Africa, Headlines | Analysis

POLITICS-SOMALIA: "Humpty Dumpty Has Fallen Off the Wall"

Analysis by Nadja Drost

NEW YORK, Nov 6 2007 (IPS) - Every day that gun shots ring through a Mogadishu neighbourhood, every week that an explosion rips homes into plumes of dust, and every month that thousands of civilians flee the capital, Somalia plunges deeper into crisis.

Last week&#39s resignation of Ali Mohamed Gedi, the country&#39s prime minister, is the latest shake-up in a chronology of political turmoil in the Horn of Africa state, and was viewed by many as yet another indication that the Transitional Federal Government is not in control.

Gedi stepped down after weeks of tensions in the administration and an ongoing power struggle with the president, Abdullai Yusuf Ahmed. The stalemate that resulted is now broken, but that doesn&#39t mean the government has become functional – nor does it make Somalia&#39s prospects for stability any less distant.

"The international community should recognise that Humpty Dumpty has fallen off the wall and Humpty Dumpty is not going to get back on," said Peter Pham, director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University in the eastern U.S. state of Virginia, referring to the Somali government.

The administration is riven by internal divisions and wounded by a dogged insurgency made up of Islamists, clan-based militia and other opponents of the government.

Analysts agree that the transitional government is not working; but alternatives will largely depend on the strength of the insurgency, the role of other countries, and the willingness of warring factions to negotiate with one another.

Longstanding difficulties

The administration&#39s dismal prospects for survival aren&#39t surprising. Set up in 2004, the Transitional Federal Government is the fourteenth attempt at an interim Somali authority since the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in 1991. Since then, warlords, rival factions and militia have competed to fill the power vacuum.

When the Supreme Council of Islamic Courts rose to defeat Mogadishu warlords and take over the capital in June 2006, the United States and Ethiopia became concerned over possible links between the courts and Islamic extremists such as those within the Al-Qaeda terrorist network.

In December 2006, Somali and U.S.-backed Ethiopian forces ousted the courts from power, but did not manage to destroy them.

The Ethiopian intervention provoked some of the worst fighting Mogadishu had experienced in 16 years, according to observers. Targeted assassinations and insurgent attacks have become an almost daily occurrence, Human Rights Watch reported.

As Somalis are displaced – renewed fighting has caused 90,000 to flee Mogadishu over recent days, according to the U.N. Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs – and drought spreads across much of the country, aid agencies cannot respond properly to an escalating humanitarian crisis.

Meanwhile, the Western-backed government struggles to preserve its tenuous hold over Mogadishu.

Experts agree the current government is widely distrusted and unpopular among most Somalis. "The fact that the Transitional Federal Government was dependent on the Ethiopians destroyed the chance of them ever winning any support from most Somalis," said Richard Cornwell, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa. "It basically became the Vichy government of Somalia."

Dominated by the president&#39s Darod clan, the authority fails to represent the diversity of the Somali people. As a result, it has lost potential backers to the rebels, said Pham. The result is that the government, Ethiopian troops, and a small contingent of African Union Mission forces are confronted with an insurgency that is increasing in numbers and fervour.

The very presence of foreigners carrying guns has served to radicalise opposition groups. "Once the intervention (comes), as you&#39ll find all over the world, the more moderate people withdraw after a loss, and the hardcore people keep going," said Michael Weinstein, a professor of political science at Purdue University in the mid-eastern U.S. state of Indiana. "The U.S. created a nightmare by backing this intervention."

The outcome is a rebel movement that shows no sign of backing down. But what the insurgency gains in strength and determination, it lacks in cohesion and the potential to engage in a political process.

"The only thing that unites the insurgency is hatred of the TNG (transitional national government)," Pham remarked. "If they toppled the TNG, they&#39d fall onto themselves."

Failed talks

Recent talks failed to bring the opposition and the government any closer to negotiations.

And, a September meeting in Eritrea did not produce any consensus among members of the Somali opposition alliance, said Cardwell. Furthermore, at a highly anticipated national reconciliation conference held by the interim government at the urging of Western donors in Mogadishu in August, reconciliation was not even a remote possibility, according to Pham.

The August conference had difficulty even starting: moderate Islamists boycotted the event, stating that it was not in a neutral venue, and militias attacked the conference building with mortar fire on the opening day. "What happened at the conference was the current transitional national government invited 1,500 of their best friends to come and collect a per diem that the international community was paying," said Pham. "And they were almost all from the same sub-clans and to the exclusion of others."

Life in parliament these days is not quite so cozy, however. In September, the chief supreme court justice was arrested on charges of siphoning 800,000 dollars of United Nations Development Fund aid. Rifts between parliamentarians along clan-based lines have widened. Over 20 ministers called for a vote of no confidence in the prime minister in the weeks prior to his resignation.

The recent debates shaking parliament have further undermined confidence in the government’s competence. "Given the splits…I don&#39t see that it&#39s sustainable," said Cornwell. "I think we&#39ll see more haemorrhaging of support away from the transitional federation government."

A government that has spiraled into dysfunction makes for a challenging situation for a donor country like the United States which, according to analysts, has not held the Somali authorities to any measures of progress.

"They&#39re backed in a corner," Weinstein said of U.S. officials. "They&#39ve made it such that there&#39s nobody else they can deal with…they put all their chips on the transitional national government."

Central government essential?

Perhaps more problematic than the failure of this particular government is the very idea of a national Somali administration, several analysts say. The international community needs to come to terms with this, they add.

"Until the Somalis themselves pull this together, this attempt to recognise national governments just leads to a self-defeating winner-takes-all scramble," Pham said.

Several analysts believe Somalia&#39s government should be devolved into smaller clan-based units, reflecting the way society was organised before independence. That way, they say, stability can be secured at the local level first, and then the regional level.

Pham admitted that the idea of dispensing with central government would be difficult for international actors to accept, but said they had to be realistic about the limitations of the situation in Somalia: "It&#39s time to stop wishing something into being that obviously is not going to happen."

However, Sam Zarifi – Washington advocate at Human Rights Watch – believes the moment is ripe for forming a different type of administration. "I can imagine a situation where many of the same people who are in this transitional national government establish a peaceful coexistence and ruling arrangement with some members of the Islamic courts union, for instance," he said.

A third party like the United Nations should play a role in bringing actors together to negotiate a power-sharing arrangement, Zarifi added.

But any type of discussions will have to confront complex regional interests.

The claim to the Somali-inhabited Ogoden region of Ethiopia has been the source of past wars between Ethiopia and Somalia, for example, and continues to resurface.

According to the United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia, Eritrea has supplied arms to Somali insurgents to attack Ethiopians, an enemy common to both the insurgency and Eritrea. As such, Somalia serves as a proxy battleground for the border dispute between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

According to Pham, enforcement of the U.N. arms embargo on Somalia is a first step to stem the flow of arms from Eritrea.

"The two countries (Ethiopia and Eritrea) are spiraling closer to war again," he said, adding that what happened between Eritrea and Ethiopia would greatly influence Somalia&#39s prospects for peace. "If a conventional war is going to break out there, which could well happen, then all bets are off."

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