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Somalia Reverts to Political Fragmentation

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As violence mounted, the T.F.G. announced on February 20 that it had formed an "anti-terrorist unit," which had been trained by Ethiopian forces and had gone into operation. On the same day, the T.F.G.'s national security department renewed its attempts to clamp down on independent media, summoning officials of Radio Shabelle, HornAfrik Radio and Radio Banadir to a meeting at which they were ordered not to report about Somali government and Ethiopian military operations, or about "the civilian population fleeing Mogadishu under any circumstances." The stations were also told that because "there is an emergency state in place in Somalia generally, there is no so-called freedom of expression," and that the T.F.G. would name "editors" for the stations. Shabelle Media Network reported that Gen. Nur Mohamed Mohamud, the deputy chief of the national security department, had told the station officials that as "part of the martial law imposed on the country, government soldiers can shoot and kill everyone they want."

The announcement of the new regulations was greeted by protests from local media outlets, causing the T.F.G. Ministry of Information to claim that they were a "mistake" and that the ministry had jurisdiction over the press. Nunow asserted that "the media has the right to make coverage about any problem on the civilians if it is true, and also to mention who is responsible for the crisis, but the media should avoid anything that might fuel the conflict."

The T.F.G.'s attempts to assert control over Somalia have thus far been symbolic, have not halted the devolutionary slide, have weakened the credibility of the transitional institutions and have alienated Western powers because they run counter to the reconciliation project.

Under pressure from Western powers, international and regional organizations, regional states, African states contributing to AMISOM and marginalized sectors of Somali society, the T.F.G. made halting moves to initiate a reconciliation process.

On February 3, Yusuf announced that the T.F.G. Ministry of Reconciliation would organize a conference within three weeks (which has not yet been scheduled). From February 6-12, a reconciliation seminar funded by the U.N.D.P. to prepare the way for a conference was held in Mogadishu and was attended by 200 representatives, including clan elders, civil society organizations and, according to local media sources, warlords. The seminar ended with the announcement that the national reconciliation commission would consult with communities throughout Somalia that would select delegates to a conference. Gedi made it clear that the conference would be held within Somalia and would not be mediated by external actors, as had been favored by elements marginalized by the T.F.G. and Western powers.

On February 9, the transitional parliament agreed "in principle" to reconciliation talks without specifying the form that they would take, who would participate in them or when they would be held. Nour told skeptical legislators to be "patient," promising that "details would be forthcoming." On the key issue of whether or not conciliatory Islamists would be part of the reconciliation process, Yusuf and Gedi went back and forth, one day saying that the Islamists might be partners and the next day insisting that they would be excluded.

Reluctant to share power and lose positions and perquisites, the T.F.G. is likely to drag out preparations for a reconciliation process as long as it possibly can, moving only enough to placate external actors -- particularly donor powers -- and trying to shape the form that the conference, if it occurs at all, will take to maximize its own advantage. Yusuf has said that the conference will not be the one that has been urged by the international community, which would include conciliatory Islamists and would incorporate external observers and/or mediators.

The conciliatory faction of the I.C.C. was strengthened in February by the release of the former chair of its executive council, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, from custody in Kenya, where he had held talks with U.S. officials, and his reception in Yemen, which hosts other I.C.C. moderates. Washington and Brussels are eager to have Ahmed, who was the most popular figure in the Courts movement, included in reconciliation talks in order to isolate the I.C.C.'s militant wing and give the T.F.G. a modicum of legitimacy. At present, it is likely that the T.F.G. will continue to resist including former I.C.C. officials in the reconciliation process.

AMISOM Comes Up Short

As conditions on the ground deteriorated and the T.F.G. dragged its feet on reconciliation, progress toward deployment of the AMISOM stabilization mission that would replace the Ethiopian occupation as a prop for the T.F.G. was also halting. Through the third week of February, only 4,000 of the 8,000 troops deemed necessary for the mission had been pledged by African states and none had as yet been deployed. Even among the committed contributors to the mission -- Uganda, Burundi, Nigeria and Ghana -- there was little enthusiasm for involvement, due to the mission's domestic unpopularity, the hazards of deploying in a conflict zone and inadequate funding from Western powers.

