Somalia: The “International Community” and the T.F.G. do a Mirror Dance 5 Mar 5, 2011 - 11:04:10 AM
By: Dr. Michael A. Weinstein
On February 3, Somalia’s Transitional federal Parliament (T.F.P) voted 421-11-3 to extend its term in office for three extra years after the expiration of its mandate in August, 2011. The T.F.P.’s action was taken against the explicit wishes of Western “donor”-powers and with the encouragement of the regional Horn of Africa organization the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (I.G.A.D.). Since then, the major actors with a stake in Somalia’s political future have been attempting either to change the balance of power among them created by the T.F.P.’s decision – if they were disadvantaged by it – or to make the fait accompli stick – if the decision gave them an advantage.
The losers were the international coalition of “donor”-powers (the United States and the European Union), which had wanted Somalia’s current transitional period to end in August and a new, more effective, transitional process (controlled by them) established. The winners were I.G.A.D., dominated on the “transition” issue by Ethiopia, and the T.F.P. Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.), led by President Sh. Sharif Sh. Ahmad and his ally Prime minister Mohamed Farmajo, was left in the middle; I.G.A.D. had not given its blessing to the government’s extension, only to the parliament’s; yet parliament might decide to retain the present government. The United Nations, which is the conduit for and manager of military, diplomatic, and financial contributions from the “donor”-powers, was deprived of initiative, because the “donor”-powers, without which the U.N. cannot act, had not made up their minds on how to pursue their interests in light of the T.F.P.’s decision.
Dissension Within the International Coalition
An internal policy briefing from the E.U., which was provided by a trusted source, offers insight into the differences between Washington and Brussels within the context of their common rift with I.G.A.D.
Guided by the aim of restoring “donor”-power influence over the “transition,” the heart of the policy briefing is its analytical section on the causes and consequences of the T.F.P.’s term-extension decision. Beginning by noting the “continued political rivalry” between Sh. Sharif and the speaker of the T.F.P., Sharif Hassan Sh. Adan, the briefing describes the term-extension decision as a “victory” for the speaker over the president, who had wanted an extension for the executive as well as for the parliament. The briefing argues that “divisions among the international community” –namely I.G.A.D.’s position in favor of the T.F.P.’s extension, which was “initiated by Ethiopia” and “gave a green light to the MPs to extend their mandate” – “breached the fragile international consensus that the international community had managed to maintain.” Ethiopia, according to the briefing, was motivated by the desire to remove Sh. Sharif from office and “to achieve a limited reform of the TFP which could maximize its influence.” The briefing directed its most severe criticism to U.N. special representative for Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, who “failed to promote his views” to the African Union and I.G.A.D., and “to ensure unity within the international community. His leadership is placed in question by the reaction of the subregion.”
The briefing concludes its analysis by saying that “this absence of unity within the international community” allowed the T.F.G. and T.F.P. “to become convinced ... that there is no credible alternative between them” and the armed Islamist movement, which is opposed by the “donor”-powers and controls most of southern and central Somalia. In addition, the briefing admits that “the decision on the post-transition arrangements started too late without clear leadership” by Mahiga. In retrospect, according to the briefing, the circulation of proposals detrimental to the T.F.P.’s self-interest was adverse to Western interests: “communication by the international community on the way forward to the Somalis could have been more unequivocal.” Stated bluntly, the “donor”-powers had not done their work to preserve their interests – they had not expended the diplomatic resources backed by their financial resources necessary to “manage” the transition, with the result that it had gotten out of their control.
Turning to regaining some control for the “donor”-powers, the briefing’s “key recommendation” is “that the EU now needs to press for institutional reform of the Transitional Federal Institutions” [work within the T.F.G. to transform it] and back its pressure through the carrot and stick of donations “supporting the political agenda.” The EU, the briefing recommends, “should support international efforts” to reduce the T.F.P.’s term extension, but there should be “no request for a reversal of the T.F.P.’s decision.”
It is at this point of settling upon the strategy of accepting the T.F.P.’s fait accompli and then attempting to gut it and undermine it that the E.U. runs up against Washington’s decision to try to get the term extension reversed. The T.F.P.’s fait accompli “seems difficult to reverse,” the briefing argues, and trying to do so courts the risk of fighting “an already lost battle and thereby losing time and focus.”
According to an independent closed source in East Africa, Washington wants to replace the entire T.F.G. and T.F.P., and admits that it was “outmaneuvered” by the T.F.P. ”and does not know how to respond” to its loss.
