Somalia Remains in Political Stasis Despite Mounting Tensions

Posted in Africa | 11-Dec-06 | Author: Michael Weinstein

During the second half of November and into December, the conflict in Somalia between the Islamic Courts Council (I.C.C.), which seeks to establish an Islamic state in the country based on the implementation of Shari'a law, and Ethiopia, which is determined to prevent that outcome and backs the powerless clan-based Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.) militarily and diplomatically, continued to teeter on the brink of war, with the two major actors gazing into the abyss and regional states and organizations, international organizations, and Western powers attempting to head off the outbreak of full-scale armed confrontation through diplomatic initiatives.

PINR's forecast in mid-November that war was not imminent and that the adversaries were likely to continue testing and sparring with each other has been borne out by events, although tensions have risen appreciably. In part, the two sides have held off from major military confrontations because of severe flooding in much of southern Somalia that has displaced 300,000 people and has made roads impassable. [See: "Somalia in mid-November: Sparring and Waiting for Someone to Strike"]

PINR's judgment that neither side was prepared to fight held true until November 23, when Ethiopia's prime minister, Meles Zenawi, announced that Addis Ababa was ready for a war with the I.C.C., which he deemed a "clear and present danger." In response, the I.C.C. held a "war council" and declared that it too was ready to fight. The T.F.G., which is isolated in the provincial town of Baidoa in the southwestern Bay region, followed suit several days later.

With all the major players on the ground claiming to be geared for war, the international and regional consensus was expressed by Italy's envoy to Somalia, Mario Raffaelli: "There is a window of opportunity. The priority is to avoid a fight which would bring unthinkable consequences." As the rainy season subsides, that window threatens to close rapidly, although PINR is not yet convinced that any of the adversaries wants war, except perhaps the T.F.G. executive, which depends on Ethiopian arms to protect it and is at a severe negotiating disadvantage should power-sharing talks with the I.C.C. resume.

Tensions Mount on the Ground

The conflict in Somalia became decisively militarized after September 24, when the I.C.C. gained control of the key southern port city of Kismayo and extended its authority over the deep southern Middle and Lower Jubba regions, placing it in the dominant position throughout the country south of the border with the breakaway sub-state of Puntland.

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The Power and Interest News Report (PINR) is an independent organization that utilizes open source intelligence to provide conflict analysis services in the context of international relations. PINR approaches a subject based upon the powers and interests involved, leaving the moral judgments to the reader. This report may not be reproduced, reprinted or broadcast without the written permission of [email protected]. All comments should be directed to [email protected].