Somalia's Fluid Politics Move Toward Polarization

Posted in Africa | 07-Jul-06 | Author: Michael Weinstein

Somalia's fluid political situation underwent yet another shift during the weeks of June 26 and July 3, as the conflict spilled over into neighboring states and became regionalized, and Osama bin Laden weighed in with his take on the struggle between the Islamic Courts Council (I.C.C.), which controls most of the country's south, and the internationally-backed but weak Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.) based in the town of Baidoa. Meanwhile, the I.C.C. consolidated its gains on the ground, Washington's intentions remained unclear -- even after a congressional hearing on its Somalia policy -- and regional and international organizations proved unable to respond to the conflict effectively.

In a fluid political situation, the actors -- allies and adversaries alike -- are uncertain about the intentions of the others and, therefore, are simultaneously wary of taking initiatives and tempted to take them. That confusion is compounded when -- as is the case for Somalia -- the actors are divided within themselves. As a result of the uneasy mix of anxiety and temptation, actors in a fluid political situation tend to be tentative, but will sometimes take bold initiatives to change the power balance when they sense a favorable opening, testing their power and sometimes triggering responses from others that set off more conflict. A fluid political situation crystallizes when the cycle of challenge and response ends with the dominance of one actor or an alliance of some of them over the others, which is far from imminent in Somalia.

The I.C.C. Consolidates

Having taken control of Somalia's official capital Mogadishu on June 6, after defeating their warlord rivals, and then sweeping through much of the country's south during the week of June 12, the I.C.C. moved to consolidate its gains as quickly as possible, setting up Shari'a courts and making deals on local administration with clan elders.

In an effort to stabilize its external relations, the I.C.C. signed a cease-fire agreement with the T.F.G. that was brokered by the Arab League (A.L.) on June 22 in Sudan's capital Khartoum. The deal included mutual recognition and commitments to begin negotiations on a reconciliation process in talks scheduled for July 15.

The Khartoum agreement was thrown into doubt on June 25, when the I.C.C. organized itself into a governing structure, shifting its internal balance of power between the moderate clerics led by Sheikh Sharif Ahmed and the hard-line Islamists headed by Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys in favor of the latter. In the new structure, Aweys took charge of the policymaking consultation committee and Ahmed was relegated to chairing the executive committee responsible for day-to-day administration, and was to be answerable to Aweys.

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