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Somalia Continues its Political Collapse

14 June 2007

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Power and Interest News Report (PINR)


Somalia Continues its Political Collapse
Drafted By: Dr. Michael A. Weinstein

From late May through mid-June, Somalia remained frozen in its state of political collapse described by PINR in its May 3 and May 24 reports on the country.

Somalia's weak and internationally recognized Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.) continues to be a severely impaired participant in the country's multiple conflicts, facing a chronic insurgency in its official capital Mogadishu; unrest, lawlessness and failing control in the country's regions; and inadequate funding from international donors, on which it depends for its financial survival. Ethiopia, on which the T.F.G. depends for military protection, has been over-strained financially and is anxious to withdraw its forces, yet their replacement by an 8,000 member African Union (A.U.) peacekeeping mission (AMISOM) has yet to materialize, except for a contingent of 1,500 Ugandan troops, which have withdrawn to guard duty at Mogadishu's airport and seaport, and at government facilities, after one of its convoys was attacked on May 16.

Despite efforts by the T.F.G. to gain control of Mogadishu through a crackdown on armed opposition, closure of independent media outlets and arrests of leaders of the Hawiye clan, which is distrustful of the Darod-dominated T.F.G., the city remains insecure. Although donor states and international organizations have edged toward providing the T.F.G. with greater financial support, the transitional authority still lacks the resources to govern.

The missing link in the efforts by the T.F.G. and its uneasy and reluctant allies to stabilize Somalia is the elusive process of reconciliation -- power-sharing between the T.F.G. and its opposition groups, including disaffected sub-clans, local leaders, nationalists and the political wing of the Islamic Courts Council (I.C.C.), which had controlled most of Somalia south of the semi-autonomous sub-state of Puntland until it was defeated militarily in December 2006 by the Ethiopian intervention.

Thus far, the T.F.G. and its adversaries have remained opposed and uncompromising on the issue of reconciliation, with the transitional executive counting on a clan-based National Reconciliation Conference (N.R.C.) which had been scheduled to begin on June 14, but was delayed on June 13 -- for the third time -- until July 15; and the opposition factions, which have begun to coalesce, refusing to participate in talks until Ethiopian forces withdraw from Somalia and demanding a conference based on political rather than clan representation.

International donors agree that a power-sharing deal is essential to achieving stability in Somalia, but their diplomatic backing of the T.F.G. has deprived them of leverage over the opposition groups, and they have not been able to convince the T.F.G. to undertake "inclusive" reconciliation. The lack of political will to compromise of domestic actors has been responsible for the tentative support of the T.F.G. by the donors -- the United States, Western European states, the European Union and the United Nations, with Washington being the T.F.G.'s most enthusiastic backer and the others holding a more reserved position. The donors' viewpoint was expressed succinctly by Chris Lovelace, the World Bank's country manager for Somalia, at a meeting on reconstruction aid for the country on June 1 in Uganda: "The [N.R.C.] must ensure that representation for all stakeholders is respected; if it is not, there will not be any desired outcome for peace."

As PINR has stated repeatedly, Somalia will continue to devolve and fragment into regional, local and clan-based power centers unless domestic actors are able to devise a unifying political formula. The prospects for reconciliation remain dim.

The Security Struggle

Mogadishu, the T.F.G.'s major battleground in its struggle to secure Somalia, remains turbulent. During the last week of May and into early June, the insurgency spiked up with nearly daily multiple attacks on T.F.G. officials and forces, and Ethiopian troops and installations, including targeted assassinations of local officials and regional officials visiting Mogadishu, roadside bombings, suicide bombings, and grenade and small-arms assaults. The attacks culminated on June 3 with the suicide bombing of Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi's residence, in which seven people were killed and for which the militant jihadist al-Shabaab movement took responsibility.

