Somalia: Ahlu Sunna Wal-Jama'a's Preliminary Agreement with the TFG [Intelligence Update #5] 24 Feb 24, 2010 - 12:12:29 PM
By: Dr. Michael A. Weinstein
On February 19, Afrique en Ligne reported that the Pan-African News Agency had obtained a copy of an agreement on power sharing and military unification between Somalia's internationally recognized Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.) and the Sufi Islamist movement Ahlu Sunna Wal-Jama'a (A.S.W.J.), aimed at integrating A.S.W.J. into the T.F.G. politically and combining their armed forces in order to oppose more effectively the revolutionary Islamist forces of Harakat al-Shabaab Mujahideen (H.S.M.) and Hizbul Islam (H.I.), the latter of which dominate in eighty per cent of southern and central Somalia.
The deal between the T.F.G. and A.S.W.J., which was reached in Addis Ababa and was called "preliminary," was pressured and brokered by external actors - Ethiopia (playing the front role through its foreign minister, Seyoum Mesfin), the African Union (A.U.) and the United Nations Political Office for Somalia (U.N.P.O.S.).
According to Abdirazak Usman Hassan, the T.F.G.’s post and telecommunications minister and a member of the T.F.G.’s negotiating team, who was interviewed by Voice of America: “The United States of America is leading.” The international coalition supporting the T.F.G. marshaled its diplomatic resources, because it judged that an agreement was an essential step in its grand strategy of defeating the Islamic revolutionaries through a multi-front offensive against them by the T.F.G. in Somalia's capital Mogadishu, A.S.W.J. in the country's central regions, and a collection of sub-clan militias led by ex-warlords in the southwest and deep south. A.S.W.J. was a sticking point in their design, because it had remained stubbornly independent of the T.F.G. organizationally, held strategic swathes of territory in the central regions, and had its own political agenda that included interpretations of the character of Somalia's statehood and political formula. The multi-front offensive could not be undertaken until A.S.W.J. was brought fully on board, which meant that the T.F.G. would have to make painful concessions to A.S.W.J.
The Addis Ababa Agreement
The negotiations, which had begun at the start of February, were stalled by the middle of the month over A.S.W.J. demands for the prime minister's post in the T.F.G., other top positions, T.F.G. recognition of an autonomous administration in the central regions run by A.S.W.J., and A.S.W.J. determination of the forms of Islamic worship and implementation of Shari'a law in Somalia. AllPuntland reported that the talks were three-sided with A.S.W.J. holding fast to its agenda and the T.F.G. split between an old-guard faction of officials from before the T.F.G. was amalgamated with a faction of the Islamic Courts movement in 2008-09, and the Islamic Courts faction led by T.F.G. president, Sh. Sharif Sh. Ahmad, and his strongman and finance minister, Sharif Hassan Sh. Adan, who represented the T.F.G. at the talks and signed the preliminary agreement.
Selected on the basis of a clan quota system and representing regional, local and individual interests, the old-guard T.F.G. faction is a loosely organized alliance of convenience. As the weakest of the negotiating partners, it stood the most to lose from a power-sharing deal, which would deprive some of its members of their positions. Less concerned with loss of positions, Sh. Sharif and his faction feared that inclusion of A.S.W.J. in the T.F.G. would diminish their power and threatened the T.F.G. as a presumptive centralized administration. Clerical elements in Sh. Sharif's faction were also resistant to A.S.W.J. demands for determination of Islamic practice.
On February 17, Garoweonline reported that in the face of A.S.W.J.'s obduracy and the T.F.G.'s factionalized resistance," concerned" external actors, led by the A.U., were pressing the T.F.G. to acquiesce in power sharing with A.S.W.J. The report went on to say that the leadership of the T.F.G. delegation was split, with Sharif Hassan agreeing to grant A.S.W.J. key positions in the government, and Usman Hassan, who is allied with T.F.G. prime minister, Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, opposing him. Sharif Hassan was said to be "unhappy" with Sharmarke and willing to replace him with a figure from A.S.W.J.
On February 18, the international coalition prevailed and the preliminary agreement was signed. As reported by Afrique en Ligne, the deal gave A.S.W.J. five ministerial and five deputy-ministerial posts (out of the present 39 positions), as well as positions as directors general of ministries, ambassadors, consular officers, and military and cultural attaches. The military commands of the two parties would be unified, with A.S.W.J. contributing three deputy army commanders. A.S.W.J. was also granted official recognition and support for an administration in the central regions, and, according to the Ethiopian foreign ministry, a National Council of Ulemas was to be appointed to " produce a framework for the protection and preservation of the traditional Somali Islamic faith." On February 19, Sharmarke welcomed the deal, saying that it showed that "anyone who wants peace will be rewarded with top positions."
