|Home | Contact us | Links | Archives|
''Somalia Falls into Political Collapse''
During the last two weeks of April, armed conflict in Somalia became more intense as the Ethiopian occupiers of the country and the forces of its Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.) undertook major military operations against a rising insurgency composed of Islamists, nationalists and militias affiliated with the Hawiye clan family in Somalia's official capital Mogadishu.
Having made taking effective control over Mogadishu the test of its ability to exert authority over Somalia, the T.F.G. was constrained by the pressure of Western donor powers to make good on its project and to secure the city in advance of a planned National Reconciliation Conference (N.R.C.) aimed at reaching a political resolution to the country's conflicts.
Having occupied Somalia in December 2006 after a campaign to remove the Islamic Courts Council (I.C.C.) from control over most of the country south of the breakaway sub-state of Puntland, Ethiopia was under domestic and international pressure to withdraw its forces, but could not do so until Mogadishu was stabilized sufficiently to permit the full deployment of an African Union (A.U.) peacekeeping mission (AMISOM) and effective policing by T.F.G. forces.
The Ethiopian-T.F.G. offensive, which included artillery shelling of and tank incursions into the districts in the north and south of Mogadishu where the insurgency was concentrated, broke the tense stasis between the opposing sides that PINR had noted in its April 12 report on Somalia. As PINR observed then, "when the actors in a conflict are frozen into hostile positions, one of them eventually makes a move to break out with unforeseen consequences." [See: "Somalia Seized with Stasis"]
The operations to crush the insurgency, which began on April 18 and concluded on April 26, appear to have succeeded, at least temporarily, with a cessation of violence and T.F.G. forces in the streets securing key roads and positions. On May 2, AMISOM peacekeepers were patrolling the city for the first time since their arrival. The insurgents, however, have not surrendered, but have drawn back and are reported to be regrouping, promising suicide bombings, targeted assassinations, kidnappings and attacks on hotels housing T.F.G. officials.
According to the calculations of the United Nations, local human rights groups and the Hawiye clan, the offensive resulted in at least 1,000 deaths and drove the total of internally displaced persons from Mogadishu to 400,000. Journalists reported extensive destruction of buildings in the city, hospitals were stretched beyond their limits to care for the wounded, bodies rotted in the streets, aid deliveries to refugees were blocked by the T.F.G. and people fell victim to cholera-like diseases.
By the end of April, residents began returning to Mogadishu, aid was beginning to get through and some rebuilding was underway, but conditions were far from normal and were likely to remain severe for the foreseeable future.
As the T.F.G. and Ethiopia concentrated their attention on Mogadishu, instability surfaced elsewhere in Somalia. The T.F.G. lost control of the key southern port city of Kismayo in a struggle between two sub-clans of the Darod clan family, armed conflict broke out in the north between forces of the sub-states of Puntland and Somaliland, a crime wave continued in the unpoliced Lower and Middle Shabelle regions, and there was unrest in the transitional capital Baidoa in the south-central Bay region, leading to the imposition of a curfew. The conflict spread to Ethiopia on April 24, when the Ogaden National Liberation Front (O.N.L.F.) attacked a Chinese oil exploration site in the country's Somali Regional State, leaving nine Chinese workers and 65 Ethiopian workers and guards dead.
Although the T.F.G. and Ethiopia have expressed confidence that they have broken the insurgency and are on the way to stabilizing Somalia, the situation on the ground presents a less promising picture. It is far from clear that the insurgency has been neutralized, instability is increasing outside Mogadishu, and low-level conflicts beyond southern and central Somalia are intensifying. There is a genuine possibility that a regional conflict will erupt.
A Sense of Crisis
In the year that PINR has been reporting regularly on Somalia, the multiple and overlapping conflicts that rive the country have never been as confused and intense as they are now, making grounded predictions impossible, except for the general observation that destabilization is likely to continue.
Addis Ababa 's removal of the I.C.C. as an aspiring administration left Ethiopian forces supporting the internationally recognized but weak and unpopular T.F.G. as the latter tried to achieve legitimate authority and Somalia's society devolved into clan, regional and local solidarities, precipitating conflicts at all levels. A process of proliferating fragmentation in which the actors are thrown into often hostile relations places the situation beyond the control of any one of them. In this complicated and tangled configuration of power, distrust on all sides has set in, even among seeming allies, creating a sense of crisis that is compounded by humanitarian catastrophe.
