apart from the costs invariably associated with war, even if one wins, it sure does not necessarily add political capital, and immediately, to the position of those who employ it as a method. It takes time to consolidate peace for the gains to accrue after that. Thus, there is a diminishing return associated with the method as an option, even by the strictest standards of realpolitik and Machiavellianism. The invitation of Ethiopia’s troops as the first step, as alleged, is definite to eat into the TFG’s already weak position in many parts of Somalia. Whether the presence of the Ethiopian troops is true or not is not the issue at this stage. The question is why should the TFG opt to go to war rather than go to participate in the Arab League-sponsored peace talks in Khartoum, Sudan? That is the ‘sixty-four-thousand- dollar’ question!


Assuming that the immediate objective of the TFG is to ensure complete reconciliation among all Somalis, it is definitely incumbent on its leaders to seek dialogue and negotiation as the first option. Having said that, there may be fears and mistrust of the peace brokers—the Arab League themselves—associated with the talks, on the part of the TFG. The President of the TFG expressed such fear in a speech to the National Transitional Parliament (TFP), a week or so ago. However, that aspect of his speech has never been captured by the media—and particularly the Somali news media—let alone by the international media. Certainly, that aspect has not been highlighted. But those who either read or listened to President Yusuf’s speech could have discerned his complaints about the environment of the Khartoum talks in the previous session with the Islamists. In addition, the TFG is accusing the Islamists of having broken the  Khartoum agreements by making maneuvers to expand the territory under their control and planning to attack Baidoa, the seat of the TFG. On its side, the Council of Islamic Courts (CIC), previously the Union of Islamic Courts, has recalled its delegation back from Khartoum and has accused the TFG of planning to attack Mogadishu from several fronts, according to Sheik Shariif Ahmed, the Chairman of the Executive Council of the CIC. These accusations and counter accusations are intensifying at the same time as the allegations that Ethiopian troops have crossed the border with Somalia have been steadily increasing.


As a result of the war of words between the parties, the government may have obtained unequivocal international support and recognition, but the Islamists may have been gaining increasing local support mainly because of the government’s disinterest to attend the talks in Khartoum, and because of its inability to widely explain why not. In addition, even some TFG supporters consider the premature invitation of foreign troops—especially the Ethiopians—as a blunder on the part of the TFG. The TFG ought to recognize the two facts that: (a) the people of Somalia are by their historical nature not receptive to Ethiopia and can not immediately accept it as an ally; and that (b) the more the TFG is associated with Ethiopia as a political bed-fellow, the more it will lose public support; especially if it deploys Ethiopian troops for support. Furthermore, the TFG will appear so much weaker in the eyes of its public if it fails to attend the talks or invites foreign troops before it exhausts all possibilities for resolving the conflict through dialogue.


If there is a mistrust associated with the current peace brokers, the TFG can seek to change the venue or seek to balance the brokers by asking for modifying the composition of the players But an absolute No can only erode into its popularity, first locally, and later, perhaps, also, internationally. Already, the Somali media, and especially one Yusuf Garad’s BBC, Somali Service, is waging a relentless war against the position of the TFG, promoting every bit of the propaganda of the Islamists, and deliberately dampening, if not stifling, or bitterly agitating against the government’s point of view. The BBC’s lopsidedness has been going on ever since Mr. Abdiqassim Salad Hassan took office as the head of the previous TNG in the year 2000. Abdiqassim Hassan, by the way, is an ally of the Islamists, if not a senior member among them. He happens also to be a distant cousin of both Hassan Dahir Aweys of Al-Itihad—the current supreme leader of the Islamists in Mogadishu—and Yusuf Garad of the BBC . By the Somali political logic, this means a lot.  But more importantly, the Islamists, their supporting business community in Mogadishu, and the marauding militia in control of the southern parts of Somalia are altogether an offshoot of the former Transitional National Government (TNG) and its hotchpotch of supporters, formerly formed in the Arta Conference of 2000, held in Arta, the Republic of Djibouti. It has, therefore, been no wonder that the government of Djibouti is averted to the deployment of foreign troops, as has been recently declared by its Foreign Minister, and against the position of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which sponsored the formation of the TFG, of which the Republic of Djibouti is a member.


