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''Somalia's President Yusuf Loses His Grip on Power''

By Dr. Michael A. Weinstein
Thursday, October 04, 2007

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As PINR forecast on September 19, the failures of the two national conferences aimed at devising a political formula for Somalia -- the National Reconciliation Conference (N.R.C.) sponsored by the country's internationally-recognized Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.), and the Somali Congress for Liberation and Reconstitution (S.C.L.R.) organized by the political opposition based in Eritrea -- have led to a continuation of Somalia's spiral into political fragmentation and conflict. As an armed insurgency against the T.F.G. ratcheted up significantly in Somalia's official capital Mogadishu, rifts opened up in the transitional institutions, with conflict surfacing between the T.F.G.'s president, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, and its prime minister, Ali Mohamed Gedi; parliament demanding accountability from Gedi's government; and the arrest of Somalia's chief supreme court justice, Yusuf Ali Harun, followed by the sacking of the public prosecutor who initiated the case by Gedi and the prosecutor's refusal to leave his post.

As the drama of the T.F.G. played out, forces loyal to the self-declared independent republic of Somaliland and the semi-autonomous regional state of Puntland in the north of post-independence Somalia engaged in military conflict in the disputed Sool region. For the first time, Puntland -- President Yusuf's power base -- seemed threatened with losing its integrity, and a war between Somaliland and Puntland became a genuine possibility.

Implosion of the T.F.G.

Determining the present moment of Somalia's political history is the fate of the T.F.G. Unpopular, weak and dependent on an Ethiopian occupation force for survival, the T.F.G. is nonetheless backed by the Western donor powers that sustain it, and the international and regional organizations that follow their lead, as the sole means of achieving stability in Somalia.

In PINR's judgment, the T.F.G. has now become too divided to be the vehicle of a coherent transition to permanent institutions scheduled to be in place for elections in 2009. There are signs that the international community has also reached that judgment, but that it cannot act on it because it has given itself no other option than support of the T.F.G. If the T.F.G. implodes, the external actors will be left without a policy.

With a clan-based structure dominated by clan warlords, the T.F.G. has been weak and divided from its inception in 2004. If there is a central figure in the transitional institutions, it is Yusuf, who is backed by Ethiopia, was the president of Puntland and retains a power base there, has militias from his Majerteen sub-clan at his disposal, and is a crafty political tactician. It is difficult to imagine a T.F.G. with any coherence without Yusuf; the fate of the T.F.G. is synonymous with Yusuf's fate, and he has succeeded thus far in trapping and finessing the external actors.

Yusuf's current embattlement, which has a high probability of breaking his grip on the tenuous power that he exerts, can be understood by putting his position in the context of the political systems of the three other states in the Horn of Africa -- Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti -- all of which share the common formula of a political machine run by a strongman or boss under the cover of a constitution. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea and President Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti were all able to lead sectoral movements into control of the state and then to build machines based on their core support and to extend them outside that base to include just enough other political forces to maintain their rule. Successful bosses take care of their bases and avoid marginalizing outside groups sufficiently to provoke effective resistance from them.

At the root of Somalia's condition as a failed state was the absence of a movement that could take over power after the overthrow of dictator Siad Barre in 1991, rendering the emergence of a machine impossible. The successful resistance against Barre was popular, but it was also regional and clan based, and none of its components were strong enough -- as was Zenawi's Tigray People's Liberation Front, for example -- to form the nucleus of a machine. From then on, Somalia devolved into statelessness and power drained to local and regional warlords, despite 14 attempts by external actors to broker power-sharing agreements.

In 2006, after a successful insurrection against Washington-backed warlords in Mogadishu, the Islamic Courts movement quickly gained control of most of Somalia south of Puntland in an effort to create an Islamic state based on Shari'a law. Ethiopia, which is satisfied with a devolved Somalia -- after having fought two wars with irredentist Somali regimes over its ethnic-Somali Ogaden region -- and Washington, which seeks to prevent the emergence of Islamic states, moved to defeat the Courts militarily through an Ethiopian intervention in December 2006, leaving the T.F.G. formally in political control, but in fact powerless to prevent the devolutionary cycle from taking hold once again. Yusuf was in a better position than ever before, but he had no movement -- he had been placed in power by foreign occupiers and donors, and presided over a fragmented clan-based government, not a machine of his own making. Yusuf aspires to be a boss, but he does not have the resources to become one.

