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Last Updated: Feb 11, 2014 - 5:11:05 AM
Somalia: Mogadishu's Looming Showdown [Opinion]

by James Gundun

It might be the Transitional Federal Government’s (TFG) most successful assault to date. Following al-Shabab’s Ramadan offensive on the presidential villa in Mogadishu, government officials and African Union (AU) commanders in Somalia have capitalized on the group's infighting to sow the message of their defeat. Modest security gains were enhanced through the international media, building the case for AU reinforcements.

Now, in a sleek combination of polling and politicking, TFG officials are making their final argument.

"Many articles that you read say that the government only controls a few blocks and it could not survive without the help of AMISOM," Abdulkareem Hassan Jama, Somalia’s new Information and Telecommunication Minister, told reporters at UN headquarters. “There are vast areas of Mogadishu, over 55 percent, which is controlled, along with the AMISOM forces, by the Somali army, the transitional government forces."

The veracity of his statement is immediately lost in its glossy finish. Maybe this new guard of Somali ex-pats did learn a few New York marketing pointers, illuminating their executive table through the simple brilliance of “TFG controls half of Mogadishu." Western and African medias are running with the tailor-made headline, snowballing perceptions in favor of Somalia’s new government. It’s not enough just to take territory in a fourth-generation war. One must amplify that success through the information field.

The TFG and AU are finally doing both.

"As we speak now, areas under the control of AMISOM and the Somalia Government constitute closely to fifty percent of Mogadishu," added Wafula Wamunyinyi, Deputy Special Representative of the Chairperson of the AU for Somalia.

Speaking to equally critical audiences - the Somali people and Western donors - TFG and AU officials have benefited from the rare fortune of being good and lucky. Their strategy is melding together piece by piece, but the TFG and AU’s own progress wouldn’t be possible without a decline in al-Shabab’s health. The group overplayed its hand in Mogadishu as it continued advancing into Somalia's central and northern regions, and beat itself up trying to topple the TFG for good.

Although the TFG has planned and stalled on numerous offensives to retake the capital and al-Shabab's southern territory, its high may finally match al-Shabab’s low. An impatient Yoweri Museveni recently visited Mogadishu for the first time in 18 years, where Uganda’s President condemned the international community for moving too slow. While Museveni has yet to receive permission and international funds to deploy another 12,000 troops - to meet his 20,000 target - the UN is expected to raise the AU's force level from 8,000 to 12,000 in the next few weeks.

“The extra African troops will be used to further extend government control in the country,” explained Jama.

Somalia’s new Information Minister certainly embodies the can-do spirit of Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, Somalia’s latest Prime Minister. The collection of ex-pats hear the whispers that Washington prefers to replace the TFG after its mandate expires next August, and resemble sports athletes in their contract years. Mohamed is fond of corny political slogans and apparently his circle shares that affinity. Jama declared, "overall Somalia is not, as some would put it, mission impossible, it is mission possible."

But is it?

The information battle for Mogadishu has raged no less intensely than the military struggle for its 16 districts. TFG and AU officials are as notorious for their optimistic assessments as al-Shabab, and only now does reality appear to be catching up to their view. The TFG insists that half of Mogadishu is now under control, with four districts in al-Shabab’s hands and four contested by both sides.

While any growth is good, the TFG and AU still have a long, hard fight before planting their flag over the entire capital. Those eight districts held by the TFG are bunched along Mogadishu’s coast: Dharkeynley, Wadaji, Waberi (location of the airport), Hama Jabjab, Hamar Weyne (location of Villa Somalia), and the newly-reinforced Bondhere and Shibis neighborhoods. This situation isn’t so different from previous months except for Bondhere and Shibis.

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