November 10, 2008
A new Ethiopian initiative on Somalia , obviously sinister in the eyes of many Somali nationals, is getting unanimous backing from IGAD as violence intensifies in Mogadishu and Baidoa, the respective seats of the Transitional Federal Government and the Parliament.
A loosely affiliated network of Islamists have resurged in Mogadishu and much of southern Somalia, co-opting the beleaguered common people and launching concerted furious assaults against the Ethiopian and IGAD forces backing the TFG.
Since early 90's, various Somali factions and some members of the IGAD had accused Ethiopia of hatching numerous unsuccessful propositions on Somalia and for acting unilaterally when it suited its national interest. Ethiopia opposed the Transitional National Government - the predecessor of the TFG, which was formed in Djibouti in 2000, and provided full backing for the candidacy of Abdillahi Yusuf at the Somali peace conference which was concluded in October 2004 at Mbagathi, outside Nairobi , Kenya .
Ethiopian officials cite national security concerns and determination to arrest the spread of Islamic extremism as the two overriding strategic interests in its involvement in the lawless and conflict-ridden Somalia . Notwithstanding inherent suspicions on the part of Somali nationalists and Islamists, Ethiopia is genuinely concerned on the spillover effect of conflict and extremism across its long porous borders with ungoverned Somalia .
This time round, Ethiopia seems to have learned a bitter lesson from its ill-advised unilateralism. A vicious costly war in Somalia is devouring what was already meager national coffers while perilously overstretches Ethiopia 's military capabilities. The war is no more popular among the Ethiopian public who obviously are uneasy with the mounting human cost. Moreover, there is a growing concern on the adverse ramifications of a failure to defeat the Islamists in Mogadishu .
Recently, in consultation with the visiting President Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti , Prime Minister Meles Zenawi proposed a new initiative that has already won the support of IGAD and donor countries. The new initiative which is now owned by IGAD was initially considered to be unfurled in the recently concluded - hastily convened, meeting of Somali legislators in Nairobi , but was deferred at last at the insistence of President Yusuf.
The initiative envisions the formation of a new National Unity Government in which moderate Islamists are incorporated, and few drastic revisions of the transitional charter formulated during a former peace conference also held in Kenya that created the current TFG. The new initiative underlines the best strategy to tackle the escalating Islamist insurgency to be the fragmentation of the loosely-knit Islamist factions and to foment discord within their ranks. The latter is among various tasks projected to be implemented by the new Somali government to be constituted in the near future.
The new IGAD initiative which is yet to be disclosed to the Somali legislators includes several underlying provisions that require the endorsement of the majority of the current parliament. Therefore, the upcoming session of the parliament is expected to enact the following:
1. Amendment of several provisions stipulated in the transitional charter, including the constitutional responsibilities and status of the president of state and that of the prime minister. The new amendment to be approved by the parliament shall render the position of the president as a ceremonial one with no executive powers. The highest executive powers of the federal government shall be vested in the Prime Minister and in his/her Cabinet of Ministers.
2. Amendment of the transitional charter to allow the increase of the size of the current parliament to make sufficient room for the Djibouti wing of the Islamist faction headed by Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, who courageously denounced the violence of the Islamist factions fighting the TFG and Ethiopian security forces.
3. Authorization of the deployment of a hybrid IGAD and UN peace-keeping mission to Somalia , which includes troops from neighboring countries. The Ethiopian and IGAD forces currently based in Somalia are yet to be approved by the Somali parliament.
4. Pass an amendment annulling the participation of politicians hailing from the territories of Somaliland in the Transitional Federal Institutions. Pro-union Somaliland politicians who are accommodated in the TFG are believed to hold strong anti-Ethiopian sentiments with apparent links to hard-line Somali Islamist factions. Ethiopia would like to see that these politicians are excluded from future government structures. Ethiopia 's position towards pro-unity Somaliland politicians is in harmony with the longstanding stance of the Somaliland administration which vigorously campaigned in the recent past for the exclusion of its nationals from the political arenas of southern Somalis.
It's presumptuous to predict the outcome of the upcoming session of Somali legislators to be held in Baidao at the end of this month. "Of course a lot will depend on how best this initiative is sold to the members of the parliament," said yesterday an official of the ministry of foreign affairs who wants to remain anonymous. One thing is clear though, that the majority of the members of the parliament will not hesitate to unseat Mr. Yusuf.
Paralyzed by unending internal power struggle and dysfunctional, for all practical purposes and intent, the TFG seems to have crumbled from within.
Ethiopian military officers in Mogadishu are dismayed with President Abdillahi Yusuf's lack of military strategy to defeat the Islamists. At the ministry of foreign affairs here in Addis Ababa , Mr. Yusuf is regarded as a hardheaded divisive figure. A senior official at the ministry described Mr. Yusuf as "out-of-touch and divisive character lacking political flexibility and consensus-building skills." Ethiopia , a long time ally of Mr. Yusuf, has decided to abandon him at last, auguring into a new phase of power struggle among the rival clans.
Ethiopia and IGAD have identified a prominent, unanimous choice to lead the new Somali government to be constituted sometime early next year in the person of Ahmed Abdisalam, the charismatic deputy prime minister and minister of information of the TFG. Mr. Abdisalam is a member of the Ayr, the most dominant clan in southern Somalia and a Canadian citizen. He enjoys the confidence of Ethiopia 's political, military and security establishments and has the potential to rally the support of his clan against the Islamist militants. He has already played an important role in splitting the Asmara-based Islamist opposition faction.
For the past two decades, the Djibouti based Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) has been anything but a peace building medium. An intergovernmental body established in 1986 for drought control, IGAD has later transmogrified into an ineffective regional political outfit. It comprises the Horn of African countries of Djibouti , Ethiopia , Kenya , Uganda , Sudan and Somalia . Eritrea which joined in 1993 has unilaterally suspended its membership in 2007.
Four of its members, namely Sudan , Uganda , Ethiopia and Somalia , are mired in long running, unresolved internal conflicts. Almost every member state has been implicated in engaging activities undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of another member state.
For several decades, Ethiopia , Kenya and Uganda have supported the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), a predominantly Christian rebel movement that fought civil war against the Sudanese government from 1983 to 2005. Uganda has accused Sudan of supporting the Lord's Resistance Army, a rebel group fighting the government of Yoweri Museveni in northern parts of the country. Ethiopia , Djibouti , and Kenya were extensively engaged in the Somali crisis for the past 18 years, without making concrete breakthroughs in the restoration of effective central government. Ethiopia , Uganda and Kenya are currently training and supplying weapons to the forces of the government of Southern Sudan which is expecting to divorce itself from the government of Khartoum through a referendum scheduled to be held on 2011.
In view of the above, the new Ethiopia-sponsored IGAD initiative on Somalia is seen by political pundits here in Addis Ababa as a political litmus test on whether IGAD has transformed itself into a credible peace building entity.