Through the period of the rise of the Islamic Courts and the immediate aftermath of the Ethiopian intervention, the T.F.G. executive spoke with one voice, as both Yusuf, representing the Darod clan family, and Gedi, representing the Hawiye clan family, but lacking strong support within it, made common cause first in resisting the Courts and then in attempting to gain a foothold for the transitional institutions and sponsoring the N.R.C., which had been imposed upon them by donor pressure.

In late July, with the N.R.C. still in session, open rifts began to surface in the T.F.G., when 100 members of the transitional parliament sought to hold Gedi's administration accountable for management of finances and a deteriorating security situation. Apparently an assertion of constitutional checks and balances by the legislature, the demand for accountability has proven to be the opening shot in a campaign by Yusuf to undermine Gedi.

At the heart of the struggle at the upper echelons of the T.F.G. is control over Somalia's unproven oil reserves. Yusuf had reportedly signed an exploration deal with China National Offshore Oil Corporation and then Gedi floated a national oil law that would void all previous agreements and give exploration rights to an Indonesian-Kuwaiti partnership. With the conflict out in the open, the power plays within the T.F.G. began in earnest. [See: "China Invests in Somalia Despite Instability"]

On September 20, Somalia's chief supreme court justice, Yusuf Ali Harun, and another judge, Mohamed Nur, were arrested at their homes under the orders of the T.F.G.'s attorney general, Abdullahi Dahir Barre, on charges of corruption. Harun was accused of embezzling US$800,000 of United Nations Development Fund aid allocated to building the judiciary, among other counts of self-dealing. The arrests split parliament, with pro-Yusuf deputies backing the prosecutor and pro-Gedi deputies asserting that the attorney general's action was illegal.

On September 23, the T.F.G.'s Council of Ministers removed Barre from office, but he refused to resign. The transitional parliament's deputy speaker, Mohamed Omar Dalha, reported "hopeless disagreement between the top government officials," with Gedi backing Harun and Yusuf supporting Barre.

With the stalemate unbroken, local observers reported that the Harun affair was only a symptom of a deeper conflict between the president and prime minister, in which Yusuf was seeking to use a provision of the agreement issuing from the N.R.C. -- that would allow non-members of parliament to be appointed to ministerial positions in the T.F.G. -- to replace Gedi. That provision had been urged upon the N.R.C. by donor powers in order to bring technocrats into the T.F.G., but Yusuf has become a past master at finessing his patrons.

On September 25, Gedi, who had been attempting to mobilize support among the Hawiye, and Yusuf reportedly met and failed to reconcile, setting off reports that Ethiopia's foreign minister, Seyoum Mesfin, and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer were preparing to go to Somalia's provisional capital Baidoa to attempt to mediate the dispute. Parliamentary speaker, Adan Madobe Mohamed, who is allied with Yusuf, announced that Gedi and Yusuf would be summoned to appear before parliament.

As the crisis in the T.F.G. deepened, the insurgency in Mogadishu led by the jihadist Youth Mujahideen Movement (Y.M.M.) spiked, with groups of several dozen fighters attacking police stations and T.F.G. and Ethiopian military bases with heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, and fighting pitched battles with government and occupation forces. The attacks peaked on September 29 when three police stations and two Ethiopian bases came under fire, resulting, according to some reports, in the deaths of 100 insurgents and 45 government forces, and the arrests of 700 people supporting the insurgency.

In response to conditions on the ground, Yusuf met with the T.F.G.'s Council of Ministers, with national police commander and former warlord Abdi Qeybdid, and Mogadishu's mayor and former warlord, Mohamed Dheere, in attendance, and Gedi chairing the session. Reuters reported that Yusuf expressed displeasure at the performance of government forces and demanded a census of troops and an accounting of their pay.

The meeting reportedly broke down in acrimony when the issue of appointing non-members of parliament to ministerial positions was raised and no consensus could be reached.

As reconciliation eluded the T.F.G.'s leading figures, the transitional parliament revived the accountability issue, demanding that Gedi, who had been accused of embezzling aid funds from Saudi Arabia, present a budget for parliamentary review, on pain of "legal consequences" -- no budget had been submitted to the transitional parliament since the T.F.G.'s inception. Local media reported that the budget issue was serving as a "path" to a vote of confidence on Gedi.

With Yusuf's and Gedi's marriage of convenience at an end and the warlords whom Yusuf co-opted into the T.F.G. asserting their independence, his power play appears to be likely to fail and the T.F.G. -- rather than healing or even papering over clan divisions -- is poised to be riven by clan conflict fueled by the desire of its officials for personal gain.