Mogadishu's mayor, ex-warlord Mohamed Dheere, who had responded to the wave of violence by promising a crackdown and had said on May 31 that he would "hold the city in a hard fist," moved to mount a counter-insurgency on June 5 with the aid of Ethiopian forces and heavy armor that included a proliferation of checkpoints, intensive house-to-house weapons searches, arrests of suspected militants and destruction of buildings that harbored suspects and their arms.

In addition to the military measures, the T.F.G. shut down the two major independent media outlets in Mogadishu -- the Shabelle and HornAfrik radio stations -- and arrested several prominent Hawiye leaders, including Haji Abdi Omar, the chair of the newly formed Hawiye Elders Congress. These actions sparked criticism from donor powers.

The T.F.G. justified the station closures by claiming that the outlets had incited violence, supported "terrorists," "confused" the public and "violated freedom of expression." On June 9, the T.F.G.'s deputy information minister, Yusuf Gele Ugas, announced that the government would bring the stations' administrators to court and would train journalists to "enhance their skills."

The arrests of the Hawiye leaders followed repeated charges by Dheere that they had failed to keep promises to suppress the insurgents and, indeed, that they were behind the violence. He also criticized the commissioners of Mogadishu's districts -- four of whom have been assassinated -- for laxity in imposing security.

The T.F.G.'s repressive measures prompted U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer to warn the T.F.G. that "the U.S. government feels those actions risk undermining national reconciliation."

Although the crackdown suppressed insurgent attacks for several days, they resumed again on June 10 and have continued since then. By June 7, the Hawiye leaders had been released from custody and on June 10 Shabelle and HornAfrik were back on the air, according to Shabelle representative Muhamad Asim, without conditions.

Shabelle's chairman, Abdi Maalik Yusuf, credited Washington with reversing the closures: "We do believe that the free media could not operate in Somalia without Washington's involvement." U.S. ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger, reported that he had contacted Gedi and the T.F.G.'s president, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, remarking that "the media in Somalia are very essential to the national reconciliation conference."

The T.F.G.'s abortive counter-insurgency measures resulted in some seizures of arms caches and the arrests of 16 suspected al-Shabaab fighters, but they have not broken the armed opposition and they have increased hostility in the Hawiye community. At present, Mogadishu appears to have returned to the condition of insecurity that prevailed before the crackdown.

As the T.F.G.'s struggle to secure Mogadishu met with at best mixed success, the other regions of Somalia proper continued to experience instability, conflict, devolution and fragmentation.

In the Lower Shabelle region, which lacks an effective governing authority, the major town of Merca remains in the control of clan militias, which extort money from and rob travelers at illegal checkpoints. On June 9, militias loyal to the region's former warlord Yusuf Indha Ade, who was the I.C.C.'s defense chief, took control of the towns of Bulo-Marer and Qoryoley from the forces of the T.F.G.-appointed governor, Abdulkadir Sheikh Mohamed, who blamed the seizures on I.C.C. remnants and foreign fighters, including Arabs and Eritreans. The charges were denied by local militia commander, Ali Garney, who said that the new governor had yet to present his credentials.

Further fragmentation, recalling Somalia's decentralized condition before the rise of the I.C.C., was reported on June 13, when the self-appointed commissioner of the Barawe district, Abdullahi Hassan Dhuhulow, declared that he would not recognize Sheikh Mohamed's authority, claiming that he was elected by "local people" and would rule the district "until Somalia has a government." Dhuhulow owes his position to Indha Ade, and his defiance of the T.F.G. evidences Indha Ade's ability to construct an independent power center in Lower Shabelle.

In the Lower Jubba region, the key port city of Kismayo remained under control of the militias of the Marehan clan, which had expelled the forces of the T.F.G.-appointed Majerteen-dominated administration. At the end of May, militias guarding Kismayo's port closed the facility down, demanding payment of back wages. Clan elders persuaded the guards to reopen the port after promising them money if they left.

