Somalia's Political Future Appears to be its Pre-Courts Past

Posted in Africa | 17-Jan-07 | Author: Michael Weinstein

During the first two weeks of January, the domestic and external actors with interests in Somalia's political future strove to adjust to the new balance of power created by Ethiopia's successful invasion of the country that drove the previously dominant Islamic Courts Council (I.C.C.) out of the official capital Mogadishu and installed the weak, unpopular, clan-based, warlord-riven and internationally recognized Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.) in its place.

On January 13, the Ethiopian forces had driven the last hardcore holdouts of the I.C.C. from their last redoubt in Ras Kamboni at the forested southern tip of Somalia, ending the I.C.C.'s existence as an organized movement and leaving its leaders and supporters to retreat into their sub-clans, attempt to reconcile with the T.F.G., or try to mount an armed insurgency against the T.F.G. Having split into conciliatory and militant factions even before the Ethiopian invasion, the I.C.C.'s elements are, for the moment, minor players in Somalia's conflicts. Their role as protagonists in Somalia's political drama has been taken by Addis Ababa, the T.F.G. executive and clan leaders and their warlords, locked into a tense conjuncture.

The events of the first half of January confirm PINR's forecast in its January 1 report on Somalia that the most likely scenario would be "a return to the pre-I.C.C. period of extreme decentralization, warlordism and state failure, either with or without an Islamist insurgency -- the latter being the more probable outcome." That conclusion is based on the underlying judgments that clan and warlord interests in security and control currently outweigh any more general interest in a viable Somali state, and that external actors are unwilling to expend the military, financial and diplomatic resources necessary to bolster the T.F.G. and to influence favorably a process of national reconciliation aimed at the formation of a unity government embracing all the major sectors of Somali society, including conciliatory Islamists.

With the T.F.G., which would form the basis of a central government and is presently unopposed by any organized national movement, dependent for its existence on Addis Ababa's military support, Ethiopia is, for the moment, the major player in Somalia. Ethiopia's prime minister, Meles Zenawi, has announced repeatedly that Addis Ababa's forces would end their occupation of Somalia within several weeks and that he is not prepared to commit Ethiopian resources to state building and reconstruction in the country. Having eliminated the possibility of an Islamic state on its eastern border and having sidelined its regional rival Eritrea, which had supported the I.C.C., Ethiopia would, in the best case, like to have Somalia as a client state. Addis Ababa, however, is convinced that this is impossible and is therefore content to leave the country weak and divided. Indeed, on January 10, Zenawi remarked that the elders and residents of Mogadishu "can pacify the city" by themselves -- a judgment that is shared by no other actor.

Addis Ababa's position has been described succinctly and precisely by Canadian journalist Jonathan Manthorpe writing in the Vancouver Sun on January 11: "A return to factional instability will be a happy outcome for Ethiopia, which has a host of historic disputes with Somalia and does not want to see a united and effective government."

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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].