Report Drafted By:
Dr. Michael A. Weinstein
The period from June 20 to July 10 marked the first phase of the civil war in
southern and central Somalia that has now taken hold and is likely to be prolonged.
The plunge from the brink into civil war was the outcome of the success of the armed opposition to Somalia’s notional Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.) in confining the latter to a small section of the country’s capital, Mogadishu, protected by the armor of the African Union peacekeeping mission (AMISOM), which has the mandate to secure government facilities and transportation infra-structure, during an offensive in early May. As the armed opposition continued its pressure, the T.F.G.’s position became increasingly untenable.
On June 20, the T.F.G. threw in the towel, jumped over the brink, and acknowledged the state of civil war. In quick succession, parliamentary speaker, Sh. Adan Madobe, requested that Somalia’s neighbors – Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Yemen – deploy forces in Somalia to save the T.F.G. within twenty-four hours; the T.F.G.’s cabinet declared a state of emergency, endorsed the parliamentary appeal, and called on the United Nations, the African Union, the Arab League, the European Union, the United States, and the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (I.G.A.D.) – the sub-regional organization of Horn of Africa states – to rescue the T.F.G.; and the T.F.G.’s president, Sh. Sharif Sh. Ahmad, signed the emergency decree and affirmed his support of the parliamentary appeal.
The ball was now in the court of the external actors who were challenged to respond to the T.F.G.’s call. How they responded formed the drama of the next twenty days, culminating in a non-binding presidential statement by the U.N. Security Council on July 10 that deferred a rescue of the T.F.G., but did not cut off its possibility, thereby prolonging the agony.
In a simple formal sense, external actors could have answered the T.F.G.’s appeal by meeting it wholeheartedly, turning a deaf ear on it, or compromising, which is what they did.
From the outset, the TFG.’s appeal failed. Ethiopia, which had ended its unsuccessful occupation of Somalia in early 2007,laid down its position immediately, with government spokesman, Bereket Simon stating: “Any further action from Ethiopia regarding Somalia will be done according to the international community’s decision.” Yemen quickly followed suit. Djibouti remained silent, although later U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, said that Djibouti might supply “manpower.” Kenya waffled, with its foreign minister, Moses Wetangula, first saying that it would be a disaster if Mogadishu fell to the armed opposition and that Nairobi was prepared to intervene militarily if its security was threatened. Then Prime Minister Raila Odinga and President Mwai Kibaki backtracked and downplayed the possibility of immediate action.
From then on, the response shifted to I.G.A.D., the A.U., and the U.N., with support for the T.F.G. strongest among I.G.A.D. members; more qualified yet still supportive in the A.U.; and greatly diminished in the U.N.S.C., through which the Western coalition of donor powers to Somalia, which recognizes and expresses backing for the T.F.G., operates: the greater the distance, the less support.
Any effective response to the T.F.G.’s appeal depended on the willingness of the donor powers rapidly to support deployment by frontline states legally, financially and logistically. The frontline states could not take action without such sanction; they are also dependent on aid and diplomatic support from the Western coalition and they are blocked by U.N.S.C. resolutions from military intervention.
In the run-up to the U.N.S.C.meeting at which the presidential statement was unanimously approved, I.G.A.D. held a series of meetings to mobilize international support for robust intervention to save the T.F.G. The position that resulted included a call for the “international community” to permit frontline states to join AMISOM, to change AMISOM’S mandate from “peacekeeping” to “peace enforcement” (permitting AMISOM to fight on the side on the side of the T.F.G.), to enforce and approve of an air and sea blockade of airports and ports held by the opposition that had been proclaimed by the A.U., and to impose sanctions on Eritrea, which is widely reported to supply military assistance to the armed opposition.