On June 2, Col. Makhtal Farah Gagaab, commander of national security forces in Kismayo, was assassinated. On June 4, inter-clan fighting erupted between Marehan and Galje'el militias in the settlement of Berhano on the outskirts of Kismayo, with the Galje'el accusing the Marehan of attempting to drive them from the area. After a cease-fire prevailed for several days, fighting resumed on June 12, leaving six dead.

In the Hiraan region bordering Ethiopia, a crime wave continued with an uptick in robberies and extortion at illegal checkpoints. On May 30, in the major town of Beledweyne, an Ethiopian convoy was bombed. On June 7, the T.F.G.'s ambassador to the A.U., Abdikarin Lahanyo, who is a native of Hiraan, arrived in Beledweyne to appeal to clan elders to cooperate with the Ethiopians, promising that he would "take responsibility" for misconduct by the occupiers, who had been increasing their presence in the town.

On June 9, T.F.G. forces began a withdrawal from Beledweyne, after complaints of robberies and assaults by men wearing military fatigues. Local officials noted that T.F.G. forces still have not been issued new uniforms and that common criminals often adopt military dress, which is a problem throughout Somalia's regions. The T.F.G.'s withdrawal leaves security in Beledweyne in the hands of local police and Ethiopian troops.

In the Bay region, where the T.F.G.'s parliament is based in the town of Baidoa, a crime wave was reported, accompanied by illegal roadblocks. In the Mudug region, inter-clan fighting erupted over pasturage and water wells near the town of Gelinsor on May 30, leaving three dead. In the Gedo region, Ethiopian officials summoned clan elders to warn them against harboring "al-Qaeda-linked groups."

The preceding incomplete report of instances of instability in Somalia's regions evidences the continued devolution of the country to local power centers and the persistence of local conflicts. PINR sees no reason to change its January forecast that Somalia's political future is likely to be its pre-Courts past.

Beyond Somalia proper, Puntland experienced its first brush with the insurgency to the south when, on May 31, a party of raiders on two speedboats entered the fishing village of Bargar. Puntland authorities claimed that the raiders were "remnants" of the jihadist movement fleeing Somalia's deep south and included foreign fighters as well as I.C.C. militants. Puntland security forces engaged the party and chased them into the surrounding mountains, prompting shelling by a U.S. warship and a deployment of a small detachment of U.S. special forces to search for suspected terrorists.

The purposes of the raid remain clouded, with some Puntland officials claiming that the party was attempting to escape to Yemen and others that it was bound for Eritrea. Some local clan leaders disputed the entire story, charging that Puntland forces had attacked the local population.

More importantly, tensions mounted in Ethiopia's ethnic-Somali Ogaden region (Somali Regional State) when, on May 29, a grenade attack on a ceremony marking the overthrow of Ethiopia's former dictator Mengitsu Haile Mariam wounded S.R.S. president, Abdullahi Hassan. Return fire caused a stampede, with the entire incident leaving at least 16 people dead, including two police officers. Another attack on the same day reportedly killed ten people and wounded 16.

Ethiopian authorities blamed the Ogaden National Liberation Front (O.N.L.F.), which has mounted a decades-long low-level insurgency in the S.R.S. aimed at forcing a vote on separation of the Ogaden region from Ethiopia. The O.N.L.F. denied that it was behind the attack, claiming that it was engineered by the Ethiopian military, which supposedly wants to replace Hassan with S.R.S. security bureau chief Abdi Ileeye, who is more favorable to an ongoing crackdown against opposition in the region. Afrol News reported on June 10 that popular support for the O.N.L.F. is rising and that it currently poses "the strongest military challenge" to the Ethiopian army.

Whether or not the O.N.L.F. mounted the attack on Hassan, the spike in violence in the S.R.S. probably reflects a spillover of instability from Somalia proper and places Addis Ababa in straitened circumstances. Ethiopia's prime minister, Meles Zenawi, has been clear that the financial strains of the occupation cannot be sustained, and intensifying instability in the S.R.S. adds a greater incentive for him to pull out of Somalia proper. Zenawi repeatedly appeals for adequate international support for AMISOM, which has not been forthcoming, yet Western powers, particularly the United States, have reportedly pressured Addis Ababa, which depends on foreign aid, to continue the occupation, pending the full deployment of AMISOM.

