by Dr. Michael A. Weinstein
uring the third week of March and into April, Somalia plunged into political crisis with the appearance of a full-fledged insurgency against the Ethiopian occupiers of the country's official capital Mogadishu and forces of the weak Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.).Having decided to forcibly disarm their opponents -- the regrouped militias of the militant wing of the Islamic Courts Council (I.C.C.) and militias formed by sub-clans of Mogadishu's dominant Hawiye clan family -- the Ethiopians and government forces met with determined resistance, leading to two waves of urban warfare that was the most intense that Somalia has experienced since the chaotic period in the early 1990s after the overthrow of the country's last central government, led by the dictator Siad Barre in 1991. At least 400 and probably more than 1,000 people were killed in the violence, and more than 10,000 residents fled the city, bringing the number of refugees since February to 125,000; prices of food rose more than 50 percent; health services collapsed and businesses were shuttered.
The contingent of 1,200 Ugandan peacekeepers -- the only force of the African Union's (A.U.) planned 8,000 troop deployment on the ground -- were not mandated to intervene in the conflict and stood by, suffering their first combat death in an artillery attack on their positions guarding the presidential palace.
The decision by Addis Ababa and the T.F.G. to pursue forcible disarmament despite clear signs that the effort would encounter intense armed opposition and warnings against the initiative from external actors was impelled by the prior decision of the T.F.G. -- under international pressure -- to hold a reconciliation conference in Mogadishu in mid-April. It was also impelled by Ethiopia's desire to withdraw its forces from the country, estimated at 40,000 in Somalia with 10,000 of them in Mogadishu.
Rather than fulfilling its aims, the disarmament initiative achieved the opposite results. On April 5, T.F.G. Foreign Minister Ismael Hurreh announced that the reconciliation conference had been postponed until mid-May, and through the first week of April Ethiopian troops were reported to have entered Somalia in order to reinforce Addis Ababa's embattled forces.
As the situation in Mogadishu deteriorated, external actors remained on the sidelines until April 3, when the Contact Group (C.G.), which was inspired by Washington and includes European powers, Tanzania and Kenya, with participation of the African Union, Arab League (A.L.), European Union and United Nations, met in Cairo, issuing a communiqué supporting the T.F.G. and appealing for reconciliation. On April 7, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer made a surprise visit to Somalia's transitional capital Baidoa where she met with T. F.G. President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed and T.F.G. Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi. After the meeting, Frazer announced that Yusuf and Gedi had agreed that "the reconciliation process should be open to all Somalis who eschew violence, extremism and terrorism."
As the second week of April began, a fragile truce between the Ethiopians and the Hawiye sub-clans was holding tenuously, as both sides mobilized reinforcements and hardened their positions, with the insurgents setting up barricades and digging trenches in preparation for the next round of fighting.
Somalia is Seized with Stasis
As PINR forecast in its March 19 report on Somalia, the country has fallen more deeply into a cycle of devolution characterized by a retraction of loyalties to its clan structure and a consequent fragmentation that makes the prospects of an effective central authority progressively dimmer.
Devolution got underway after the Washington-supported Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in late December 2006, which succeeded in ousting the I.C.C. from its strongholds and propping up the T.F.G., but had opened up a security vacuum and had not provided for a political process that would hold out an attractive formula for national unity.
Over time, it became apparent that the Ethiopian occupation was increasing insecurity and that the T.F.G. executive was unwilling to engage in an open and inclusive reconciliation process, leading to half-hearted efforts by the Ethiopians and T.F.G. to disarm their clan and Islamist opposition, and unremitting attacks on their positions that were answered by artillery barrages that fell into residential neighborhoods and caused scores of civilian casualties.
The conflict reached a tipping point with attempts at forcible disarmament on March 21 and March 28, which were aimed at turning the situation around, but have proven to be a serious miscalculation. At present Somalia is in the throes of a tension-filled stasis that proceeds from decisions that domestic and external actors have previously made, trapping them in positions out of which they find it difficult to break.