Puntland Begins to Fragment

As Yusuf loses his grip on the T.F.G., his power base in Puntland has begun to be threatened by weakness of the sub-state's machine coupled with pressure from Somaliland. Puntland, on which Yusuf has relied for military forces to back his position in the T.F.G., now faces severe security threats of its own.

With Puntland having already suffered the secession of the disputed Sanaag region in late summer with the formation of the self-declared autonomous Makhir state, the disputed Sool region has now also come into play. On September 17, forces loyal to Puntland's government clashed with local pro-Somaliland militias near the Sool region's capital Los Anod. The insurgents were reportedly linked to the former Puntland security minister, Ahmed Abdi Habsade, who had been fired in July by the sub-state's president, Mohamud Adde Muse, in an effort to consolidate his machine. Habsade distanced himself from the conflict, but admitted that forces from his sub-clan were involved in the fighting. In the aftermath of the incident, both Puntland and Somaliland were reported to be reinforcing their positions in Sool.

On September 20, new fighting was reported, between Puntland forces and regular Somaliland troops, with each side blaming the other for initiating hostilities, and each accusing the other of working with the anti-Ethiopian opposition to the T.F.G. Responding to the tensions and to the possibility that Somaliland would retake control of Sool, which Puntland occupied in 2003, the T.F.G., through its information minister, Madobe Nunow, took its hardest line toward Somaliland since the inception of the transitional institutions, stating that Somaliland has no right to create regional borders and that its independence "is not something possible."

Heavier fighting broke out on September 24, and by September 28 the situation had become so fraught that the Coordination of International Support for Somalia, which is composed of representatives of the World Bank and United Nations, called for a pullback of forces and for dialogue between the antagonists.

On September 29, force build-ups were reported on both sides and clan elders had reportedly appealed to Yusuf to ask Muse to reinstate Habsade in a bid to defuse the local conflict and to deprive Somaliland of a local support base. On September 30, families were reported to be fleeing from Los Anod, as militias loyal to Habsade entered the city to confront Puntland forces already stationed there. On October 1, fighting broke out in Los Anod with up to 15 people reported killed.

With many of its forces tied up supporting Yusuf in Somalia's south and soldiers having mutinied over pay in Puntland's capital Garowe in mid-September, the sub-state has become militarily vulnerable and appears to be shedding the regions claimed by Somaliland.

Although it is too early to forecast whether or not the clashes in Sool will escalate into full-scale war, it is clear that Puntland has come fully into play and that Yusuf's power base there is rapidly eroding. His alliance with Muse, a former adversary, is tenuous at best, and Muse, in any case, has been weakened by conflicts with Puntland's parliament that resemble those in the transitional institutions. Should Puntland plunge into a cycle of devolution, Somalia will be further destabilized and chances of a regional war in the Horn of Africa will increase.


With the T.F.G. currently in shambles and Puntland and Somaliland moving toward war, external actors, led by Washington, have continued calling for the T.F.G. to engage in outreach to the political opposition, which has already committed itself to militant resistance to the Ethiopian occupation and has organized a counter-government under the rubric of the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (A.R.S.). Washington is also urging the T.F.G. to get to work on writing a constitution for Somalia in preparation for 2009 elections. At the same time, Washington donated $97 million to Ethiopia in development aid -- in excess of its five-year plan -- in explicit recognition of the country's "strategic importance."

As PINR stated in its September 19 report, the distance between the position of the external actors, with the exception of Eritrea, and events on the ground has widened to a gulf. There are signs, however, that the external actors are losing patience with the T.F.G.; Washington's envoy to Somalia, John Yates, said in a Newsweek interview that confidence among Somalis in the competence of the T.F.G. is not on a "deep up-slope," and the new U.N. envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould Abdullah, announced that having spoken with the T.F.G., he would have "no problem seeing any other Somali officials, whether they are in Somalia, in Asmara, or in Jeddah."

The new twist in Somalia's devolutionary cycle is the erosion of the scant power that Yusuf had. Without him, the external actors have no one with whom to turn to anchor their policy. The inherent weakness of Yusuf's position as a boss in search of a machine who survives only by virtue of foreign military and financial support has now become obvious, as determined opposition to him mounts inside and outside the transitional institutions. He is a wasting asset for the external actors, but he has maneuvered himself into a corner and drawn them into it, and they have nowhere to go. Meanwhile, Somalia's devolutionary cycle accelerates.

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].

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