With African states that had pledged troops to AMISOM -- Burundi, Ghana and Nigeria -- reluctant to participate as long as Somalia remains unstable and progress on reconciliation is absent, Addis Ababa is trapped in a deteriorating situation that could eventually destabilize its regime. Ethiopia would be satisfied to leave Somalia -- one of its regional rivals -- in a fragmented state, but has been blocked from pursuing that interest and is beginning to pay dearly for its decision -- backed by Washington -- to overthrow the I.C.C.

Political Deadlock

With the outcome of the T.F.G.'s struggle to secure Somalia at best problematic, the vital missing link in achieving stability in the country is political reconciliation -- a euphemism for power-sharing.

All the external actors with interests in Somalia, except for Ethiopia, agree on desiring a reconciliation conference that includes all the political forces in the country, with the exception of the militant jihadists; and they have pressured the T.F.G. to initiate such a process. The sticking point has been that the presently constituted T.F.G. -- as would be expected -- wants to preserve its power and privilege, and has resisted the external actors' demands.

Soon after the I.C.C. was routed, the T.F.G. finessed the donor powers, regional states and international organizations by planning the N.R.C., which is based on clan representation and excludes direct representation of political forces. The external actors were dissatisfied with the N.R.C., but were unwilling to force another formula on the T.F.G. because they had recognized it as Somalia's lawful government and were ambivalent about including conciliatory elements of the I.C.C. directly in negotiations. That ambivalence is based on their interest in isolating the militant jihadists, which works for inclusion of I.C.C. moderates directly in the process; and their persistent fears of a role for the I.C.C. in power-sharing, which works for its exclusion. The result of the ambivalence has been repeated pleas for the N.R.C. to be "inclusive" and tentative and half-hearted support for the project, which depends for its success on their financing.

The external actors understand that the N.R.C. is deeply flawed because the political oppositions to the T.F.G. have thus far refused to participate in it and have begun to form a coalition. With no leverage over the oppositions -- due to their backing of the T.F.G. -- the external actors have put themselves in the position of observing political deadlock take hold.

The oppositions are comprised of the political forces in Somalia that have been marginalized by the T.F.G. in its alliance with Addis Ababa. They include disparate groups and individuals with followings that share the aim of resisting T.F.G. control and the Ethiopian occupation -- the conciliatory wing of the I.C.C. led by Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed; the dissident faction of the T.F.G.'s parliament led by its ex-speaker, Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan; large sectors of the Somali diaspora sharing a generally democratic nationalist perspective; disaffected warlords and politicians, most notably T.F.G. deputy prime minister, Hussein Aideed; local warlords and leaders seeking to carve out clan-based fiefdoms; and large sectors of the Hawiye clan family, which dominates Mogadishu and fears control by the rival Darod clan.

From the end of May through mid-June, some of the oppositions, which had been relatively separate, began to coalesce into an organized movement and political bloc that for the first time since the Ethiopian intervention threatens the T.F.G.'s monopoly on national political organization.

On May 24, the nascent movement defined its goals in a joint communique issued by Ahmed and Adan from their base in Eritrea. They urged Somalis to boycott the N.R.C., scoring it as "an agent of the colonizers" and an effort to "legalize" the Ethiopian occupation, and they asserted that no reconciliation talks should take place before the occupation had ended.

Having defined their rejectionist position, the opposition groups moved to organize a political bloc, meeting in Qatar and bringing diaspora groups and dissident politicians into the discussions. On June 14, the resistance movement issued a communique stating that it would not recognize the N.R.C., which it deemed "a new chapter of fragmenting the Somali society with the hands of its arch-enemy and cementing the occupation." The new bloc pledged to organize a resistance conference within 45 days that local analysts believe is meant to be a competitor to the N.R.C.