I.G.A.D. justified its appeal by adopting the T.F.G.’s line that the armed opposition had made advances because it was bolstered by foreign fighters linked to al-Qaeda, weapons coming through ports and airports controlled by the opposition, and Eritrean support in the form of munitions deliveries and military advisers on the ground. There is journalistic consensus that those claims are plausible, but wide dispute over whether or not the foreign fighters turned the tide for the opposition, how many of them there are, and how important they are in directing the opposition’s strategy and tactics.
What is clear is that Somalia’s neighbors appear genuinely to view the gains of
the opposition as threats to their security; they are fearful of the Islamist opposition taking over southern and central Somalia, particularly if it results in an “emirate” established by the transnationalist Salafist al-Shabaab movement. The armed opposition, whether transnationalist or nationalist, has ultimate irredentist aims to incorporate ethnic Somali populations in Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti into a greater Somali state. It is the threat of irredentism, although it is presently remote; concern for the possibility of ethnic Somali unrest within their borders aided and abetted by Islamists; and vulnerability to terrorist acts that are responsible for I.G.A.D.’s position and appeal. Only Somalia’s neighbors, among the external actors, have such perceived vital interests.
For the T.F.G., its abject appeal was existential – without robust external military support, it will fall. The I.G.A.D. states are anxious to prevent an Islamist takeover. More distant, the A.U. took a more qualified approach. At its summit in early July, the organization did not approve a proposal to endorse military intervention by frontline states and to expand AMISOM’s mandate to peace enforcement; instead, it condemned the armed opposition, expressed support for the T.F.G., called on African states to contribute to AMISOM (which with 4300 troops from Burundi and Uganda on the ground falls short of its envisioned eight thousand complement), and called for the U.N.S.C. to impose sanctions on Eritrea. As the intermediary between I.G.A.D. and the U.N.S.C., the A.U.’s position was a signal that it had judged that the “international community” was not ready to endorse robust action.
On July 7, Ethiopia’s prime minister, Meles Zenawi, met with Sh. Sharif to discuss how to mobilize the international community to take decisive action. According to a “senior government official” quoted by the Ethiopian News Agency, Zenawi suggested that the threat of “foreign terrorists” provided an opportunity “to pull the necessary assistance from the international community,” which, according to Ethiopia’s foreign minister, Seyoum Mesfin, was “dragging its feet.”
In the debate at the U.N.S.C. preceding the July 10 presidential statement, the A.U.’s position was represented by the Council’s current rotating president, Uganda’s ambassador, Ruhakana Rugunda, and the A.U.’s permanent observer, Lila Hantra Ratsifandrihamanana. Rugunga called on the U.N.S.C. to “expedite the necessary support to allow AMISOM effectively to implement its [present] mandate,” and to make the “necessary preparations” to replace AMISOM with a U.N. force; and on African states to bring AMISOM up to its full complement. Ratsifandrihamanana echoed Rugunda’s appeal for a U.N. mission and forwarded the requests for enforcement of a no-fly zone and naval blockade, and sanctions against “all foreign actors providing support to armed groups.” I.G.A.D.’s two major requests – military intervention by frontline states and a peace enforcement mission - were off the table, reflecting the A.U.’s judgment that they were non-starters.
When it came time for the U.N.S.C. to issue its non-binding presidential statement, the response to the T.F.G.’s initial appeal had trickled up to almost nothing. Drafted by Great Britain, mediating between the U.S., which had announced that it had supplied U.S.$10 million worth of small arms to the T.F.G., and the European powers, which were debating a French proposal to train a T.F.G. security force, the statement reaffirmed the T.F.G. as the “legitimate authority in Somalia,” “noted” the T.F.G.’s declaration of a state of emergency, condemned the armed opposition’s attacks on the T.F.G. and demanded their cessation, “urged” the international community to support “Somali security institutions,” commended AMISOM and welcomed the A.U.’s decision to bring the force up to its mandated levels, and “took note” of the A.U.’s call for sanctions against supporters of the armed opposition, singling out Eritrea and
promising that it would “consider expeditiously what action to take against any
party undermining the Djibouti Peace Process,” the U.N.-engineered and reformulated T.F.G.