That the Addis Ababa agreement is shaky and preliminary became obvious when AllPuntland reported on February 21 that some representatives to the negotiations on all sides refused to sign the agreement and would return to their bases to consult with their top officials. The Ethiopian foreign ministry announced that the negotiating parties would be holding "extensive discussions with their constituencies" on the deal before it was finalized.
Although on the surface it appears that the Addis Ababa agreement has satisfied the international coalition's and A.S.W.J.'s interests, and has gained the T.F.G. factions' acquiescence, the reality beneath is far more complex. Beyond the dissent in the delegations that has already been reported, the specific provisions of the agreement have not been announced publicly or have not yet been defined. Which ministerial posts will A.S.W.J. receive? Will A.S.W.J. be given the post of prime minister? Will A.S.W.J. be represented according to the clan-based quota system? Will the number of ministries and ministerial posts remain the same, be reduced as A.S.W.J. has been reported to demand, or be increased as former senior advisor to Sh. Sharif, Prof. Ahmed Warfa, predicted on February 20, when he resigned over that issue? What precisely will be the status of A.S.W.J.'s autonomous administration in the central regions? Which schools of Islamic interpretation will be included on the panel of Islamic scholars? The devil is already or soon will be in the details; "extensive discussions" will be called for and the results are uncertain, as the contending factions struggle to advance and protect their perceived interests.
The ability of A.S.W.J. to carry through the agreement is also in question. In an important article posted on the Mareeg website on February 19, Abdikarim Haji Abdi Buh questioned A.S.W.J.'s degree of control over the central regions, noting that the clan militias under A.S.W.J.'s umbrella were not unified; each was defending itself, as would be expected under the conditions of devolution and fragmentation that have become chronic in Somalia. In addition, Abdi Buh pointed out that A.S.W.J.'s new administration for the central regions confronted rival claimants for some of the territories that it proposed to govern - H.S.M.'s administration, the autonomous Galmudug authority dominated by the Sa'ad sub-clan, and the weaker Himan and Heeb authority dominated by the Suleiman sub-clan. Abdu Buh cites an interview with A.S.W.J. official Mahamed Nur Antoobe in which the latter admitted that clan elders in the central regions "are divided along Ahlu Sunna and al-Shabaab lines." Of more serious consequence, Abdi Buh cited a February 14 press conference held by the chair of A.S.W.J.'s administration of the central regions, Mahamed Yusuf Hefow, who reportedly denied that the administration was even involved in the Addis Ababa talks and claimed that all the members of the administration's three governing committees were with him in the town of Guri-el in the Galgadud region. If Yusuf is correct, then the split within A.S.W.J. that Ethiopia had publicly denounced and attempted to heal in early February persists, with cleavages between the clerical faction of A.S.W.J. outside the agreement and the clan military leaders and politicians under their umbrella that are parties to it, and between the A.S.W.J. faction in Mogadishu, which is opposed to the agreement, and a faction of the movement in Galgadud that backs it.
On February 23, confirmation of the split was provided by Ali Musa Abdi, writing for Agence France Presse, who interviewed A.S.W.J. leaders who are opposed to the agreement. According to Sh. Omar Sh. Mohamed Farah, who spoke from Mogadishu, the Addis Ababa talks had created a rift in A.S.W.J., and the deal favored some individuals over others in the movement, “undermining” a forthcoming A.S.W.J. general assembly. Abdulkadir Mohamed Somow accused the T.F.G. was attempting to create discord in A.S.W.J. by helping one of its factions “hijack the process.” Somow warned the T.F.G. not to make “unilateral deals” with members of A.S.W.J. “who are not elected leaders, disregarding the vast majority.” Sh. Mohamed Deeq said that any power-sharing agreements should be put off until the fight against H.S.M. and H.I. is won.
Further insight into the split is provided by a closed source in the Horn of Africa who says that “hard-core Sunna clerics do not trust Sh. Sharif considering him part of the larger Wahabi front.” They argue, according to the source, that integration with the T.F.G. would threaten A.S.W.J.’s independent political and military power, and that it is not worth losing autonomy in return for control over “nonexistent” T.F.G. ministries. This intelligence is bolstered by a February 22 report by Voice of America that quotes an A.S.W.J. source saying that the movement is “pushing for the removal of some senior T.F.G. officials who favor the more extreme Wahabi form of Islam practiced by al-Shabab.”