The Hawiye clan family, which has too many cross-cutting interests to league with the political opposition bloc and is essential to even the most minimal reconciliation process, joined the rejectionists on June 12. The chair of the newly formed Hawiye Elders Congress, Haji Abdi Omar, stated that the Hawiye were united in opposing participation in the N.R.C., on the grounds that they had not been invited to participate, that the conference had no agenda, that its selection process was not transparent, and that N.R.C. organizers had not responded to their demands for a withdrawal of Ethiopian troops and militias loyal to Yusuf from Mogadishu.

The rejection of the N.R.C. by the Hawiye placed its organizing committee in an untenable position, because were the conference to proceed, it would have no pretense of being inclusive. On June 13, the N.R.C. committee chair, Ali Mahdi Mohamed, announced that the conference had been delayed until July 15, citing requests from clans for more time to choose delegates and unfinished construction work on the meeting's venue, both of which are true. Mahdi did not mention funding problems, although on June 10, after he had met with donors in Nairobi, he said that they had provided only a fraction of the funds necessary to hold the N.R.C. Mahdi rejected the claim that the security situation in Mogadishu was a stumbling block to holding the N.R.C. As late as June 7, Mahdi had assured that the N.R.C. would not be postponed.

As political deadlock and polarization set in, the external actors were powerless to stop it. In their only major diplomatic intervention, they met in London on June 6 under the auspices of the Washington-inspired Contact Group (C.G.), which includes the United States, Western European states, Tanzania, and the A.U., E.U., Arab League and U.N. In a communique issued after their meeting, the C.G. "welcomed assurances" by the T.F.G. that the N.R.C. would be "fully inclusive" and that no one who renounced violence would be denied participation if they were selected by their clan. The C.G. members promised to fund the N.R.C., which the T.F.G. estimates will cost US$42 million and the donor powers estimate will cost $8.5 million. Washington announced at the meeting that it had contributed $1.2 million for the N.R.C.

The disconnect between the deliberations of the external powers and the facts on the ground is due to their ambivalence, the fact that Somalia is not one of their top priorities and their decision to legitimize the N.R.C., which they have to claim could be viable. With political oppositions coalescing into a bloc, the Hawiye finding unity in rejectionism and the insurgency persisting, the disconnect threatens to become a chasm.


Developments in Somalia through mid-June confirm PINR's basic forecast that the country will remain in a devolutionary political cycle, which has only become more pronounced. At present, an insurgency with a militant jihadist component persists in Mogadishu, the T.F.G. is losing even a semblance of control over key regions, oppositions are organizing into blocs, Addis Ababa is over-strained, troop contributions to AMISOM are not forthcoming, and donor powers are paralyzed and reluctant to support the T.F.G. wholeheartedly. The T.F.G. executive remains determined to pursue its clan-based formula for reconciliation, which appears to have lost the scant viability it might have had.

Simultaneous processes of polarization and fragmentation are likely to have critically damaged the T.F.G.'s ability to prevail in the struggle for security and to carry through a clan-based reconciliation program, leading to political collapse.

The only possibility for breaking the devolutionary cycle is presented by the coalescing of opposition forces into a bloc. If the T.F.G. can be pressured by external powers to enter power-sharing negotiations with a relatively coherent political opposition, there is a small probability of a national accord.

For the moment, the T.F.G. and the nascent opposition are polarized on the issue of the Ethiopian occupation. The opposition is united by its resistance to the occupation and the T.F.G. depends on it for survival. At some point the occupation will end -- with or without sufficient peacekeepers to replace it -- and Somalia will either sink back into chronic statelessness or serious power-sharing discussions will begin. The former eventuality -- devolution -- remains by far the most likely outcome.

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  enquiries@pinr.com. PINR reprints do not qualify under Fair-Use Statute Section 107 of the Copyright Act. All comments should be directed to  comments@pinr.com.

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