Determined to retain its power intact, the T.F.G. executive finessed demands by international organizations and Western donor powers for a reconciliation process that would include conciliatory elements of the I.C.C. by initiating its own clan-based reconciliation formula that has been repudiated by the I.C.C. and by the Hawiye leadership that backed the I.C.C. during the period from June to December 2006, when the I.C.C. controlled most of Somalia south of the breakaway mini-state of Puntland.
Having put plans for its National Reconciliation Conference (N.R.C.) into effect, the T.F.G. was constrained to try to secure Mogadishu on pain of losing its slim credibility. Forcible disarmament, with the help of the Ethiopians, was a long shot, but it was the only course that the T.F.G. could pursue as long as it remained adamant against genuine power-sharing and was not content to see the little power it had left vanish. Now the T.F.G. is trapped in its position with even less credibility than it had before.
Ethiopia's situation was described incisively by Djibouti's president, Ismail Omar Guelleh, on March 30. Guelleh noted that Ethiopia lacks the financial resources to "sustain an occupation" and would eventually have to pull out of Somalia. Ethiopia's prime minister, Meles Zenawi, had counted on the A.U. peacekeeping mission (AMISOM) to replace his forces, but -- given the conditions on the ground -- only Uganda has been willing to deploy, leaving Zenawi subject to Washington's pressure to stay, even though Addis Ababa would be satisfied with a fragmented Somalia. Zenawi saw forcible disarmament as a last-ditch measure to extricate Ethiopia from its compromised situation, but has ended up having to augment the occupation and presently finds all exits blocked.
Considering the T.F.G. an illegitimate entity dominated by the Darod clan and the Ethiopians enemies, the Habr Gedir branch of the Hawiye clan family -- particularly the Ayr sub-clan -- stepped to the forefront of opposition to the occupation, issuing official statements, presenting lists of demands, brokering uneasy truces with the Ethiopians, organizing resistance and refusing to negotiate with the T.F.G. or to participate in the N.R.C. Now that the international spotlight is on Addis Ababa's harsh bombardments, the Hawiye have no interest in conciliation -- they have, for the moment, nullified the disarmament initiative, are gaining the advantage in public opinion and are well stocked with arms.
The I.C.C.'s militant wing, reorganized as the Popular Resistance Movement in the Land of the Two Migrations (P.R.M.) and spearheaded by the well-disciplined al-Shabaab militia led by Afghanistan-trained Adan Hashi Ayro, rejects reconciliation and retains the goal of transforming Somalia into an Islamic state. The P.R.M. has fought against the Ethiopians and T.F.G. forces alongside the Hawiye militias and has gained legitimacy from the nationalist backlash against the occupation. It is not likely that the P.R.M. will abandon its rejectionist position now that its insurgency is in place and it has gained allies, at least tacitly and temporarily.
The I.C.C.'s conciliatory wing led by the former chair of its Executive Council, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, who most recently has been based in Qatar and was in Eritrea on April 9, insists on the Courts being represented as a political entity in any reconciliation process, which runs against the N.R.C.'s clan-based formula. Professor Ibrahim Ahmed Adow, the former foreign minister of the I.C.C., has stated that the Courts are demanding that a reconciliation conference be held outside Somalia "under the auspices of a neutral body, or a group of impartial nations," and said that it would have to be "preceded by a clear and fixed timetable of withdrawal of Ethiopian forces." He added that the I.C.C. was not attempting to regain power and was in favor of a "broad-based government in which all contending forces committed to peace will be included."
Given the reversals suffered by Addis Ababa and the T.F.G. as a result of their forcible disarmament initiative and its violent aftermath, the I.C.C.'s political wing will see no reason to moderate its position.
The major external actors in Somalia's conflicts are similarly trapped by the decisions that they have made. The country's neighbors, grouped in the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (I.G.A.D.), have been compromised by the Ethiopian invasion and the effects of its occupation.
