Published 08 Nov 07
by J. Peter Pham, Ph.D.
World Defense Review columnist
Somali "Leaders" Squabble as Militants Gain Momentum
Last week, the "prime minister" of the internationally-recognized but otherwise utterly ineffective interim government of Somalia resigned. In itself a not altogether negative development, the departure of Ali Mohamed Gedi should bring that much closer the end of the tragic farce that has been, by most counts, the fourteenth attempt at a national government for the war-torn territory since the collapse of the brutal dictatorship of Muhammad Siyad Barre in early 1991. For now, however, the regime's "president," Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, clings tenaciously to his illusory "power": immediately after forcing Gedi's ouster, he appointed a non-entity by the name of Salim Aliyo Ibro as "acting prime minister." And, and for reasons best known to the denizens of Foggy Bottom, the United States Department of State seems willing to indulge these fantasies, sending out department spokesman Sean McCormack to make an anodyne declaration:
We understand that the decision of Ali Mohamed Gedi to resign as Prime Minister of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) was made in the spirit of continued dialogue and national reconciliation among all Somali stakeholders.
We call on the Transitional Federal Government to use this opportunity to engage with key Somali stakeholders, particularly those in Mogadishu, in a consultative process leading to the appointment of a new Prime Minister. We urge all Somali stakeholders to renew their efforts towards political dialogue and to remain focused on resuming the process outlined by the Transitional Federal Charter. Successful dialogue and reconciliation is critical to ensuring free and fair elections in 2009 and establishing lasting peace and stability in Somalia.
The problem with Assistant Secretary McCormack's statement is that it bears no relation to reality.
First, the TFG has never been a government. It is, at best, an unrepresentative group of warlords with meager prospects until they rebranded themselves as a "government." As I noted in my testimony last month before the House Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health:
Since its creation at an internationally-funded kaffeeklatsch outside Somalia, the TFG has proven itself to be, at best, a notional entity whose day-to-day physical survival is – aside from generous U.S. and other international aid flows – due entirely to the continuing presence of the Ethiopian intervention force which rescued it last December from certain collapse in the face of an assault by the forces of the ICU, which at the time controlled Mogadishu as well as most of Somalia and were threatening to overrun the provincial outback of Baidoa, the only town which the interim "government" even had the pretense of running. And, if it were not bad enough that the TFG is dominated by fellow members of "President" Abdullahi Yusuf's Majeerteen sub-clan of the Darod clan from northeastern Puntland – a make-up that renders the would-be regime utterly unpalatable to the powerful Hawiye clan which predominates in Mogadishu – its ham-fisted style – documented in the August 13, 2007, report by Human Rights Watch covering the first four months of the year, as well as independent reporting by a number of journalists and non-governmental organization representatives, including some who have paid with their liberty or even their lives – has driven potential constituents en masse into the arms of its opponents, who are increasingly embracing a broad spectrum ranging from Islamists with foreign ties to alienated members of marginalized clans.
And, as the opposition to it coalesces, rather than examining the reasons for the dissatisfaction – including its failure reach out to leaders of other clans and moderate Islamists as well as its corruption and lack of transparency – the TFG has lashed out against independent voices that should be pillars of any attempt at nation-building, including the members of the press, representatives of non-governmental organizations, and other exponents of civil society. Instead, labeling these groups as "Hawiye terrorists," it has sidelined them where it has not shut them down and arrested or killed their leadership.
Second, Ali Mohamed Gedi, who, as I previously disclosed in this column, is a ne'er do well who owed his exalted position in life to the fact that his father was once employed by Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi as a glorified valet, most certainly did not leave the political scene out of any high-minded "spirit of continued dialogue and national reconciliation among all Somali stakeholders." The "prime minister" had been at odds with the "president" for months over the spoils to be had by exploiting the only advantage the TFG really had, its status as an internationally-recognized entity, and the resources which could be had by trading on that commodity. Much to the chagrin of Abdullahi Yusuf and his friends, Gedi tried to consolidate his power by dismissing cabinet ministers not loyal to him personally and seeking control over the aid funds from various international sources, including the United Nations, the United States, and the European Union, as well as various Arab countries. Although the TFG is far from transparent, he apparently had some success. The cabinet – which, it should be recalled, actually does not have any real governing to do given the situation on the ground – was whittled down from over ninety ministers to just over thirty. And Gedi seems to have acquired some control over finances: he has gone, in little over two years, from being in literal flight from debt collectors to being the owner of an immense villa in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.