The split between the E.U. and U.S., and the unresolved rift between both and Ethiopia (I.G.A.D.) causes a policy breakdown among the “donor”-powers that stops them and the U.N. from exerting control over events, although it can complicate them by efforts to take initiatives without unity and consensus, which appears to be what has happened. The Western powers, which continually accuse the T.F.G. and T. F.P. of failing to get their act together, suffer from the same syndrome. The E.U. briefing is correct that with August drawing near the “donor”-powers are “losing time and focus,” but not because, as the briefing says, Washington’s position is not viable (which is probably the case), but because the “donor”-powers cannot agree among themselves on the “way forward.”
“Rivalry” in the T.F.G. and T.F.P.
The main result of the policy paralysis that grips the international coalition (external actors) has been to allow and, indeed abet, the T.F.G.’s and T.F.P.’s falling into their chronic internal rivalries, thereby rendering them incapable of functioning politically. By the middle of February, it appeared that in light of the failure of the “donor”-powers to claw back any of their influence, Sh. Sharif and Farmajo had decided to acquiesce in the T.F.P.’s term extension and to work within it to try to perpetuate the government. That changed on February 24, when Sh. Sharif wrote letter to Sharif Hassan calling on parliament to reconsider the term extension decision and to convey its results to him.
In a press conference explaining his reversal of position, Sh. Sharif announced that term extension for the T.F.P. was “impossible” and “could not be accepted.” Echoing earlier statements by the “donor”-powers, Sh. Sharif said that the T.F.P.’s decision was “hasty” and that he “rejected” it. He went on, Garoweonline reported, to say that local and international backers were entitled to be included “in every step taken by Somalia.” In response, Sharif Hassan said that the T.F.P. “rejected” Sh. Sharif’s letter and would not “revisit” term extension and would not reverse it. Sharif Hassan added that he was leaving for Kenya to confer with the “international community.”
On February 27, the T.F.G.’s cabinet joined Sh. Sharif, holding a meeting on the “transition” and announcing, through Sh. Sharif ally and T.F.G. power figure Information Minister Abdikarim Hasan Jama’a, that it had almost completed a plan for ending the “transition in one-hundred days. The cabinet, he said, had consulted the various branches of the T.F.G., civil society groups, and the “international community” on its plan and urged the transitional institutions not to “overstep” their constitutional mandates.
The in-fighting resumed on February 28, when Sh. Sharif held another press conference in which he said that Sharif Hassan had no right to reject his letter, which was directed to the T.F. P., which was required to give him an answer. Sharif Hassan, said Sh. Sharif, has the right to chair parliament, but not to “interfere” in its affairs. The president, he said, has the authority to submit motions on mandate extension to parliament. Sh. Sharif added that he had met with members of parliament at the presidential palace.
On March 1, the T.F.P.’s security committee responded through Husayn Arale Adan that parliament would not “reconsider” its term-extension decision and warned Sh. Sharif that he “should be aware that parliament elected him and should be respected.”
The latest chapter in the saga of the T.F.G.-T.F.P political wars was underway, spurred on, as usual, by the divided members of the international coalition acting fitfully and ineffectively, and, in consequence, engendering conflict in the vain effort to extert control while lacking a coherent policy.
Will there be a “transition” in August, 2011? Will the coalition of Ethiopia and Sharif Hassan carry the day, or will the “donor”-powers take back their influence and pull the plug on the present version of Somalia’s transitional institutions and put others more to their liking in its place? For the moment, Washington’s position in the debate among the “donor”-powers has prevailed, but there is only a scant possibility that it will be a “way forward” rather than a recipe for further disarray that the “donor”-powers will be unable to manage. They do not have a plan; they do not even have alternative plans, but only ad hoc “strategies.” What Washington has done is to turn Sh. Sharif from acquiescence in the T.F.G.’s term-extension decision to confrontation with Sharif Hassan, guaranteeing, as the E.U. policy briefing puts it, the loss of “time and focus.” Will anything be done before August, as “presidential politics” sweeps away any other interests among the Somali actors and the external actors get caught in the trap of trying to manage those who they persist in believing are their clients? If the “donor”-powers come up empty handed in August, as is likely, will they have a next move to make?
What can prevent the “power vacuum” that Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Djibouti’s President Ismail Omar Guelleh foresee?