At the root of the uncertain situation in Somalia is the weakness of the T.F.G., both militarily and politically. The T.F.G. is incapable of sustaining itself without external support, yet its leadership -- President Abdillahi Yusuf Ahmed and Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi -- is unwilling to enter direct negotiations with its political rivals, including conciliatory leaders of the I.C.C., dissident politicians and sections of the Hawiye clan family, which dominates Mogadishu. The T.F.G.'s planned clan-based N.R.C. has been rejected by the components of its variegated opposition, opening up a power vacuum that is only partially filled by Addis Ababa, which does not have the resources to arrest devolution or to eliminate the T.F.G.'s adversaries.
The T.F.G.'s deficit of military power and political legitimacy provides the opportunity for rival power centers to spring up and for hostility toward the T.F.G. to increase due to its reliance on occupying forces, which have now been responsible for significant loss of civilian lives, population displacement and destruction of property. A vicious cycle is in operation, in which the T.F.G.'s efforts to take control create greater opposition to it and its protectors, and allow other actors to try to fulfill their own agendas.
The political stasis of mid-April in Somalia has given way to a political collapse, breeding a sense of crisis. External actors -- except for Ethiopia's regional rival Eritrea, which backs the T.F.G.'s opposition -- have committed themselves, often uneasily, to the T.F.G. and have failed to intervene forthrightly as the collapse occurred. Although the future of Somalia's politics depends in part on whether or not the T.F.G. is able to secure Mogadishu, there are too many other destabilizing tendencies present in the country and the region to guarantee that the fate of Mogadishu will determine a new configuration of power.
Multiple and Overlapping Conflicts
With the latest battle for Mogadishu at an end, the underlying political conflict that caused it remains unresolved. The coalition opposing the T.F.G. and Addis Ababa retains its diverse interests and has not been placated by any concessions.
At the heart of the opposition in Mogadishu are the Ayr and Abgal sub-clans of the Hawiye clan family, which fears domination by the Darod clan family, from which Yusuf comes and whose members hold key positions in the T.F.G. They were joined in the fighting by the militant wing of the I.C.C., which is uncompromising in its aim of converting Somalia to an Islamic state under Shari'a law and has vowed to wage unrelenting jihad in pursuit of its goal. The armed opposition also included nationalists resisting the Ethiopian occupation and businessmen affiliated with the Hawiye sub-clans who resist regulation and taxation by the T.F.G.
Although their militias were driven back by the Ethiopian-T.F.G. offensive, the Hawiye leadership refused on April 27 to say that the fighting was over. Similarly, the Islamists, spearheaded by the well-organized al-Shabaab militia, promised to continue their campaign and took credit for a suicide bombing of an Ethiopian base. Businessmen at Mogadishu's seaport reached an agreement with the T.F.G. on joint security arrangements with the promise that private guards would eventually be disarmed, and there were reports that the T.F.G. would scale back its tax rates. A lasting agreement with the businessmen, who provide significant financial support to the clan and Islamist militias, would strengthen the T.F.G.'s hand.
The Hawiye have thus far rejected participation in the N.R.C. and have insisted that reconciliation be based on negotiations among political organizations rather than clans. Western donor powers and regional and international organizations have urged the T.F.G. to "reach out" to the Hawiye, recognizing that long-term stability in Somalia depends on their inclusion in a power-sharing agreement.
Reluctant to share power, the T.F.G. executive has stuck to its plans for the N.R.C., but suffered a reversal on April 17, when its chairman, ex-president of Somalia Ali Mahdi Mohamed, postponed the conference, which had been scheduled for mid-April, to July 14 due to lack of funding from donors and the "feuds" in Mogadishu.
The T.F.G.'s strategy to gain political support became evident when, on April 18, it named warlord Abdi Hassan Awale Qeybdid chief of police of Somalia, and, on April 28, it named warlord Mohamed Dheere mayor of Mogadishu. Both Qeybdid and Dheere were leaders of the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter Terrorism (A.R.P.C.T.), which had striven to suppress the Islamist movement in 2006 and had been driven out of Mogadishu by its forces. The warlords had been rivals of the T.F.G. and had divided Mogadishu into fiefdoms. By wooing them with positions, Yusuf and Gedi hope to sidestep more comprehensive power-sharing, but that tactic is problematic because the unpopularity of the warlords was a key factor in the rise of the I.C.C.
The T.F.G. also attempted to consolidate when, on April 17, the transitional parliament removed its dissident faction of 29 members led by ex-speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan, who had broken with the T.F.G. over power-sharing with the I.C.C. and had not participated in parliamentary deliberations. A pattern was emerging in which the T.F.G. executive would attempt to co-opt elements of the opposition with narrow interests in positions and to ward off changes in its representative basis.
