Somalia ReloadedRisks and Chances of a New Beginning
On Christmas Eve 2006, many of the fears of regional experts who long had warned of the outbreak of full-scale war between the militias of the Islamic Court Union (ICU) and the transitional government of Somalia finally became true. With massive military support from Ethiopia and the political backing of the United States, the transitional government managed to escape looming defeat and beat back the Islamic advances of the past months. However, even though the offensive eventually even forced the ICU to retreat from its former stronghold in Mogadishu to minor holdouts in southern Somalia,which have been destroyed in the meantime, too, and despite the ICU’s subsequent willingness to negotiate, a quick end to the seemingly perpetual conflict(s) in Somalia seems out of reach. On the contrary, the internationalised character of the war in which the region’s great rivals, Ethiopia and Eritrea, have entered the conflict on opposing sides threatens to destabilise the crisis-ridden Horn of Africa even further. Moreover, the risk of a protracted guerrilla campaign by the ICU supported by global jihadist as well as the notoriously thorny clan structure of Somalia’s society do not bode well for the transitional government and its plans to unite the country under moderate leadership. However, the defeat of the ICU and the return of the transitional government to its country’s capital also mark a new beginning and open another window of opportunity for the pacifying efforts of the international community.
Somalia’s return on the international agenda
Ever since the last UN-troops had left Somalia in 1995, international interest in its fate waned. While the country was often cited by academics as classic example of a failed state, it was more or less ignored by the general public and only treated peripherally by the Security Council of the United Nations. During the first months of 2006, however, Somalia returned to the international limelight when radical Islamic militias under the leadership of Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed and his coalition of Islamic courts brought wide parts of the country under their control. The growing military strength of these militias not only put increasing pressure on the transitional government, but also added fuel to concerns about renewed hostilities between Ethiopia (which supports the transitional government) and Eritrea (which supports the ICU). Simultaneously, the international community also became increasingly concerned about terrorists using lawless Somalia as a safe haven from which to launch future operations. On November 29, the Security Council, under the leadership of the US, finally reacted to the situation in Somalia and asked the transitional government and the ICU to begin negotiations. On December 6, the Council partly lifted the weapons embargo against Somalia which had been in force since 1992 in order to enable the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), one of East-Africa’s regional organisations, to deploy a peacekeeping mission (IGASOM) to the country. This mission was mainly to ensure the safety of the transitional government which thus far had only been saved from collapse by the presence of Ethiopian troops in and around its stronghold Baidoa. The ICU responded to the authorisation of IGASOM with an ultimatum to these Ethiopian troops to leave the country within a week. In addition, the Islamic militias began to surround Baidoa and threatened to invade the former Somali Ogaden region of Ethiopia. With this provocation the ICU had finally pushed its luck too far. On Christmas Eve, the Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi officially declared the military intervention of his country in the Somali conflict and the subsequent military offensive forced the Islamic militias to a full retreat. On December 28, the coalition of forces of the transitional government and Ethiopian troops conquered Mogadishu and barely a week later most remaining ICU holdouts like the town of Kismayo in Southern Somalia had fallen too.
Even though the Ethiopian offensive has enabled the transitional government to return to Mogadishu and the Islamic leaders have signalled their preparation to negotiate, many decisive questions are yet unanswered. For example, it is unclear to what extent the Ethiopian military operations in Somalia are going to continue. Will Ethiopia, together with the United States which has recently also become directly involved in the conflict by attacking Islamic positions near the Kenyan border, engage in a counter-insurgency campaign? Will Ethiopian troops participate in DDR activities (demobilisation, demilitarisation and reintegration of combatants) and/or an international peacekeeping mission as the one envisioned by IGAD? To what extent are the militias of Somalia’s transitional government able to uphold law and order once Ethiopian troops have left the country? To what extent has the Ethiopian offensive divided the region politically?
