Somalia: To Move Beyond the Failed State

Posted in Africa | 28-Dec-08 | Source: International Crisis Group

An Ethiopian soldier in northern Mogadishu. Ethiopia's foreign ministry announced to pull its troops out of Somalia by the end of the year.

Nairobi/Brussels, 23 December 2008: Somalia’s latest transitional government is collapsing, but there is a chance to rescue a dire humanitarian and security situation if Western and other powers fundamentally revise their approach to a political solution.

Somalia: To Move Beyond the Failed State* the latest International Crisis Group report, argues that the announced withdrawal at year’s end of the Ethiopian army, which intervened in December 2006, opens a new period of uncertainty and risk but also provides a chance to launch an inclusive political process. “The world is preoccupied with a symptom – piracy – instead of concentrating on a political settlement, the core of the crisis”, says Rashid Abdi, Crisis Group’s Somalia Analyst. “There is no quick fix to Somalia’s tragedy, but this opportunity must not be missed”.

The Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has failed to create a broad-based government and now exists almost solely in name. President Abdillahi Yusuf has marginalised most of the population, exacerbated divisions and become a liability. Talks begun in Djibouti eight months ago have accomplished little, not least because the parts of the Islamist insurgency with the most guns and territory are not participating.

Opposition to Ethiopia’s occupation has been the one issue on which the fractious insurgency agrees. When that glue is removed, infighting will likely increase, making it hard for the militias to sustain a military victory and creating political opportunities. The international community has been reluctant to engage with the Islamist opposition. U.S. air strikes at suspected foreign extremists have increased the insurgency’s popularity.

There is reason to believe that despite radical posturing, a significant majority in the Islamist insurgency would engage in a political process that does not seek to criminalise it and offers them a role in future governance. There is no other practical course than to reach out to it in an effort to stabilise the security situation with a ceasefire and then move on with a process that addresses the root causes of the conflict. In the course of that effort, the insurgents will need to provide assurances about the kind of Islamic state they envisage as well as clarify their rejection of foreign groups like al-Qaeda.

The African Union peacekeeping mission (AMISOM) originally sent to Mogadishu to relieve the Ethiopians is unable to fulfil its task and will be at increasing risk following their withdrawal. But it would be a bad idea to try to send a UN peacekeeping mission in now, as the U.S. wants the Security Council to do, when there is no viable peace process and enough troops cannot be found. The order of priorities must be a political settlement, then UN peacekeepers.

“One way or another, Somalia is likely to be dominated by Islamist forces”, argues Daniela Kroslak, Crisis Group’s Africa Program Deputy Director. “It makes sense, therefore, to offer the incentives of international recognition and extensive assistance in return for an agreement that is based on compromises by all major Somali actors and promotes the rights and well-being of all Somalis”.