While one might agree with the logic of the explanation given by the  Foreign Minster of Djibouti as to why he disagreed with the deployment of the foreign troops at this juncture—that the talks should be exhausted first—there is logic to the TFG’s alleged position. Although a tough self in the view of many Somalis—and not only the Islamists and their supporters—the government may be preparing for a worse case scenario—one in which the Islamists might attack other parts of Somalia, including Baidoa, its current seat of power. That, in fact, is the eventuality for which the international community may have partially lifted the embargo on Somalia—for the government to defend itself or check the encroachment of the Islamists into other parts of Somalia. In other words, as the internationally recognized sovereign, the TFG now has the monopoly on violence.  In any case, one hopes that things never escalate to a situation where the TFG attacks Mogadishu or is compelled to defend an attack by the Islamists. One also hopes that both parties will come back to the table and reach compromise to save the people of Somalia from more bloodshed and further turmoil.


This encounter with the Islamists is the third since the formation of the TFG in October of 2004. It was first and foremost opposed by a significant proportion of the Parliament, led by the Speaker, in alliance with the then Mogadishu warlords turned ministers in the TFG. When, in the end, the speaker together with his faction of the Parliament, finally sorted out their differences with the government, as a result of talks sponsored by the Yemeni President, Ali A. Saleh, the warlords remained in the opposition, splitting up with the Parliament group. The Islamist contention happens to be the third encounter since the formation of the TFG in terms of opposition and appears to be the stiffest by far. However, unlike the TNG before it, the TFG has not so far waged a war or sought to disrupt the stability of the more peaceful regions of “Somaliland” and “Puntland”. But it has never been given the opportunity to exercise its authority from the national seat of power—the Capital—Mogadishu, either—to prove itself as the saint.


Thus far, this paper has tried to analyze the nature of the current conflict between the parties, shed some light on the behavior of the parties to the conflict and identify the logic behind the position taken by each of the two parties in relation to the option of dialogue verses war. It seeks to encourage both sides to choose the option of dialogue. To ensure that this current page of the Somali conflict does not escalate into a renewed war and can be resolved peacefully—i.e between the TFG and the Islamist—all Somalis have a responsibility to encourage the parties to come to the table for dialogue and compromise. Both the TFG and the Islamists must come to realize that with the option of war there will be no winners. At least, this writer does not foresee a winner. There will only be more chaos and probably a doom for Somalia. I hope both parties can save the people of such a misery. On the other hand, there is every opportunity for peace and stability in the option of dialogue. In this regard:


(1)   The TFG and CIC should immediately seek to resume the talks.

(2)   To ensure that such an option can be realized, the peace brokers, in this case the Arab league mediators, should do everything possible to allay the fears of both parties to overcome any mistrust, by not only acting, but by appearing, as fair and honest brokers. I am sure there are diplomatic and mechanisms available to create such an atmosphere.

(3)   The Ethiopian government should understand one thing. Given its support to the TFG, it may wish to support it militarily; but that support is not necessarily useful when it denies the opportunity for dialogue and discussion between the parties as a priority. The deployment of  the Ethiopian troops before any serious discussions between the parties and before any confirmed attacks by the Islamists can be interpreted as an act of aggression, on the part of Ethiopia, by most Somalis. In that case, it will be immaterial whether or not the parliament has agreed to the deployment of foreign troops or that the Security Council has lifted the arms embargo. The action could only rekindle the old Somali-Ethiopian hostilities, wear away the TFG’s national support and, more drastically, escalate the situation for war.

(4)   The Government of Djibouti has a positive role to play within IGAD, among others, to intervene by first resolving its differences with Ethiopia over the issues, and by more aggressively lobbying Ethiopia, as well as the other IGAD countries, for   providing every opportunity for the peace talks to materialize. However, that process should be backed by (a) allowing the TFG the opportunity to defend itself in the case of a surprise attack, and (b) by obtaining the assurances of the TFG NOT to attack Mogadishu. As the government de jure, at least, the TFG should be expected to exercise restraint in the use of force, in all circumstances; but it cannot be denied the right to defend itself.

(5)   The leaders of the Islamists have, of late, been daring the TFG leadership to come to Mogadishu and claim their right as the sovereign. I hope they can do better than that. They can easily send a delegation to Baidoa to test the waters for both sides and if possible even intimate their willingness to receive a TFG delegation in Mogadishu, as a good will gesture.

(6)   Further to its explicit support to the TFG, the British Government could be helpful to the process of peace in Somalia if it can encourage the BBC management to review its policy towards Somalia and censure the behavior of its employee, turned a benevolent news-lord, in favor of his private agenda, whatever that is.


Abdalla A. Hirad

E-mail: [email protected]


The opinions contained in this article are solely those of the writer, and in no way, form or shape represent the editorial opinions of "Hiiraan Online"



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