After a series of delays caused by a boycott of the opposition on an unrelated issue and resistance in the majority party, Uganda's parliament approved a six-month deployment of 1,400 troops on February 13, with the opposition still absent but concurring. In return for supporting AMISOM, Kampala was given leadership of the mission and responsibility for Mogadishu. Uganda's president, Yoweri Museveni, made it plain to parliament and a skeptical public that the country's participation would be confined to protecting T.F.G. installations and training T.F.G. security forces, saying that "what Somalis need is someone to train them, that is all." Although Museveni's words did not allay fears that AMISOM would be subject to the same insurgent attacks that Ethiopian forces presently face, the Ugandan newspaper The Monitor reported on February 14 that the opposition acquiesced because it did not "want to antagonize" Washington. A date for deployment of the Ugandan contingent has yet to be set.

Burundi, which hosts a U.N. peacekeeping mission, was pressed to reciprocate and did so on February 18, pledging 1,700 troops and promising rapid deployment. On February 20, Nigeria promised to deploy 850 troops, but only in the spring. On February 1, following its selection as current chair of the A.U. in January, Ghana had pledged 300 troops, with no date of deployment set. No other states are in line to contribute and none, except possibly Malawi, are likely to respond to continued calls to participate from Western powers and international organizations.

On February 20, the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution authorizing AMISOM for six months with a mandate confined to securing T.F.G. installations, training T.F.G. forces, protecting the reconciliation process and providing security for humanitarian aid deliveries. The resolution also charged a U.N. technical assessment mission to visit Somalia to evaluate the possibility for a U.N. stabilization mission to take over from AMISOM after its six-month mandate expires.

Both the narrow mandate for AMISOM and its replacement by a U.N. mission were requirements of contributing states before they were willing to deploy. The T.F.G. had insisted that AMISOM engage in disarming militias, but that is no longer a possibility. Western powers were reluctant to back a U.N. mission, but now they will probably be constrained to support one down the line.

With only half of the necessary forces pledged, delays in deployment, a funding gap, threats by the P.R.M. to attack all foreign troops and escalating violence, AMISOM -- even if it does get on the ground -- is unlikely to stabilize Somalia. As it stands now -- notwithstanding the unpopularity of the Ethiopian occupation -- the introduction of AMISOM will further weaken the T.F.G.'s position.

As AMISOM became the centerpiece of international and regional concern, diplomatic efforts to encourage reconciliation appeared to grind to a halt. On February 9, the Washington-inspired Contact Group for Somalia, composed of the United States, European powers and Tanzania, met in Dar es Salaam and called for strengthening the T.F.G., urging it to initiate "all-inclusive talks" in which "prominent warlords," leaders from Somaliland and former I.C.C. officials would participate. Since then, there has been no international meeting on Somalia and no new external initiatives to broker reconciliation.


PINR's February 2 judgment that Somalia had entered a devolutionary cycle has been confirmed by events in the first three weeks of the month. That judgment is also shared by three leading academic specialists on Somalia -- Ken Menkhaus, Abdi Ismail Samatar and David Shinn -- all of whom add to their analyses different preferences for a desired pattern of conflict resolution.

In a scholarly study written in 2006 before the Ethiopian invasion and published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Menkhaus, who emphasizes the clan structure of Somali society, argued cogently for the possibility of a "mediated state" in Somalia that would combine a minimal central government performing only essential functions with most political authority decentralized according to clan or region and locality. According to Menkhaus, such a solution would not eliminate conflict, but would limit it and encourage the kind of regional integration that has occurred in southern Somalia in the past and that characterizes the sub-states of Somaliland and Puntland to the north.