Meanwhile, the stand-off on the ground In Mogadishu continued as it had been since June 20, with the armed opposition, held back only by AMISOM, having tightened even further its encirclement of the T.F.G. despite continued attempts by T.F.G.-allied forces to break out and recapture territory. On July 7, Somalia media reported on an A.U.-AMISOM analysis that warned of the possibility that the armed opposition would capture Mogadishu, attributing the weakness of the T.F.G. forces to “poor battleground tactics” resulting from those forces being composed of clan militias that could not defend themselves from fighters with “professional training.”
Why did the “international community” fail to respond robustly, if at all, to the successively watered-down appeals of the T.F.G., I.G.A.D., and the A.U.? A possible explanation is that, having invested their support in the T.F.G., they now find themselves with a thoroughly wasted asset and have painted themselves into a corner and do not know how to extricate themselves. As a result, they defer action and, in consequence, prolong the civil war. They do not want the Islamist opposition to take over, fearing the establishment of al-Qaeda bases, yet they have lost confidence in the T.F.G. and are unwilling fully to commit to its survival. They feel hamstrung and are void of any policy or strategy. It is not the job of an analyst to tell them what they might do; only to state plainly that they are prolonging the agony and deferring a reckoning, which will come at some time, given the untenable position of AMISOM as it is presently constituted.
A New Phase in the Conflict?
A second phase of the civil war might now be opening. On July 12, AMISOM forces
broke their mandated “neutrality” for the first time and fought alongside the T.F.G., bringing their armor into the streets after the armed opposition advanced close to the presidential palace and fired on AMISOM positions protecting it. AMISOM spokesman Brig. Bahoku Barigye said that “we are engaging with the insurgents because they have crossed a red line.” He promised that AMISOM would pursue the “rebels” and was awaiting orders from its commanders. In response a faction of the Tradition and Unity Council, representing the interests of some Hawiye sub-clans in Mogadishu, accused AMISOM of targeting the civilian population and declared jihad against the “peacekeepers.”
On July 13, Barigye insisted that the involvement of AMISOM in the fighting, in which three of its soldiers were killed, was the result of having “to take some limited action” when threatened, and that it did “not mean we are fully involved in the combat.” He added that the action was within the current AMISOM mandate of protecting government installations and supply routes. Yet at a press conference reported by Shabelle Media Network, Barigye said that AMISOM’s mandate was not limited to guarding installations, and that the force was now allowed to go to all parts of Somalia, including Baidoa in the southwest, where an Islamist administration is in control. Ugandan military spokesman, Maj. Felix Kulaligye, called for an expanded mandate for AMISOM. The response from Al-Shabaab was immediate, with its spokesman Sh. Ali Dhere stating: “As from today, the first phase of the war against the government and AMISOM is over. You will see the second phase with deadlier consequences.” Clarifying his point, Dhere said that the new tactics would be the same as those employed against the Ethiopian occupation: “The war methodology had given us positive results and we are going to repeat it.”
The June 12 fighting, which had initially allowed the T.F.G. to capture districts held by the armed opposition, failed to establish T.F.G. control; the AMISOM forces returned to their bases, the T.F.G. militias retreated, and the armed opposition returned.
Meanwhile, efforts to pick up the diplomatic pieces by external actors began on July 14 in Nairobi, where the A.U., AMISOM, the E.U., the U.S. and the T.F.G. met to discuss the formation of a T.F.G. security force, training T.F.G. police, and forming “grassroots institutions” of governance in Somalia – the familiar security agenda of the Western coalition. Shabelle Media Network reported that a “heated debate” ensued, but did not provide details.
It remains the case that the T.F.G. has, as it made abundantly clear when it raised its cry for help, no chance of survival unless it is rescued by an external force that overmatches the armed opposition.
Report Drafted By:
Dr. Michael A. Weinstein,
Professor of Political Science, Purdue University
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