Failing state – Somalia’s new centres of power
Currently, there exist at least three centres of political power in Somalia:
- The Transitional Federal Government:
The transitional government was set up under the auspices of IGAD between 2002 and 2004 and is mainly made up of former warlords. In July 2005, the transitional government bowed to Kenyan pressure and moved its official seat from Nairobi to Somalia, first to Jowhar then to Baidoa. A return to Mogadishu was thought unwise given the anarchic situation in the former capital. Concurrently with its return to Somalia, the transitional government, and especially its President Abdullahi Yusuf demanded the deployment of an international peacekeeping mission of at least 20,000 troops to be led by either IGAD or the African Union (AU). Even though Uganda and Ethiopia quickly signalled their willingness to contribute to the mission, Yusuf’s call for foreign intervention was widely criticised within and around Somalia. Yusuf was and still is seen as an Ethiopian puppet, an image intensified by his government's reliance on Ethiopian troops and his call for foreign peacekeepers. Moreover, many of the neighbouring countries could not see any purposes in supporting a transitional government made up of warlords who despite significant international support had not been able to establish a functioning administration, to integrate their personal militias into a national military and to extend their control beyond Baidoa. It was only with the help of Ethiopian troops that the transitional government remained a player in the Somali conflict. Following its foreign directed victory over the ICU, it remains to be seen whether the transitional government will be able to improve on this poor record.
- The Islamists:
The Islamists appeared on the Somali stage as a dominant force only at the beginning of 2006. Even though their influence grew steadily in the year’s first months, it was only with the formation of so-called Scharia courts that they were able to establish themselves in wide parts of Somalia. Many Somalis subsequently supported the Islamists, because their courts helped to bring back some measure of law and order to a country which had not seen any for nearly a decade. The Islamists and their various courts begun to assemble militias in Mogadishu in order to free it of the competing warlords who had been in charge ever since the UN had left ten years ago. Following the “liberation” of Mogadishu, the militias conquered ever greater parts of Somalia and by Christmas 2006 controlled virtually all of it with the exception of Baidoa. They ruled with an iron fist and imposed their particular conception of morality on the population, at one point even banning the watching of football matches. In addition, the Islamists begun to institutionalise a political structure under the leadership of the Supreme Council (Shura) of the Islamic Courts and its Chairman Hassan Dahir Aweys whom the US has repeatedly accused of close relations with the terror network of Al Qaeda. Other Al Qaeda operatives are also believed to have found shelter in Somalia, among them high ranking terrorists such as Abu Talha Al Sudani and Fazul Abdullahi Mohammed (who were the target of an US air strike on January 9). Following their total defeat by the transitional government and Ethiopian troops, the Islamic militias have largely dissolved and their leaderships gone into hiding, with the exception of several high ranking members of the Supreme Council who have shown themselves ready for negotiations at a press conference in Yemen. It remains to be seen to what extent the military structures established by the Islamists can be resurrected by those preaching the extension of the global jihad on the Somali battlefield (especially given the aforementioned US attacks on Islamic holdouts).
Even though the de facto state Somaliland, the north-western region of Somalia, has so far not been recognised by the international community, it has made great strides in preparing the region for independence. Ever since its proclamation of independence in May 1991 the country has impressed political observers. Somaliland has its own constitution as well as a democratically elected President and, since September 2005, also a democratically elected parliamentary assembly with an upper and a lower house, the latter being controlled by the political opposition which makes it an unique case in Africa. Following independence, the government managed to demobilise all militias and integrate them into a national military. As a result, Hargeisa, the region’s capital was long considered one of the safest cities in Africa. Especially in the UK and the US calls for an official recognition of the region have grown louder and louder. Somaliland has applied for membership of the African Union, which if accepted could lead to an international acceptance of the country as sovereign state. At no time was Somaliland involved in the fighting between the transitional government and the Islamic militias. For this reason and the region’s excellent relationship with Ethiopia, many observers hope that the victory of the transitional government also means an end to Somaliland’s uncertain status. In the long run, an independent Somaliland might prove an anchor of stability in a volatile region.
Conclusion and policy recommendations
With the authorisation of a peacekeeping mission in Somalia and the condition that none of the neighbouring countries, and especially Ethiopia, were to participate in that mission the Security Council had virtually ensured that the mission would never to deploy. For up till then only Ethiopia and Uganda had shown any willingness to commit substantial forces to IGASOM. Following Ethiopia’s exclusion from the mission, Uganda also pulled back its offer. Moreover, as both Djibouti and Kenya border Somalia, the only IGAD member states theoretically left to contribute to the mission were the Sudan and Eritrea. However, both have actively supported the ICU and have thus opposed the mission. As other African states have shown little willingness to engage in yet another regional peace operation, the decision by the Security Council has probably contributed to Ethiopia’s decision to intervene unilaterally rather than to continue waiting for a peacekeeping force. In that way, the international community is directly responsible for the current situation. Given the regional repercussions, the many chances and risks inherent in this new beginning for Somalia, the international community has no choice but to engage again in the Horn of Africa.
