GAROWE ONLINE ANALYSIS | Those well-versed with Somali politics say President Sharif's failure is a reflection of the collapse of the Djibouti Agreement – a position reinforced by the U.S. policy shift that down-graded the Djibouti Agreement's prime value.
Somalia is poised to hold presidential elections next year as the mandate of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) expires in August, 2011. The last two TFG presidential elections, in 2004 and in 2009, were held in Nairobi and Djibouti, respectively. An incoming Prime Minister, Somali-American Prof. Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed ("Farmajo"), has taken on that monumental burden of steering Somalia's consistently unstable political machine, funded and militarily backed by Western powers, into the next ten critical months. Al Shabaab's violent drive for power at the expense of TFG and regional administrations has made it plenty of powerful enemies inside Somalia, in the Horn of Africa sub-region, and around the world. Can the TFG be expected to deliver results in 2011?
Prof. Farmajo is Somalia's new Prime Minister, hoping that the bloated 550-seat TFG Parliament awards him a confidence vote. The day after his appointment, battles erupted in parts of central and southern Somalia, particularly Galgadud and Gedo regions. The united anti-Shabaab offensive is led by a loose alliance consisting of TFG forces, former warlords, and Ahlu Sunna militia, in a military campaign that is specifically designed to cripple Shabaab's military might by opening multiple-fronts in Galgadud, Hiraan, Bakool, Gedo, and Lower Jubba regions, and of course Mogadishu – all regions located in southern and central Somalia. The idea is that Shabaab insurgents cannot handle a multi-front, multi-province war on a massive scale supported by regional powers, like Ethiopia. It is a sophisticated continuation of, and will intensify at the cost of human lives, the scramble for control and influence in the vast regions of central and southern Somalia that erupted in 1991 and has underwent a series of phases since, shifting between clan, religious, and foreign interference with brutal fluidity.
The anti-Shabaab offensive has united and aligned the forces of different political and military factions in south-central Somalia for a yet undefined period of time. The guidelines for this political marriage of convenience are not completely clear. The objective is to retake lost regions from Shabaab insurgents, but the goal that takes Somalia one step closer to national healing and reconstruction has not been clearly spelled out by the TFG.
United militias or mercenary alliance
The united militias are all fighting under the name of the TFG, and some of the groups are led by TFG parliamentarians or former provincial governors, in Hiraan and Bay regions for example. For months, these TFG-allied militia commanders then based along Somalia-Ethiopia border towns had threatened to retake "lost regions" from Shabaab control. The TFG did not specifically address any military plans for the regions outside of Mogadishu, yet the militia commanders who are themselves TFG officials addressed the media about such military plans months ago. How much ground command and control the TFG leaders in Mogadishu actually exercises over these allied militias in faraway regions like Galgadud is open to speculation.
But on the political front, where TFG performance can be fairly analyzed, the political message that would ideally run parallel to changing military dynamics and balance of forces in south-central Somalia is weak if not altogether absent. At the minimum, the TFG should have drafted a plan to command the anti-Shabaab offensive, which it currently does not command, and to incorporate allied militias such as Ahlu Sunna into a federal army – identifiable and accountable. But critics say that the united militia leading the anti-Shabaab offensive is effectively a temporary military alliance among mercenaries with no clear-cut command structure or long-term political objectives other than to fight Shabaab insurgents.
The failure of the TFG leadership to implement the grand strategy of bringing the allied militias under its command prior to the beginning of the offensive has deepened fractures among the allied militias. For instance, when Ahlu Sunna militias attacked and seized control of 'Adado town in Galgadud region last week, TFG President Sharif quickly condemned the attack. 'Adado is the capital of the self-declared regional administration of "Himan and Heeb" -- a clan militia controlling a small district in semi-arid territory, surrounded by insurgents and even pirate gangs. Ahlu Sunna commanders accused Himan and Heeb authority of allowing Shabaab insurgents to organize and prepare attacks inside areas such as 'Adado. President Sharif's disapproval of the Ahlu Sunna military move is suggestive of more misunderstandings to come in the coming weeks and months, further weakening the TFG's ability to organize and control the allied militias into a beneficial force for peace in south-central Somalia.
Most problematic in the current approach involving the allied militias is the militias themselves. While unity can be witnessed now in the face of a common enemy in Shabaab, the weakening or destruction of that enemy might expose each militia's competing and often divergent interests at the provincial and local-levels. Not all the groups and factions are pursuing the same political program locally or nationally. Again, the lack of direction and guidance flowing from the TFG to the allied militias is to blame for the current state of disorganization, widening divergence of local interests among militias, and total bankruptcy of creative political thought and leadership from the TFG. The mundane daily operations for the TFG consume most time and the leadership's inconsistent policies of forming and neglecting alliances has led to a series of blunders and policy failures.