The political opposition to the T.F.G. also coalesced during the battle of Mogadishu. From April 10-17, the reorganized conciliatory wing of the I.C.C., the dissident parliamentarians and the T.F.G.'s deputy prime minister, warlord Hussein Aideed, met in Eritrea to form an alliance aimed at countering the N.R.C. with a political rather than a clan-based reconciliation program. In a joint communiqué, the emerging opposition bloc called for the immediate withdrawal of Ethiopian forces from Somalia on pain of "all-out war" and condemned the United States for supporting Addis Ababa's intervention and AMISOM for failing to take measures against Ethiopian "war crimes."
On May 1, the opposition alliance scaled up its rhetoric, calling for more sophisticated armed resistance against Ethiopian and AMISOM forces.
The meeting in Asmara was noteworthy because it indicated unprecedented coordination among opposition groups and a shedding from the T.F.G. The maneuvers of the T.F.G. and the opposition caused Mohamed Elmi, a partner in Mogadishu's Radio HornAfrik, to comment to the Toronto Star on April 29 that "all the political agendas are merging." For Elmi, this is a sign of polarization and constitutes a worst-case scenario. In PINR's judgment, consolidation might cut the other way and set the stage for eventual power-sharing, although that eventuality is currently less likely than Elmi's projection.
The confused political picture surrounding the military conflict in Mogadishu indicates a volatile situation in which political collapse has engendered efforts at coalition building among disparate interests that could harden or come apart depending on the moves that the various actors make. Neither the militant Islamist faction nor the T.F.G. executive is likely to shift, but the other players will calculate their opportunities and act accordingly.
The devolutionary tendencies of Somalia's politics were nowhere more evident than in Kismayo, the hub of the country's deep south. The city, from which the Ethiopians had withdrawn -- leaving it controlled by an administration dominated by Yusuf's Majerteen sub-clan of the Darod clan family -- erupted in violence on April 23, when the militias of the Marehan sub-clan of the Darod drove out T.F.G. forces. Led by T.F.G. Defense Minister Barre Hirale, who had been the major warlord in the deep south before the rise of the I.C.C., the Marehan resented Majerteen domination and Hirale had earlier distanced himself from the T.F.G. Marehan members of the T.F.G. forces were reported to have defected to their clan militias during the fighting.
On April 29, the T.F.G.'s interior minister, Mohamed Gamadheere, attempted to mediate the dispute, but failed when T.F.G. commanders refused to return to the city unless the Marehan militias disarmed, and Marehan leaders said they were not ready to accept a T.F.G. presence.
The events in Kismayo support PINR's judgment that Somalia is devolving into clan-based solidarities and signal a weakness in the T.F.G., which is more a loose coalition of local warlords than a functioning administration.
During the second half of April, armed conflict also surfaced in the north of Somalia between the formerly relatively stable sub-states of Puntland and Somaliland, which have ongoing border disputes in the Sanaag, Sool and Togdheere regions.
As events unfolded in the south, the administrations of both sub-states sent armed ministerial delegations to the disputed regions in attempts to firm up and expand control. Fighting erupted in the town of Dahar in the Sanaag region over attempts by Puntland to set up a district council there and ended on April 16, when Puntland militias drove the Somaliland forces back. Both sides were reported to be massing their forces in areas under their respective control, setting up a tense confrontation.
Somaliland, which has declared its independence, but is not internationally recognized, claims the territory of the former British Somaliland, which includes the disputed regions. Puntland, which has declared provisional autonomy from Somalia pending reconciliation, controls parts of those regions and bases its claims to them on the fact that they are populated by members of the Harti-Majerteen sub-clan of the Darod, which is dominant in Puntland; Somaliland is dominated by the Issaq clan family. In the incidents at Dahar, Darod members of Somaliland's forces were reported to have defected to the Puntland militias.
Somaliland has a clear interest in filling out the former colonial territory since its slim chance of gaining international recognition evaporates if it fails to do so. Its current push is motivated by its fear that a Darod-dominated T.F.G. -- Yusuf's power base is Puntland, which supplies much of the T.F.G.'s security forces -- will be able to counter the independence project if the T.F.G. becomes a functioning administration. Puntland, in turn, is determined to resist Somaliland's efforts to "reach the border."
That Puntland and Somaliland have come into play is another indication of Somalia's destabilization and devolution to clan-based solidarities. A war between the sub-states is now a genuine possibility.
Beyond Somalia proper, Ethiopia experienced the impact of widening conflict on April 24, when the O.N.L.F., which seeks independence or greater autonomy for the ethnic-Somali Ogaden region ( Ethiopia's Somali Regional State) launched a major attack on an oil exploration site run by China's Zhongyuan Petroleum Exploration Bureau, a division of the China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation. Although it had issued warnings in the past to foreign corporations operating in the Ogaden, the O.N.L.F.'s attack was the first time it had made good on its threats.
