Somalia's Drama: Can the T.F.G. Do It?

Posted in Africa | 20-Mar-07

From the end of February through the middle of March, events in Somalia confirmed PINR's forecast in its February 23 report that the country would continue to experience a devolutionary cycle and drift back to a state of political fragmentation in which power would disperse to regional and local clans and warlords, and the internationally recognized Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.) would prove unable to restore security and gain legitimacy as a unifying central authority.

Ethiopia's invasion of Somalia in late December 2006, which was given logistical and intelligence support by the United States, had eliminated the T.F.G.'s organized political opposition, the Islamic Courts Council (I.C.C.), which had sought to unify Somalia through establishing an Islamic state based on Shari'a law. The defeat of the I.C.C., which had succeeded in gaining control over most of Somalia south of the breakaway sub-state of Puntland, opened a new chapter in Somalia's political history that is framed by the central drama of whether or not the T.F.G. will be able to become the country's first functioning government after 15 years of de facto statelessness.

Formed under the pressure of Western donor powers and the United Nations in Kenya in 2004, the T.F.G. was, from its outset, lacking in broad legitimacy and starved for resources, and remained in Kenya until 2006, when its contending factions agreed to move to the town of Baidoa in south-central Somalia. Opposition of local warlords and later of the I.C.C. to the T.F.G. in Somalia's official capital Mogadishu prevented the T.F.G. from installing itself there.

The defeat of the I.C.C. threw Somalia back to the political situation that existed prior to the rise of the Courts movement in June 2006, in which a would-be central government that was weak and unpopular confronted assorted regional and local powers rooted in the country's clan structure, now with the addition of an Islamist-nationalist insurgency. The T.F.G. was able, under the protection of Ethiopian forces, to transfer itself partially to Mogadishu, but it was dependent for its foothold on the presence of its protectors and has thus far been unable to govern.

The dependence of the T.F.G. on Somalia's traditional regional rival Ethiopia has weakened its legitimacy further and has provided added impetus to opposition to it. Addis Ababa is aware that the presence of its forces triggers a backlash and has already withdrawn one-third of its troops from Somalia. Having achieved its objective of eliminating the immediate threat of an Islamic state on its eastern border, Ethiopia is content to leave Somalia -- as journalist Gwynne Dyer puts it -- "crippled." As it loses protection, the T.F.G. is placed at the mercy of Western donor powers and the United Nations, which are eager to see Somalia stabilized -- it is their agenda to which the T.F.G. is constrained to respond.

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