Intelligence Brief: Somalia

Posted in Africa | 14-Jul-05 | Author: Adam Wolfe

In 1991, Somalia descended into anarchy when the country's government collapsed following a coup. When, in 1993, 18 U.S. soldiers were killed in an operation in the capital of Mogadishu, the country's fate was sealed; less than two years later, the U.N. withdrew altogether from Somalia. In the 14 years since the country's failure as a state, there has been no effective government, no legal code and no functioning economy -- only the country's geographic boundaries remain.

In October 2004, the world celebrated as Abdullahi Yusuf was elected president of the transitional government based in Kenya (Somalia had become too dangerous even for its own government to enter) and there was the perception that the country was slowly on its way back to civil order. Now it appears that the government in exile is preparing for conflict in Somalia, even as the country grows more dangerous.

Anarchy and Terrorism

While clan-based warfare and anarchy have dominated Somalia for the past 14 years, there are some signs that it is on the rise and is increasingly being directed at Western targets. On June 27, the MV Semlow, a ship owned by the World Food Program (W.F.P.) carrying food supplies to Somalia, was seized by pirates off the coast of the area between Haradheere and Hobyo. The W.F.P. is threatening to place central Somalia on its blacklist for ten years if the ship, crew and its cargo are not returned, which would deny the region one of its primary sources of food. Aid deliveries were put on hold on July 4, pending the outcome of the negotiations, in which the W.F.P. says it is not directly involved.

In the early morning hours of July 11, Abdulkadir Yahya, the co-director for the Center for Research and Dialogue (C.R.D.), a non-profit organization operating in Somalia, was shot to death in front of his wife in the streets of Mogadishu. It is suspected that his killers believed the C.R.D. was linked to the International Crisis Group (I.C.G.), which had recently released a report detailing al-Qaeda's links to the thriving militant Islamic network in Somalia. The C.R.D. has denied any such connection.

The I.C.G. report claims that in Somalia "al-Qaeda operatives, jihadi extremists, Ethiopian security services and Western-backed counter-terrorism networks are engaged in a shadowy and complex contest waged by intimidation, abduction and assassination." Since 2003, this environment has given rise to a "new, ruthless, independent jihadi network with links to al-Qaeda." Western governments have responded by building their own network of counter-terrorist organizations from local and neighboring regions, while Ethiopia continues to operate its own clandestine operations in the country. [See: "Do Al-Qaeda's East Africa Operations Pose a Threat to U.S. Interests?"]

Ultimately, this "dirty war" has driven the country into further crisis. Politicians in the stillborn government throw allegations of connections to terror groups to undermine their rivals. Many Somalis do not believe that Islamic militants are active in their country, or that they do not pose a threat, and have become openly hostile to the Western governments that are sponsoring the counter-terrorism groups. These misgivings are also being transferred to the exiled government because it has cooperated with the West in order to gain financial support for their return to Somalia, a prospect that looks increasingly unlikely to happen without significant conflict.

The Journey Home Becomes a March to War

Nine months after President Yusuf's election, one-third of the members of parliament have left Kenya for Mogadishu and a split between the president and the speaker of parliament, Sharif Hasan Shaykh Adan, is primed to boil over into direct conflict.

Yusuf proposed a plan to move Somalia's capital from Mogadishu to Jowhar, ostensibly out of fear that the former capital is not safe, but Adan has refused to call for a parliamentary vote on the issue. This blocks the move from a constitutional perspective, even though Yusuf's allies have voted for the measure in the absence of 100 members aligned with Adan and without Adan presiding over the parliament. Jowhar is the only town controlled by supporters of Yusuf, and it is from here that he believes he will be able gain control over the entire country. He has some supporters in Mogadishu, but rival clan leaders control the city, though several are technically still part of his cabinet.

Both sides appear to have abandoned any hope of reaching a peaceful solution to the impasse and are amassing arms and militias in preparation for conflict. Last month, Yusuf and Adan met in Yemen to work out a compromise, but left without a deal intact. Yusuf has relocated to the northern region of Puntland where he is recruiting troops and militias. He told the BBC on July 6 that he plans on marching south to Jowhar, collecting more troops and arms as he advances. This move could formally split the government and lead to war, complicating the proposed African Union (A.U.) mission that is designed to guarantee the president's safety.

Sudan, Uganda and Ethiopia pledged troops to the A.U. peacekeeping mission, which the president accepted. His rivals, and popular opinion in Somalia, rejected Ethiopia's role in the mission because of lingering ill feelings following a border war between the two countries in 1977 and Ethiopia's continued clandestine operations in Somalia. However, it appears unlikely that such a mission will be allowed to go forward, even without Ethiopia's support.

An exception to the U.N. arms embargo to Somalia, in place since 1992, would have to be made for the A.U. to deploy troops in Somalia. On July 14, a Security Council vote is scheduled on the issue, but it is unlikely to pass. Two days before the scheduled vote, the I.C.G. warned that introducing foreign troops would only increase the level of violence in the country, and the U.S. has threatened to veto the measure if the Security Council acts. Even if an exception is made for the mission in the future, it is unlikely that the A.U. would commit troops if Yusuf marches toward Jowhar.

Threats and prodding from donor governments were often successful in forcing the Kenya-based government to resolve past sticking points, and it is still possible that the current power struggle can be resolved. However, with Yusuf in Puntland, dissident members in Mogadishu and the remaining members still in Kenya, it will be difficult to arrange the proper environment for these difficult negotiations. Yusuf appears to believe that he will not be able to gain control of Mogadishu if the government relocates there, which would naturally limit his power over the rest of the country. Adan and his allies have yet to blink in the negotiations, and their amassing of arms is unlikely to make their eyelids twitch.

The Bottom Line

The violence of the counter-terrorist operations, militant Islamic groups, warlords and criminal networks has made Somalia too dangerous even for its own government to enter. It can be expected that the U.N. will not provide an exception to the U.N. arms embargo on Somalia under the current A.U. plan. Additionally, if Yusuf moves his militia toward establishing a base for his government at Jowhar, an outbreak of violence will occur.

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