Uganda, whose president, Yoweri Museveni, cultivates strong ties with Washington for their diplomatic and economic advantages, has been the only enthusiastic supporter of AMISOM and the only contributor of troops to the mission thus far. Museveni had counted on the Western donor powers to persuade other African states to contribute and deploy, but only Burundi, Ghana and Nigeria have made pledges, and they have yet to come through on the ground. Left alone with its contingent of 1,200 troops, Kampala is now faced with its worst-case scenario -- the Ethiopians have not withdrawn, an insurgency against them has arisen, and the Ugandans have been identified with the Ethiopians as occupiers, have been attacked several times and have already incurred a combat death, even though they have stayed on the sidelines.
Museveni has responded to the deteriorating situation by appealing for deployment from the states that have pledged forces to AMISOM and for material support from the donor powers. He has alternated between confident rhetoric -- declaring that AMISOM can pacify Somalia and need not be replaced by a contemplated United Nations mission -- and expressions of doubt and concern -- stating the he was "reviewing" the deployment.
On the diplomatic front, Museveni visited Eritrea's president, Isaias Afwerki, and tried to persuade him to drop his support of the I.C.C. and to give his backing to AMISOM. Afwerki remained adamant in his view that Kampala should have thought through the "dire" consequences of leading the mission and rebuffed Museveni's request. On the ground, Ugandan commanders pursued force protection by negotiating with Hawiye leaders and promising them that AMISOM would play no part in the armed conflict between the Ethiopians and the insurgent forces. Local and international media reported that the Ugandans had mainly withdrawn to their barracks. Backed into a corner, Museveni is locked into place in a weak position, at the mercy of what the major players do.
Like Uganda, Kenya, which has traditionally attempted to keep an "equidistant" position in Somalia's conflicts and to serve as an honest broker, faces a deterioration of its standing. Having been pressured by Washington to cooperate with its efforts to neutralize the militant elements of the Courts during and after the Ethiopian invasion, Nairobi suffered a severe reaction from its own ethnic Somali community against its treatment of refugees, alleged police harassment of Kenyan Muslims, adoption of Washington-inspired "counter-terrorism" policies and, most importantly, its rendering alleged terror suspects -- some of them Kenyan citizens -- to Somalia for transfer to Ethiopian prisons, where they have been interned and interrogated by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency. On April 10, Addis Ababa admitted the detentions and interrogations, but said that they were justified by the "war on terrorism."
It is arguable that Nairobi, among all the players, has suffered the greatest losses to its position. Its decision to cooperate with Washington and Addis Ababa has destroyed its credibility as an honest broker, forced it to cope with a new infusion of refugees and to take major measures to secure its borders, and provided the occasion for longstanding grievances over inequitable treatment among its ethnic Somali population to come to the surface in militant political opposition. In addition, its reputation as a democratizing state has been sullied by its periodic refusals to accept refugees and its participation in extra-judicial renderings.
Nairobi is blocked from regaining its previous stature and has been pushed into a corner where it is constrained to deal with the collateral political damage that it has incurred.
Eritrea, which has a hostile relationship with Ethiopia due to a border dispute and is the only state that openly backs the I.C.C., refuses to recognize the T.F.G. as legitimate and does not -- at least rhetorically -- support AMISOM, has dug into its position in the face of severe criticism from Washington. Afwerki is reportedly harboring I.C.C. leaders and members of the pro-Courts faction of the transitional parliament. On April 9, the I.C.C.'s Ahmed reportedly met in Asmara with T.F.G. Deputy Prime Minister Hussein Aidid, who has broken with Yusuf and Gedi, and with the dissident faction of the transitional parliament led by Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan to form an opposition coalition. Aidid is reported to have split with the T.F.G. executive over his removal from the post of interior minister and his objections to the Ethiopian occupation.
Asmara has no incentive to alter its hard-line position; the Western donor powers have chosen to ally themselves with Ethiopia and the T.F.G. is dependent on Addis Ababa. Asmara benefits from Addis Ababa being tied down and depleted in Somalia, and believes that it can weather Washington's attempts to isolate it diplomatically.
As Somalia devolved into contentious fragmentation from January through mid-March, the Western donor powers stayed on the sidelines trapped in their common position of backing the T.F.G., supporting AMISOM to protect it and to allow the Ethiopians to withdraw, and urging it -- without effect -- to undertake "all-inclusive" reconciliation talks.