These same groups were at war against each other prior to the 2006 rise of the ICU – a single uprising that revolutionized the clan wars in southern and central Somalia into masks of pseudo-Islamist rebellion. The self-styled 'moderate Islamist' factions, like the Ahlu Sunna militia, have allied with former clan warlords and war profiteers posing as businessmen. The uniting factor is to drive Shabaab out of south-central Somalia. However, the lack of a unified and cohesive long-term plan that incorporates a security and political strategy is a dangerous factor given the amount of bloodletting and mass displacement the wars are expected to cause. The current TFG-Ahlu Sunna misunderstanding is a case example of future disputes the TFG will face if and when the anti-Shabaab alliance succeeds in uprooting the insurgents from the contested regions in south-central Somalia.
There is the legitimate concern that in a post-Shabaab political environment, clan-based political interests and competition might reemerge its ugly head after recent years of anti-clan rule under the reign of Shabaab insurgent militia in major towns like Kismayo, Baidoa, Merka and Jowhar. Moreover, the balance of forces on the ground does not give the anti-Shabaab alliance any significant leverage to maintain long-term ground control and influence without sufficient support from TFG and external actors. What can be expected is a protracted conflict, characterized by guerrilla warfare, frequent change of control over towns and districts, increased terrorism and assassination activities in contested regions of south-central Somalia, and a burgeoning humanitarian crisis.
The path to elections 2011
The Draft Federal Constitution is a national issue in Somalia. This document, prepared by a committee including Somali legal experts with U.N. input, is aimed at helping Somalia transition from the TFG to a future permanent Federal Government of Somalia. The August 2011 presidential election is looming and will be critical for the future of the TFG in Somalia, as a successful election process will pave the way for continuity and towards political stability.
Former Prime Minister Omar A..A. Sharmake's resignation in Sept. 2010 was a direct result of a dispute with President Sharif over the new Draft Federal Constitution, with Sharif publicly criticizing the new constitution without preparing a formal response with technical points for journalists and researchers to review. The new Prime Minister-nominee, if approved by the TFG Parliament, will either be successful or a failure depending on his handling not of the insurgency, which is expected to continue if not worsen, but on how he manages the passing of the Draft Federal Constitution.
There are anti-federalist forces within the TFG ranks. In the cyber world, where Somali political and intellectual thought flows like a river without a source, some self-styled 'experts' have opposed the new U.S. policy that supports a two-track strategy: reinforce the TFG in Mogadishu, while directing engaging with stable states like Puntland and Somaliland. Some of these anti-federalist experts have suggested that the new U.S. policy is "dividing Somalia into clan fiefdoms" – when, in analyzing Somalia's contemporary history, one appreciates the undeniable fact that the Somali people became fully divided in 1991 when entire clans were violently uprooted from Mogadishu without justification.
Puntland, considered the first federal state in Somalia with its own government, has defended and supported the TFG since the latter's formation in 2004. Somaliland, while loudly seeking 'independence', is slowly coming to the fortunate realization that the U.S. government only recognizes Somaliland as a province within a future federal Somalia, as expressed in a recent U.S. policy statement.
President Sharif's administration is a catastrophic failure by any measurement. Shabaab insurgents gained more control of land for a longer period of time under Sharif's incompetent leadership than at any other time since the Shabaab phenomenon erupted in 2006, with Sharif leading the extremist group in that year. Those well-versed with Somali politics say President Sharif's failure is a reflection of the collapse of the Djibouti Agreement – a position reinforced by the U.S. policy shift that down-graded the Djibouti Agreement's prime value in Somali politics to 50% by U.S. recognition of political realities like Puntland and Somaliland administrations in northern Somalia.
Somalia's successive interim governments since 1991 have all been formed and declared in foreign countries such as, Egypt, Djibouti and Kenya. It is hoped that the 2011 TFG election can be held inside the country to give legitimacy, voice and presence to the incoming Federal Government of Somalia backed by a federal constitution and public support. To accomplish these goals, much will depend on the international community's ability to steer Somalia and the TFG in the right direction by seeking the input of key stakeholders and advisers, and by coalescing community support in a push to deliver the message of peace and governance to the people in Somalia and within the Somali Diaspora. The coming months will critical for players, partners and donors in Somalia to provide active, consistent and productive guidance and support to the Somali peace process to ensure a successful TFG transition following the 2011 presidential elections.
Garowe Online Analysis