Tensions between the "president" and the "prime minister" came out in the open, however, over an oil deal which, as I reported here in August, the former had signed without the latter. When Gedi tried to bring that deal as well as others in the offing with a number of Chinese state-owned oil companies as well as several smaller independent Western enterprises under the TFG's umbrella – so to have better access to the potential revenue flows – Abdullahi Yusuf began a series of machinations aimed at bringing about a no-confidence vote against the "prime minister" before the interim authority's rump parliament. Matters finally came to a head in late September when the TFG's own chief justice, Yusuf Ali Harun, was taken from his home in Baidoa (the provincial town where most of the "government" camps out given the insecurity in the putative capital of Mogadishu) by security officials and dragged along with another judge to a Mogadishu prison on orders of "Justice Minister and Attorney-General" Abdullahi Dahir Barre after the pair had the temerity to criticize the regime's misappropriation of United Nations Development Programme funds for legal reform. Gedi then tried to sack the justice minister and his deputy who, in turn, refused to accept their dismissals saying that they were answerable only to "President" Abdullahi Yusuf.
Third, there are no "efforts towards political dialogue" going on, much less any real prospects of elections, fair or otherwise, in 2009. If anything, as I last reported in late September, the situation continues to degenerate. At that time, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees had reported that some 400,000 people, almost quarter of Mogadishu's population, has fled the city in the preceding four months. In the last three days of October alone, another 100,000 fled for their lives as the various insurgent forces battling the TFG took advantage of the political infighting to score additional gains and to rally members of Gedi's sub-clan in Mogadishu to join their Hawiye clansmen against the regime and its Ethiopian backers.
Why should anyone care? In a column nearly eight months ago, I predicted that the anti-TFG resistance was "repeating almost step-by-step the tactical and strategic evolution of the Iraqi insurgency" – complete with suicide bombings, a tactic unknown in Somalia until last year. Spearheading the attacks is al-Shabaab ("the Youth"), an extremist group which emerged within the military forces of the erstwhile Islamic Courts Union (ICU) and which was originally led by Adan Hashi 'Ayro, an al-Qaeda-trained kinsman and protégé of ICU shura council head Hassan Dahir 'Aweys, whom I profiled last year. While there are reports of a split among the Islamists – rumors tell of a rift between 'Ayro and former ICU defense chief Sheikh Yusuf Mohamed Siyad, a.k.a. "Indha'adde," over who should command in Mogadishu – that has not stopped them from being remarkably effective in recent weeks.
In separate attacks on October 5, the Islamist militants killed a deputy attorney-general, Abdulkadir Sheikh Mohamed, a.k.a. "Ayatollah," and a military intelligence official, General Ahmed Jila'ow Addow. Ayatollah met his end when a grenade was tossed into his car as it drove through Bakara market in Mogadishu, while Addow was gunned down in an ambush. Subsequently, a posting on an al-Qaeda-linked Arabic website exulted in the hits:
Your brothers in the Mujahedin Youth Movement [al-Shabaab], thanks be to God, on Friday 23 Ramadan 1428 [October 5, 2007] assassinated Abdulkadir Sheikh Mohamed and his companions…This operation comes as the apostate government announces the launching of a security operation in all districts of the capital. The Ethiopian army [will] implement the plan under the direction of some generals in the losing regime…The holy warriors are on guard and relying on God to foil their plan and God is our Lord and they have no Lord.