In a February 15 interview with Voice of America, Menkhaus expressed his doubts about the success of a reconciliation process, commenting that neither the T.F.G. nor the dissident clans in Mogadishu perceive reconciliation to be in their interests; the members of the T.F.G. do not want to sacrifice their positions and marginalized clans do not grant legitimacy to the T.F.G. Menkhaus expects the dissidents to "make Mogadishu ungovernable and run the clock out" since "the T.F.G. has only two and a half years left on its mandate." Menkhaus continued, "I suspect we're going to end up with a return more or less to a Somalia of 2005, where you have a weak T.F.G. that will retreat back to Baidoa, facing a loose coalition of opposition in Mogadishu." That would not, as Menkhaus recognizes, be the "mediated state" that he envisions, but a default position that leaves the T.F.G. ineffective and maximalist in its pretensions.

In testimony before the subcommittee on Africa of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 6, Shinn backed the solution of a broadened T.F.G., but similarly affirmed the diminishing prospects for political integration in Somalia, arguing that "the T.F.G. probably envisages AMISOM as tantamount to a praetorian guard to keep it in power," and warning that if the T.F.G. does not win "the respect and support of the Somali people," it will fail "to create a national government that has long-term prospects for survival. Its ability to govern will be sharply limited and its longevity highly doubtful."

The deepest analysis of Somalia's predicament is presented by Samatar who believes that the clan-based structure of the T.F.G. itself "balkanizes citizenship and community," and creates a "compartmentalized political order" that is "driven by rent-seeking (corruption) rather than providing an efficient service to citizens, and has no chance of leading to political stability and economic development."

In his article, "Somalia: Warlordism, Ethiopian Invasion, Dictatorship and U.S.'s Role," published in the Sudan Tribune on February 14, Samatar argues that the U.S.-supported Ethiopian military intervention knocked Somalia off a trajectory toward a national political formula based on "common citizenship unmarred by sectarian and clannistic identity, and Islamic values of justice and inclusion." Unlike Menkhaus, Samatar believes in the viability of Somali nationalism and attributes fragmentation primarily to external interference. He anticipates that participants in any reconciliation conference will be "handpicked by the Ethiopian occupiers and their clients and therefore will be charade." His alternative, "a civic centered program" founded on a national formula and individual citizenship, is "not on the cards for now." What the cards show to Samatar is an ineffective "sectarian dictatorship."

In light of their divergent understandings of the structure of Somalia's societal community and their different perspectives on the country's best possible political future, it is noteworthy that Menkhaus, Shinn and Samatar share a consensus on Somalia's present circumstances and likely political future, which is coincident with PINR's judgment.

Each of the experts uses his own methodology and special expertise to reach his conclusions and all of them support their analyses with historical depth. PINR's methodology is distinct and complementary, involving monitoring local, regional and international media, and official documents on a daily basis to get a sense of the concrete flow of events, and to determine the direction and velocity of the flow whenever either or both appear to have changed.

Through monitoring Somalia, PINR has reached the conclusion that the country's societal community is torn between national aspirations and clan identification -- a tension that exists within individual Somalis who transcend clan when an attractive political formula is championed by a popular movement and who revert to clan when the impulsion toward unity is blunted by external interference and/or domestic opposition. Menkhaus provides one half of the story and Samatar the other; the whole story is the interplay between the forces of integration and fragmentation, and their articulation in cycles.

PINR poses no preferred outcomes in its conflict analyses, but simply looks for patterns in ongoing events. On that basis, Somalia's reversion to its pre-Courts past is becoming ever more deeply entrenched.

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Dr. Michael A. Weinstein  is Professor of Political Science at Purdue University and a senior analyst with the Power and Interest News Report. He has been the recipient of Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundation Fellowships and is the author of 21 books and numerous scholarly and analytical articles in the fields of general political science and political theory. His analyses have been printed in many publications, and he has been interviewed on programs such as Chicago's National Public Radio. To contact Dr. Michael A. Weinstein regarding his in-depth analysis on Somalia, please e-mail [email protected]

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