After the Ethiopian-T.F.G. attempt at forced disarmament collapsed into armed confrontation and an insurgency erupted, the Western powers remained frozen until April 3, when the C.G. met in Cairo, along with regional and international organizations to respond to the deteriorating situation in Somalia.
The communiqué released after the meeting reiterated the previous position of the Western powers and authorized no concrete measures, but conceded to the T.F.G. by "looking forward" to Yusuf's N.R.C., while urging the T.F.G. to "reach out to all parts of Somali society" and calling for the formation of a "broad-based" administration in Mogadishu.
The failure of the C.G. to come up with any more than a general declaration that did not address the Ethiopian occupation and did not prescribe steps to achieve "inclusive and genuine" reconciliation was rooted in divergences of interest among its members. The European Union and European donor powers have made their aid contingent on the T.F.G. inviting conciliatory elements of the I.C.C. to the table, whereas Washington backs Yusuf's plan and says that members of the Courts movement should participate through their clans or civil society organizations.
The fact that Washington's resistance to putting pressure on Addis Ababa and the T.F.G. was responsible for the weakness of the C.G.'s communiqué became evident on April 7, when Frazer met with Yusuf and Gedi, and claimed that Somalia had become a "haven for terrorists," blamed Eritrea and the "global jihadist network" for supporting the insurgency and said that she had gotten the T.F.G. to agree on the need for an "open" reconciliation process -- without further specification. In contrast, at the Cairo meeting, European, Arab and U.N. representatives had stressed the need for an Ethiopian withdrawal and a reconciliation process that would include the I.C.C., and had underlined the imprudence of efforts at forced disarmament.
In the wake of the C.G. meeting, Washington and Brussels experienced blowback in revelations that the former had acquiesced in Ethiopian purchases of North Korean weapons and had interrogated rendered terrorism suspects in secret Ethiopian prisons; and that the latter had been warned by its senior security adviser that the European Commission might be in violation of human rights laws by providing aid to Addis Ababa and the T.F.G., which had probably committed war crimes by bombarding residential neighborhoods in Mogadishu and attempting forced displacement of those neighborhoods' inhabitants.
The conflict in Somalia is seized with a tense stasis, as domestic and external actors are trapped in the consequences of decisions that have brought about the present and unintended configuration of power and interest.
Having engineered the conventional military defeat of the I.C.C., Addis Ababa and Washington now face a militant Islamist insurgency, an overt Hawiye opposition and an I.C.C. political wing backed by Eritrea. The T.F.G. remains weak and unpopular, the Europeans are becoming disenchanted with the T.F.G., Uganda is out on a limb, Kenya is out of action, potential contributors to AMISOM are lying back, and the regional and international players are divided on the definition of reconciliation and the advisability of an Ethiopian withdrawal. There are no honest brokers -- every actor is compromised -- and the domestic players will only pursue reconciliation on their respective terms.
That Addis Ababa and the T.F.G. attempted forced disarmament testifies to the deterioration of their positions. That their effort failed reveals both the deep cleavages in Somalia's political community and a broad support of resistance against foreign occupation.
The stasis that has followed the two waves of armed conflict in Mogadishu is tense and precarious. When the actors in a conflict are frozen into hostile positions, one of them eventually makes a move to break out with unforeseen consequences. Although it is impossible to forecast when the next big move will come and who will make it, it is clear that the twin pillars of the Western powers' policy -- "genuine" reconciliation backed by military protection of the T.F.G. by AMISOM -- are crumbling. Yet without those supports, the Western powers -- now more divided than before -- face a policy void, leaving Somalia to continue to devolve and fragment, and regional actors backed into corners of their own making.
Report Drafted By:
Dr. Michael A. Weinstein
The Power and Interest News Report (PINR) is an independent organization that utilizes open source intelligence to provide conflict analysis services in the context of international relations. PINR approaches a subject based upon the powers and interests involved, leaving the moral judgments to the reader. This report may not be reproduced, reprinted or broadcast without the written permission of [email protected]. PINR reprints do not qualify under Fair-Use Statute Section 107 of the Copyright Act. All comments should be directed to [email protected].