Report Drafted By:
Dr. Michael A. Weinstein
12 June 2008
On June 9, United Nations special representative to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould Abdallah, announced that the second round of peace talks in Djibouti between Somalia's internationally recognized Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.) and a faction of the opposition Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (A.R.S.) had resulted in an unexpected agreement. Just a day earlier, Ould Abdallah had "suspended" the talks, saying that the international diplomats attending them could not be "held hostage" by "personality disputes," and that it was "impossible to prolong negotiations indefinitely because of budgetary constraints." At that time, the two sides seemed to be hopelessly deadlocked over the Ethiopian military occupation of Somalia, with the A.R.S. demanding that a timetable be set for an Ethiopian withdrawal, and the T.F.G. - backed by the United States - insisting that the Ethiopians had to stay until they were replaced by an international peacekeeping force, in order to prevent a "security vacuum."
The eleven-point agreement represented a victory for the T.F.G. and its Western
supporters, working through the U.N., and a capitulation by the diplomatic faction of the A.R.S. led by its executive chair, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad, and the head of its Central Committee, Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan, who ended up accepting the conditions of their former adversaries.
The capitulation of the A.R.S. is inscribed in paragraphs 7b and 7c of the agreement. The former states that "within a period of 120 days of the signing of this agreement the TFG will act in accordance with the decision that has already been taken by the Ethiopian Government to withdraw its troops from Somalia after the deployment of a sufficient number of UN forces." Except for the four-month timetable, which is dependent on the unlikely deployment of a U.N. "stabilization mission," paragraph 7b replicates the T.F.G.'s original negotiating position. Paragraph 7c states that "the ARS shall, through a solemn public statement cease and condemn all acts of armed violence in Somalia and dissociate itself from any armed groups or individuals that do not adhere to the terms of this Agreement," including a ninety-day renewable cease-fire that would begin in early July. This provision severs the A.R.S.'s diplomatic
faction from its military faction, which has been making gains on the ground in its insurgency against the Ethiopian and T.F.G. forces, and was opposed to the Djibouti talks, depriving the diplomatic faction of bargaining leverage and making it dependent on the West, whose strategy was to split the A.R.S. in order to "isolate" its military wing; that is, the diplomatic faction of the A.R.S. has been co-opted.
What made the A.R.S. concede has not yet been reported. The A.R.S.'s military faction says that the diplomatic faction had made a secret deal with the West before the second round of the Djibouti talks began, and that its apparent uncompromising behavior was merely a charade. Whatever the case may be, the agreement has altered the configuration of power in Somalia, bringing to the surface the conflict that structured the Djibouti talks.
The Configuration of Power in Somalia
In order to grasp the structure of the Djibouti talks and their outcome, it is necessary to understand that neither the T.F.G. nor the A.R.S.'s diplomatic faction holds significant power in Somalia; the T.F.G. is militarily weak, lacks domestic legitimacy and is dependent for its survival on Ethiopian forces and meager financial support from Western powers and the U.N.; and the A.R.S.'s diplomatic faction gains its credibility from the successes on the ground of its military faction.
The present configuration of political power in Somalia results from the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in December, 2006, which was backed by Washington and ousted the Islamic Courts movement, which is now the dominant element in the A.R.S., from control over most of southern and central Somalia. Both Addis Ababa and the Western powers had hoped that the military defeat of the Courts would eliminate them as a significant factor in Somalia's politics, but that scenario proved to be overly optimistic as Courts militias joined by fighters from dissident clans mounted a persistent armed insurgency against the Ethiopian occupation that the latter was unable to quell. By the autumn of 2007, the opposition to the T.F.G. and the occupation, composed of the Courts movement, dissident T.F.G. parliamentarians, some ex-warlords and figures from the Somali diaspora, had formed the A.R.S., which due to its politically diverse composition achieved consensus only on the aim of removing the Ethiopians from Somalia. As the insurgency gained momentum through 2007, the T.F.G. split into factions centered on the rivalry between its president Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmad, and its prime minister, Ali Mohamed Gedi, paralyzing the transitional institutions.
By the end of 2007, the Western powers realized that their policy of backing the T.F.G. and the occupation unequivocally was failing, and they engineered the removal of Gedi and his replacement by Nur "Adde" Hassan Hussein who committed to a new policy of seeking "reconciliation" with the opposition while insisting that the occupation be maintained unless it was replaced by a robust international peacekeeping force.