The Ogaden Online website, which speaks for the O.N.L.F., claimed that the operation, which overran the site and resulted in the deaths of 74 workers and guards, was aimed at "helping" local pastoralists resist displacement from their grazing lands to make way for resource exploitation. Addis Ababa blamed the attack on "terrorists" financed by Eritrea and local officials claimed that the attackers wore Eritrean uniforms.
In a further sign of the vulnerability of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's administration, on April 29, the opposition bloc -- United Ethiopian Democratic Forces -- called for the withdrawal of Ethiopian forces from Somalia, observing that "interfering in others' business will be a heavy burden" and criticizing the government for "making a bad choice of allies."
Ethiopia 's April offensive in Mogadishu was motivated by Zenawi's need to put an end to the Ethiopian occupation by eliminating armed opposition to the T.F.G. The longer the occupation lasts, the more Ethiopian resources will be drained and the more vulnerable Addis Ababa will be to domestic insurgency and to falling popular support. Yet although Western donor powers are anxious for Ethiopia to pull out of Somalia, they also fear a power vacuum if Addis Ababa leaves the T.F.G. alone. Zenawi is in a compromised position and faces a deteriorating political situation that works to the advantage of his opposition and of Eritrea, with which Ethiopia has a smoldering border dispute.
An Ethiopian withdrawal depends on the substitution of Ethiopian forces by AMISOM, which thus far has deployed 1,200 Ugandan troops out of the projected 8,000 member multi-national African force. Other African states that have pledged troops -- Nigeria, Burundi, Ghana and reportedly Benin -- have delayed deployment due to the violence in Mogadishu and inadequate donor support, leaving the Ugandans overwhelmed and mainly confined to their bases until the beginning of May.
Uganda 's president, Yoweri Museveni, has begun to face domestic pressure to withdraw the AMISOM contingent from Somalia. The opposition Conservative and National Freedom parties have called for a pull out, citing the danger of mounting casualties. On the ground, AMISOM spokesman Captain Paddy Ankunda called for greater help from the international community and said of Mogadishu on April 25: "Everywhere you go, there is a threat. Everywhere you are, the situation is hostile."
Given the experience of the Ugandan contingent, it is unlikely that the other African states that have pledged troops will be quick to deploy or that new states will sign on to the mission. Even Kampala's continuing participation is coming into question.
As stasis has ceded to collapse in Somalia, diplomatic initiatives by external actors to stem the slide have been hampered by divergent interests. The last major conference on Somalia was held on April 13 -- before the Ethiopian-T.F.G. offensive -- in Kenya under the auspices of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (I.G.A.D.), the regional organization including Somalia and its neighbors. The communiqué issued at the end of the meeting expressed "concern over extremist armed militia elements," condemned all forces that undermine the T.F.G., welcomed the deployment of AMISOM and urged potential contributors to the mission to honor their pledges, supported "inclusive dialogue" through the N.R.C., and expressed "appreciation to Ethiopia for its sacrifices in promoting the common position of I.G.A.D."
The communiqué marked a diplomatic victory for Addis Ababa and Washington, and provided a green light for the offensive in Mogadishu, but at the cost of alienating Asmara, which objected to the paragraphs on extremist elements and endorsement of the Ethiopian occupation. On April 22, Eritrea suspended its membership in I.G.A.D., citing "a number of repeated and irresponsible resolutions that undermine regional peace and security," and refusing to be "party to developments that hold one accountable both legally and morally."
The split in I.G.A.D. was mirrored by a rift between the United States, which has increasingly backed Ethiopia and the T.F.G., and the European Union, which has made support of the T.F.G. contingent on the latter's undertaking political reconciliation, and has condemned the shelling of residential neighborhoods by Ethiopian forces.
The Ethiopian-T.F.G. offensive in Mogadishu has broken the stasis, but has not stabilized Somalia and the Horn of Africa. Divisions and tensions are surfacing and deepening within and between actors at all levels, making further conflict and fragmentation likely. The actors do not appear to have the political will to surmount their differences.
International and regional paralysis is partly due to the support of the T.F.G. by external actors and partly to the fact that Somalia is lower on the agenda of the Western powers than other issues. By leaving Somalia to collapse, however, Western powers are inviting its instability to spread beyond its borders. Washington, in particular, has staked its wager on Addis Ababa, which might turn out to be a "bad choice of allies."
With splits running from the intra-clan to the inter-state levels, the conjuncture of powers and interests enveloping Somalia is out of any single actor's or group of actors' control. The sense of crisis is not delusory.
Report Drafted By:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. PINR reprints do not qualify under Fair-Use Statute Section 107 of the Copyright Act. All comments should be directed to email@example.com.