Africa, Headlines

POLITICS-SOMALIA: Condemnation, Assassination, Resignation

Joyce Mulama

NAIROBI, Jul 30 2006 (IPS) - This weekend has seen Somali Prime Minister Mohammed Ali Gedi survive a no-confidence vote initiated by legislators who accuse his government of failing to bring order and reconciliation to the East African country. The vote capped a tumultuous week during which a cabinet member was assassinated and another parliamentarian shot, while eleven ministers resigned their posts according to a government spokesperson.

Eighty-eight legislators in Somalia’s interim government supported Gedi in the no-confidence motion; 126 votes went against him, marginally less than the two-thirds majority of 139 needed for the motion to pass.

The administration was established in 2004 in neighbouring Kenya after more than two years of negotiations spearheaded by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Drought and Development, a regional body. It moved to the south-central Somali town of Baidoa last year; however, officials have been unable to extend their authority over the rest of Somalia’s territory, which was carved into fiefdoms by warring clans after dictator Mohamed Siad Barre’s ouster in 1991.

Last month, Islamic militants wrested control of the capital, Mogadishu, from faction leaders said to be backed by the United States, also seizing power in much of the south. Washington alleges that al Qaeda operatives are being harboured by the militants, who are grouped under the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC). The organisation denies these charges.

Saturday’s motion marked the second bid by some in the 275-seat parliament to force Gedi from office. In 2004, a motion to have him dismissed was passed by legislators, who viewed his appointment as being against the transitional national charter – an interim constitution. However, President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed later reappointed Gedi.

A successful motion of no confidence this weekend would have brought about the collapse of the prime minister’s government, already weakened by the mass resignation of ministers on Thursday.

The cabinet members were reportedly opposed to the arrival of Ethiopian troops in Baidoa earlier this month to bolster the interim government, after Islamic militias had advanced to within a few dozen kilometres of the town. The ministers questioned why parliamentary approval was not sought for the deployment, which Ethiopia continues to deny.

They also accused Gedi of being incompetent, and an obstacle to progress in talks to avoid confrontation between government and the UIC. These discussions were brought to halt by the presence of the Ethiopian forces, which also prompted militants to declare a “jihad”, or holy war, against the neighbouring state. Many Somalis have a deep antipathy towards Ethiopia, which has clashed with their country repeatedly over past decades.

While talks are scheduled to resume in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum Tuesday, the Islamists have said they will only attend if Ethiopian troops withdraw from Somalia. The negotiations, which got underway in June, are being led by Arab League.

Matters have been further complicated by another of Somalia’s neighbours, Eritrea, which stands accused of supplying weapons to the UIC, even though Somalia is under a 1992 arms embargo.

Two cargo planes believed to be carrying weapons from Eritrea for Islamic militants arrived in Mogadishu this past week, a local journalist in the capital told IPS. This has sparked fears that longstanding tensions between Eritrea and Ethiopia are being played out in Somalia.

The two countries waged a bitter frontier dispute between 1998 and 2000, and an earlier war that led to Eritrea’s secession from Ethiopia in 1993.

“The country (Somalia) is headed for the worst. People are keenly watching these developments and they are expecting to witness a proxy war between Ethiopia and Eritrea on Somalia’s soil sooner rather than later,” the local journalist said.

Weekend reports indicated that Iran, Libya and Egypt had also been accused by Gedi of providing assistance to the Islamists.

While the prospect of a regionally-fuelled war in Somalia loomed, hundreds gathered in Baidoa Saturday to bury Constitutional and Federal Affairs Minister Abdallah Isaaq Deerow, who was assassinated the day before outside a mosque in the provincial town.

“The cause of his killing is still unknown, but police have captured the killer and he is in jail now,” a spokesman for the interim government, Abdirahman Dinari, told IPS from Baidoa – where the shooting sparked rioting, Friday.

On Wednesday, the head of the parliamentary constitutional affairs committee, Mohammed Ibrahim Mohammed, was also shot. He survived the attack.

A political observer who requested anonymity said that intervention by the African Union (AU) was key to improving the situation in Somalia. “There is need for Africa, through the African Union, to step in and help bring peace to the country,” the analyst noted, after visiting Mogadishu.

However, a proposal last month by the 53-member AU to send a peacekeeping force to the country has been opposed by the UIC. The militants say such a force would spark further – and even more serious – conflict in Somalia.

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