A closed source in Somalia supplements the foregoing analysis, reporting that A.S.W.J. "sympathizers" are adamant that the movement does not have the same relations with Ethiopia, even though the latter supports it, as do clan leaders and ex-warlords opposed to H.S.M. - the clan-based factions have particularized sectoral interests, whereas A.S.W.J. has broader policy and power interests. The source says that the A.S.W.J. sympathizers judge the Addis Ababa agreement to be "aspirational" and concludes that Ethiopia has good reasons not to trust A.S.W.J.
For the international coalition, which instigated and orchestrated the talks, their results are no less problematic. Although media reports indicate that A.S.W.J. and the T.F.G. have been told to finalize the deal by March 3, Ethiopia's acknowledgment that "extensive discussions" will take place is a sign that A.S.W.J.'s integration into the T.F.G. is not a foregone conclusion and at the least will not come as quickly as the coalition had desired, delaying the multi-front offensive. As it is, the momentum towards the offensive appears to be slackening on its other fronts. The clan-warlord-politician forces on Somalia's southern borders still have not made a move, and the Wall Street Journal's Sarah Childress reported that the international coalition's strategy in Mogadishu was not to have the T.F.G., with the support of African Union peacekeeping forces (AMISOM), encircle H.S.M and H.I. there, but to carve out a "secure" area in the capital that would give the T.F.G. "breathing space" to function as a government, win "public support," encourage H.S.M. commanders to defect, and sow discord between H.S.M. factions. During the third week of February, there was a marked decline in the T.F.G.'s announcements of an imminent offensive, which had been a nearly daily occurrence since the beginning of 2010.
The broad strategic conflict in southern and central Somalia, which has been followed by this writer in a series of intelligence briefs and updates for Garoweonline, pits H.S.M.'s strategy of encircling the T.F.G. so that the latter is choked off in the enclave of Mogadishu that it holds with the essential protection of AMISOM, against Ethiopia's counter-encirclement strategy of isolating H.S.M. in pockets so that the revolutionaries can be squeezed out of Somalia. Through February, H.S.M. and its loose ally in the central regions, H.I., have been watching, waiting and mobilizing as their opponents beat the drums for their prospective offensive. Now that the offensive has been delayed by the aftermath of the tenuous Addis Ababa agreement, and by the reported downscaling of the international coalition's strategy for Mogadishu, both of which have stalled activity on the projected southern front,it appears that the counter-encirclement strategy is ceding center stage and that the next move is most likely to be made by H.S.M. renewing implementation of its encirclement strategy in the central regions. On February 22, H.S.M. forces were reported to have attacked T.F.G troops that had set up bases recently for the planned offensive in the forests surrounding Galhareeri, which is close to H.S.M.’s stronghold in El-bur in the Galgadud region.
The Addis Ababa agreement follows a familiar pattern in Somalia's politics since 1991, when the post-independence republic began to fragment into regional and local authorities after the overthrow of Siad Barre's regime by a collection of clan-based liberation movements. In its dismembered condition, Somalia became prey to the interference of external powers and dependent on their financial support, particularly in its southern and central regions. One of the means of influence applied by the external powers has been to pressure reluctant and internally divided domestic actors to come to the conference table and then to pressure them to reach agreements satisfactory to the "brokers."
The problem with such engineered agreements is that they do not represent genuine calculations of interest by the parties to them and, therefore, do not create solidarity among those parties; instead, either the agreement is never implemented or, when it is, the resulting political apparatus is fundamentally factionalized and the conflict that the agreement was meant to resolve moves inside. This scenario has played out over the past fourteen months since the Djibouti accords were signed, under which the T.F.G. was doubled in size to accommodate Sh. Sharif's faction of the Islamic Courts movement. As the recent talks with A.S.W.J. demonstrate, the Djibouti experiment has not resulted in the T.F.G. becoming a "unity government." Were it to be implemented, the Addis Ababa agreement would most likely share the same fate. There is no reason to expect that Somalia's domestic political actors will march to the beat of the international coalition's drums; like all political actors, they will proceed according to their own perceived interests and try to work around the constraints imposed by stronger powers. Will adding another determined faction to the T.F.G. that is not reconciled to its present elements make the T.F.G. more effective? The Addis Ababa agreement is shaping up to be another in the long line of the international coalition's failures.
Report Drafted By: Dr. Michael A. Weinstein, Professor of Political Science, Purdue University Chicago firstname.lastname@example.org