Nairobi, Kenya, October 21, 2005 (The Associated Press) – With too many weapons, too little food and three factions vying for control, Somalia's anarchy is fast overwhelming its new government even before it can establish itself in the country.
The competition for power, which threatens to trigger another civil war, could combine with a potential humanitarian crisis for a repeat of the disaster that followed the collapse of Somalia's last regime in 1991. A massive UN operation was mounted then to help the starving, but failed to set up a viable government in the Horn of Africa nation.
Experts agree that another civil war could create an opportunity for Islamic extremists to take power.
Already, at least one cell of the international terrorist group al-Qaeda is believed to have established itself in the Horn of Africa country. Homegrown Islamist militias move freely in some parts of Mogadishu, the capital, shutting down bars and destroying shops that reproduce or sell pirated DVDs and music cassettes.
The United States has long feared that Islamic militants may take advantage of the clan-fuelled anarchy in Somalia to establish new bases after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Heightened tensions in the capital come as poor rainfall, mass displacement of farmers due to fighting and extensive environmental destruction have set the stage for widespread hunger.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation's Food Security Analysis Unit called in its October report for contingency planning for the possibility of widespread humanitarian relief needs in southern Somalia.
"Civil insecurity and unrest continues to be one of the main factors contributing to food and livelihood insecurity throughout the region," the report added.
Most Somalis already depend on some form of food hand-out to survive. Many live in wretched camps after clan fighting destroyed their homes. A local crop failure, which is feared, could increase their dependency on foreign food aid, which is already tenuous given the current political situation.
The year-old transitional federal government, intended to bring peace and the first central government the country has seen in 14 years, has split in two. The secular president and prime minister are located in the small town of Jowhar, while the warlords of Mogadishu, some of whom are also Cabinet ministers, have stopped cooperating until they get some concessions from the president.
Forming a third force are Muslim fundamentalists who have set up an Islamic court system with militias to enforce the judge's rulings. They want an Islamic government, or else, a key leader has told The Associated Press.
All three sides in Somalia have received large shipments of arms -- often from neighbouring countries hoping to gain influence with Somalia's competing clans -- setting the stage for renewed war, according to a recent UN report.
The UN Monitoring Group on Somalia reported to the Security Council that there was a "severely elevated threat of widespread violence in central and southern Somalia".
Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi has been working hard to make his government viable since he was sworn in last year. The product of the 14th peace process in 15 years, his government originally included all of the key warlords and received a great deal of international backing.
"We are trying to calm the militias, but it is not an easy task to restore security and stability in the country," Gedi said in an interview in neighbouring Kenya.
He dismissed the schism within his Cabinet, pointing out that out of 42 members, only five were in Mogadishu, refusing to cooperate with him.
"It is not as bad as people are saying," he said.
But it is bad enough to split the international community.
Diplomats can't agree on whether they should back Gedi and President Abdulahi Yusuf now, or instead wait to see if the Mogadishu warlords can be coaxed back into the peace process, officials familiar with ongoing discussions said.
While the four key militia leaders in Mogadishu control the only city in the country and most of Somalia's economy, the only thing they seem to have in common is a hatred for Yusuf, and what they say are his dictatorial inclinations. While reconciliation efforts are under way, few observers hold out any hope they will succeed.
Waiting in the wings are Somalia's fundamentalist Muslims, some of whom have been listed by the US State Department as al-Qaeda collaborators. The most prominent is Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys.
While Aweys will not address allegations he's had contacts with al-Qaeda, he has made no secret of his opposition to Yusuf, his readiness to declare a jihad should foreign peacekeepers enter Somalia, or his plans to establish an Islamic government.
Since none of the three factions are believed to have sufficient firepower to defeat the other, it is unclear how long the current status quo can last, but the threat of war hangs over relief workers who will try to provide aid to the hungry in the months to come.