Through 2008, the insurgency has gained momentum, taking control of territory in all of Somalia's regions south of the autonomous sub-state of Puntland, to the point that some local media claim that Courts and allied militias currently control most of Somalia's countryside.
Although it is familiar to most readers, the preceding thumbnail sketch of Somalia's recent political history was presented to make it clear that the country's present political configuration is not determined by the T.F.G. or the diplomatic faction of the A.R.S., but by the Western powers, led by Washington and working through the U.N., and the insurgency, which is backed by the military faction of the A.R.S. Once the Western powers succeeded in installing Nur Adde as prime minister, they became the protagonists in Somalia's politics. As the insurgents gained momentum, they became the antagonists, and are now arguably the protagonists.
The Djibouti talks can be understood as the central element of the Western powers' current strategy of attempting to isolate the insurgency by splitting off the diplomatic faction of the A.R.S. from its military faction, which is simply a case of Washington's approach to conflicts throughout the Muslim world; for example the isolation of Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iraqi al-Qaeda and the Sadrists in Iraq, and - on a state level - Iran and Syria. That strategy has not been conspicuously successful anywhere that it has been applied; it serves as Washington's compromise between direct military intervention, which it lacks the resources and domestic support to undertake, and negotiations with its opponents, which it is unwilling to pursue.
The strategy of the Courts component of the insurgency, which is made up of the
internationalist Islamic revolutionary al-Shabaab movement, which functions in relative independence from the A.R.S., and more nationalist-Islamist forces associated with the A.R.S., is to expel the Ethiopians from Somalia by force and to create an Islamic state based on Shari'a law in the country by successively detaching local administrations from allegiance to the T.F.G. and facilitating "independent" administrations or Islamic courts in their place. It is to be expected that the military faction of the A.R.S. saw the Djibouti talks as an effort by the West to derail the insurgency and that its leaders judged the diplomatic faction to be "traitors" for entering them.
The Consequences of the Agreement
Although the West has apparently succeeded in detaching the diplomatic faction of the A.R.S. from its military faction, it is likely that the West has won a pyrrhic victory. Garowe Online reported that the June 9 agreement between the T.F.G. and A.R.S. had come about after foreign powers attending the conference as observers, including the U.S., Great Britain and France, had applied pressure after Ould Abdallah had announced that the talks had broken down. If that is the case, which is likely, then, just as they had when they engineered Gedi's replacement by Nur Adde, the West has become responsible for the fate of the agreement.
Indeed, the Djibouti talks were entirely structured and financed by external powers and left little space for Somalis to "solve their problems themselves," which Ould Abdallah repeatedly says that they must do. The T.F.G. and A.R.S. delegations were treated to "seminars" in which they were lectured on "conflict resolution" by foreign experts, as Ould Abdallah attempted to bring them together in face-to-face talks and wring a "joint statement" out of them. Western powers, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, the African Union, the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Conference and the European Union were a pervasive presence until the Ethiopian ambassador to Somalia walked into a seminar and refused to leave, provoking a walkout by the A.R.S., which was brought back only by an agreement to bar all foreign states, although not international and regional organizations, from further meetings. On June 8, A.R.S. delegate chief Abdirahman Abdi Shakur complained that there was "a lot of meddling" in the negotiations.
The decisive importance of the West was signalled by the chief negotiators for the T.F.G. and A.R.S., Ahmad Abdisalan and Abdul Rahman Abdishakur Warsame, in their comments on the agreement. Echoing Ould Abdallah, Abdisalan said that if the agreement is implemented, the "international community," especially the U.S. and European members of the United Nations Security Council "will be in the position to assist us to move forward," including facilitating the deployment of an international stabilization force. Putting another spin on the same point, Warsame said, "If the international community puts pressure on Ethiopians to leave and deploys an acceptable international force, then we will have a successful agreement."
It is not likely, however, that the West will rise to the occasion. Washington welcomed the agreement and urged the parties to implement it, but added that "the United States will give careful consideration to the proposal [for a stabilization force] in consultation with the Security Council," which is far from a serious commitment; the West is signalling that it will stay on the sidelines, waiting to see if a cease-fire takes hold.
The depth of Western commitment to its own policies is, in any case, doubtful.