The international community should work closely with the transitional institutions and the government of Somaliland to facilitate a dialogue between the two parties, paving the way for international recognition of Somaliland. In this context the final boundaries between the two countries should be agreed upon in order to avoid further hostilities in the Sool and Sanaag regions. If necessary international arbitration should be offered.
Fifteen years after independence was declared no viable alternatives to international recognition are left. Somaliland has been a British protectorate during the colonial period while Somalia has been an Italian colony. Somaliland wants to re-establish the colonial borders, while the neighbouring Somali semi-autonomous province claims part of the regions as they weren't inhabited by Isaaq-clan members that are making up the majority of the Somaliland population.
The international community should urge the transitional government to enhance its administrative capabilities. Only when security and social services are provided to large parts of the population can the transitional government enhance both its legitimacy and its popularity. Therefore international actors should make it clear to the government of Abdullahi Yusuf that he and his ministers will be held responsible for the country’s progress.
The International community should work through the Somalia contact group to provide humanitarian assistance to Somalia and administrative assistance to the transitional institutions.
Although the ouster of the Islamists has created a window of opportunity to establish working government structures in Somalia, the transitional government has so far been unable to establish working administrative structures, even though the transitional government relocated to Somalia back in July 2005.
The international Somalia contact group currently comprises the United States, the United Nations, the African Union, the Arab League, the European Union, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, Great Britain, Italy, Sweden, Norway and Tanzania.
The international community should urge the Ethiopian government to withdraw its troops from Somalia as soon as possible.
Ethiopia’s two major objectives – rescue of the transitional government and defeating the Islamic Courts Union that threatened to destabilise the Ethiopian Ogaden region – have been accomplished. The transitional government is now performing a tightrope walk, on the one hand it has to provide security – which it cannot do without Ethiopian help –, on the other hand the Ethiopian presence is undermining popularity and legitimacy of the government. However, it will be hard to establish security in the medium run as long as Ethiopian forces are present.
The international community should provide logistical and financial assistance to an African Union/IGAD peacekeeping mission in Somalia. In doing so, further assistance should come from the Arab League. It is important that a broad coalition of African states contribute to the mission, a goal that can only be achieved when substantial assistance is offered.
It is important that a peacekeeping mission will lift off in a timely manner. As Ethiopian forces are to withdraw from Somalia in a matter of weeks rather than months it is important to avoid both a status quo ante bellum and the raise of warlords that for too long plagued the country. So far only Uganda has committed itself to a peacekeeping mission, offering 1,000 soldiers. Other African countries have so far been hesitant to contribute and the Ugandan offer depends on Ugandan parliamentary approval which is uncertain. However, Somalis will only back the mission if it isn’t made up of neighbouring states, it is hence important that a number of African states participate.
The international community should step up efforts to implement the arms embargo on Somalia. In doing so the mandate of the Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa (CJTF-HoA) should be expanded so that ships can be boarded even if the respective skippers do not give their approval.
Renewed hostilities still loom as a danger over Somalia and arms and small arms in particular are still easily available in Somalia and Mogadishu in particular. Only when the costs for renewed fighting are too high, will the security situation improve in the long run, therefore the arms influx must be contained effectively.
The conflict in Somalia has been aggravated by the continuing rivalry between Ethiopia and Eritrea, turning the conflict at times into a proxy war between the two countries. Security in the Horn of Africa can in the long run only be achieved when Addis Ababa and Asmara are reconciled. Therefore the international community should urge Eritrea to lift its restrictions on the United Nations Missions in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) and Ethiopia should be urged to accept the final rulings of the Ethiopian Eritrean Boundary Commission (EEBC)
The US needs to carefully weigh its involvement in Somalia. Its unpopularity will scar the transitional government if US military operations in Somalia continue against popular opinion. Even though the open fight against terrorists is a legitimate cause, Somalia’s current situation offers many more chances in this struggle than open confrontation. What is needed now is a coherent strategy of political development support that will help to eradicate the root causes of terrorism in the regions and win Somalia’s hearts and minds.
The dispute over the deployment of a peacekeeping mission has led to a major split within the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). The international community should offer assistance in reconciling member states and should also urge them to hold IGAD dear. Therefore the IGAD protocol should be transformed into a binding treaty under international law.
While African countries (Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya) were supporting a peacekeeping mission, Arab countries (Djibouti and Sudan) and Eritrea were more hesitant. IGASOM can only go operational and long term security can only improve when a rapprochement between the IGAD countries can be facilitated. So far, member countries give the organisation a low priority. However, it is important that its capabilities are enhanced and that countries commit themselves to the organisation.