On October 10, al-Shabaab took credit (via an internet posting) for another attack, this time a suicide bombing of a military installation in Baidoa:
Praised be God, the most merciful, the most compassionate. Our brother Ahmed Hussein Ahmed used a vehicle to carry out an attack against the largest military base in Baidoa…[which] blew up a building, killing and wounding hundreds of soldiers, destroying six trucks, and [causing] major damage to the Hotel Bakin, where the prime minister was [staying.]
On October 17, Abdi Miney, the TFG's district commissioner for Yaqshid, an important quarter of Mogadishu, was killed along with two bodyguards when al-Shabaab detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) under his vehicle. The explosion was so powerful that it propelled the wreckage of the battered vehicle some 400 meters off the paved road. Miney, who has only been on the job less than a month, was the third incumbent in a row to be killed by the militants.
On October 19, unknown assailants murdered Bashir Nur Gedi, the acting chairman of Shabelle Media Network, the largest independent journalistic outlet in Somalia, outside his home in Mogadishu. He was the eighth journalist killed since the beginning of the year.
On October 23, three Ugandan soldiers were injured in mortar attacks by insurgents. The three are part of the 1,600-strong contingent that is the only part of the promised African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeeping force to have actually deployed, the Nigerian, Ghanaian, Burundian, and other units being "no shows." (And, as I have repeatedly noted, even if the entire authorized force materialized, it remains beyond delusional to think that a modest contingent of 8,000 Africans can succeed where the infinitely more robust UNITAF and UNOSOM II forces, with their 37,000 and 28,000 personnel respectively, failed barely a decade ago). The following day, October 24, another Ugandan peacekeeper was wounded in a grenade attack.
On October 25, two TFG soldiers were killed and four others seriously wounded when their vehicle was attacked by militants in Baladweyn, in central Somalia.
On October 26, more than a dozen Somali civilians were seriously wounded when a bomb was detonated inside a neighborhood movie theatre which was packed with young men watching a "Bollywood" film. During their rule of Mogadishu last year the ICU had banned such entertainments.
Last weekend, as intense battles were being fought between the Ethiopian forces protecting it and insurgents in Mogadishu itself, the TFG and its hangers-on seemed impervious to the ruin around them, preoccupied as they are with, in the words of one prominent Somali businessman who contacted me, "squabbling over the spoils of war, much like robbers fighting over the loot they have stolen." Unfortunately, both for the welfare of the Somali people and for the security interest of the United States and its allies, it is precisely this type of infighting that not only encourages radicals like those in al-Shabaab and other components of the Eritrean-sponsored "Alliance for the Liberation of Somalia" (ALS) insurgency to press their advantage, but lulls ordinary folk into accepting the claims of the radical militants that only their brand of Islamism can provide security and stability in place of the TFG's illegitimate politics and venal corruption. Rather than continuing to humor the tired actors in this failed production, it is high time that the U.S. nudges the international community to bring the curtain down on this farce before it turns into tragedy.
— J. Peter Pham is Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He is also an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C., as well as Vice President of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA). In addition to the study of terrorism and political violence, his research interests lie at the intersection of international relations, international law, political theory, and ethics, with particular concentrations on the implications for United States foreign policy and African states as well as religion and global politics.
Dr. Pham is the author of over two hundred essays and reviews on a wide variety of subjects in scholarly and opinion journals on both sides of the Atlantic and the author, editor, or translator of over a dozen books. Among his recent publications are Liberia: Portrait of a Failed State (Reed Press, 2004), which has been critically acclaimed by Foreign Affairs, Worldview, Wilson Quarterly, American Foreign Policy Interests, and other scholarly publications, and Child Soldiers, Adult Interests: The Global Dimensions of the Sierra Leonean Tragedy (Nova Science Publishers, 2005).
In addition to serving on the boards of several international and national think tanks and journals, Dr. Pham has testified before the U.S. Congress and conducted briefings or consulted for both Congressional and Executive agencies. He is also a frequent contributor to National Review Online's military blog, The Tank.
© 2007 J. Peter Pham
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