As the Djibouti talks deadlocked, the speaker of Somalia's transitional parliament, Sheikh Adan Madobe, informed legislators in the country's provisional capital Baidoa that the government had no money to pay their salaries, because donor powers had not provided the United Nations Development Program with the necessary funds to do so. Is it plausible to expect that the Western donor powers will finance reconstruction and redevelopment in Somalia, which is a central aspiration of the agreement between the T.F.G. and the diplomatic faction of the A.R.S.? As for a robust stabilization force, the African Union repeatedly complains that its under-staffed and under-funded peacekeeping mission (AMISOM) in Somalia's official capital Mogadishu has not
received adequate financial and logistical support from the "international community."
If the West does not follow through, the split that it provoked in the A.R.S. is likely to backfire by delegitimizing political opposition and strengthening the insurgency. The response of the A.R.S.'s military faction and the commanders of the insurgency in the field was a pledge to continue and intensify the armed struggle. On June 10, the A.R.S.'s military faction issued a statement announcing that "the Djibouti exercise has no validity and shall not be binding on the A.R.S. and the Somali people." The major public figure in the military faction, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who shared leadership of the Courts movement with Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad, criticized the Djibouti agreement in an interview with al-Jazeera, saying that it did not provide for an Ethiopian withdrawal, was based on power sharing with "an agent government which led to [Ethiopian] aggression," and envisioned international forces that would "implement what Ethiopia could not implement." Aweys concluded that the agreement meant that what Ethiopia "claimed in the past has now been legalized for them."
The deputy chair of the A.R.S., Zakariya Mohamed Haji Abdi, announced that he had assumed interim chairmanship of the Alliance in place of Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad, and that the A.R.S. Central Committee would meet in mid-June to formally remove Sharif due to his "betrayal of A.R.S. principles."
By splitting the A.R.S., the West has "isolated" the insurgency and, as a consequence, has left its military faction to function unchecked by any tempering influence of a political wing. If the diplomatic faction of the A.R.S. had a broad popular base and was stronger than its military faction, that result might have been in the West's interest, but the opposite is the case. The insurgency will not honor the cease-fire agreement, which means that violent conflict will continue in Somalia and that Washington will not find conditions favorable to supporting an international stabilization mission. Addis Ababa, which is being worn down by the insurgency, will be constrained by donor powers to continue its occupation, the T.F.G. will continue to be a notional government without domestic legitimacy and the capacity to function,
and the A.R.S.'s diplomatic wing will be stranded without a base and bargaining leverage. That, at least, is the most likely scenario.
Although the military faction of the A.R.S. claims alternately that its diplomatic faction were dupes of a Western conspiracy or outright traitors, the truth is more complex. The non-Islamist components of the A.R.S. were always in favor of diplomacy and Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad's faction of the Courts movement was reformist and nationalist, and was willing to embrace political pluralism. A split in the A.R.S., however, did not seem to be inevitable. In a June 4 interview with the Mareeg website, Aweys denied that "an anti-Sheikh Sharif meeting" was being held and commented that it was acceptable for A.R.S. members in Djibouti "to bring goodness to Somalia, if they can." He added quickly, however, that if they "followed Ould Abdallah's script, the A.R.S. would decide," and that is what happened. To repeat, the reasons why the diplomatic faction of the A.R.S. made its last-minute reversal in Djibouti remain unreported; if there is anything beneath the surface, beyond a threat by the West to wash its hands of Somalia, it will become manifest over the next month of preparation for the "cease-fire."
On June 12, in an interview with al-Jazeera, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad attempted to minimize the rift between the diplomatic and military factions of the A.R.S., saying that "we are carrying out a liberation operation now"; through negotiations, to settle on a timetable for Ethiopian withdrawal from Somalia. He argued that "the whole resistance supports negotiations because fighting is intended to find a solution via negotiations; that is what happened, and negotiations are ongoing. What the whole resistance wants is to remove the Ethiopian forces." Those comments, however, do not address the cease- fire provision of the Djibouti agreement.
As it stands with the information available, the West has lost a possible bridge to the military faction of the A.R.S. and has co-opted a low-value and wasting asset through its strategy of isolation.
The Djibouti agreement is a pyrrhic victory for the West.
Report Drafted By:
Dr. Michael A. Weinstein, Professor of Political Science, Purdue University