Dec 11, 2006

Somalia 2007: A Dangerous Year Ahead

It was an interesting and tense year for Somalia, 2006. There was a complete shift in the political landscape in the south of Somalia. The Union of Islam Courts (UIC) emerged to take control of much of southern Somalia (the area south of Galkayo) and chase out the warlords. For some, particularly the residents of Mogadishu, they finally had peace and law and order after 16 years of warlordism and chaos; they were liberated. The United States was on the losing side, they backed the warlords against the UIC without understanding the grassroots support the Islamic Courts had. The UIC didn't sit on their victory in Mogadishu, they went as far as Kismayo in the south and to the Ethiopian border in the west, effectively encircling the weak Transitional Federal Government (TFG). Ethiopia, with the blessing of US, have had military presence in Somali for years. As the peace talks between TFG and UIC faltered, the threat of a regional war involving Ethiopia and UIC (backed by Eritrea) became imminent. However, it seems both sides have realized they had everything to lose and little to gain in any direct confrontation and both exercised restraint.

There's no doubt that UIC has raised fears in many Somalis, not because of the myth of terrorism, but some perceive them as another tribal faction using the name of Islam. Though they've done a great job in
Mogadishu, many were alarmed when a former warlord nicknamed "Indha Adde" was given the title of Sheikh "Indha Adde" and became a member of the group.

When the UIC started expanding, I predicted and so have many observers, that they will not attack Puntland and so far they haven't. There's a very simple logic to it, UIC and
Puntland are of different tribal groups and any attack will be seen as another tribal war; not an attractive option. However, UIC had another impact on the rest of Somalia, Islam is the religion of all Somalis and as a result various groups in Somaliland and Puntland started demanding that Islamic Shari'a be fully implemented. This trend will hopefully continue in those regions, though relatively stable, people are armed and revenge killings are widespread. This is true in the north east and north west regions of the country (Puntland and Somaliland).

The TFG on the other hand, is recognized not only as weak and unpopular, but as a collection of former warlords and incompetent former officials in Siad Barre's regime. The only thing the TFG can boast about is they represent most (or have people from) all Somali tribes, regions and factions. The question is whether they will be able to reach out to UIC and to share power, and recognize that they're in a weaker position (they control only one city, Baidao). Simply claiming to be the legitimate government without having nothing to show for it isn’t enough.

From the time of creation of the TFG, having foreign troops to support the government was an option strongly advocated by many, and mostly opposed by the warlords who then controlled Mogadishu because they saw the mandate of such troops would be to disarm them. UIC have also made it clear that they will not accept any foreign troops in Somalia, perhaps for the same reasons. The Somali people in other regions, don't share the same sentiment however. Many would welcome foreign troops as long as they only concentrate on stabilizing and reunifying the country. But Somalis across the board agree, that there should be no Ethiopian troops in Somalia.

It seems that US has made its mind up to support the TFG against the UIC after a period of hesitation about whether to talk to UIC or not (in fact Shiekh Sharif revealed in
an interview with Aljazeera that US officials were having indirect talks with UIC). The US-led security council resolution (along with Congo, Ghana and Tanzania) was finally approved. The resolution authorizes 8,000 strong Africa troops from IGAD to go into Baidao, the seat of the TFG.

A closer look at the resolution reveals that it's impractical to implement it at least for the coming months if not years. It does not address the most important questions; who is going to pay for it? Who will contribute troops? Not all factions in Somalia are in favor of it, so how is it suppose to work? Is it a fighting force or just peacekeeping? and is there peace to be kept in the first place?

The troops will be from IGAD excluding Somalia's immediate neighbors, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti. You're only left with Uganda, Eritrea and Sudan; only
Uganda have agreed to send troops (1000 strong) , and as if that wasn’t enough, IGAD which was behind the resolution is now divided on the wisdom of sending troops into Somalia in the first place. UIC made it clear that they will attack any foreign troops in Somalia, and understandably so, because these troops are coming to support their rival, the TFG. To complicate matters further, the TFG backed by Ethiopian troops have already attacked, unsuccessfully, UIC positions in Diinsoor (a strategically important town, about 100km south of Baidao), just two days after the security council resolution was passed. You can find analysis of the resolution on BBC.

The coming year will be another very dangerous year for
Somalia. It will all depend on what choices and compromises will the four major players in the south make; UIC, TFG, Puntland and Ethiopia. It’s likely that UIC forces will concentrate on solidifying their control in southern Somalia without attacking Baidao or Puntland. However, if attacked repeatedly and/or threatened they might just decide to take over Baidao, in which case an open war with Ethiopia will ensue. Already the TFG have attacked Diinsoor, a sign that the TFG and Ethiopia behind it are getting desperate (and wish to gain ground before African troops arrive in Somalia). Puntland is backing the TFG for a number of reasons, but most importantly, the president of the TFG Abdullah Yusuf was the former president of Puntland so they will see the failure of the TFG as their own failure (there are other strong historical/tribal reasons as well).

The role of IGAD, AU and the international community
will be crucial in filling the gaps in the resolution and pressuring the different groups to reach a compromise. For a start, Kofi Annan urged African countries who might be sending troops to Somalia to convince the UIC that they aren’t an occupying force. But frankly, I don’t think Somalia’s neighbors and/or the international community will do anything different or positive in 2007, judging from the recent history.

The Somali population and refugees in the south (and border areas with
Ethiopia and Kenya) will continue to suffer from insecurity, floods, malaria and food shortages. This issue, which is more pressing, is usually given a back-seat to the fighting and “terror” accusations.

Somali Diaspora (which is massive by any standard) is shamefully out of the picture, they may not agree on political issues but how about humanitarian. If they get together they can surely gather enough support to assist the desperate Somali refugees and those effected by floods, this won't happen in 2007 either.


Black River Eagle said...

It is a bit unfair to claim to know what the U.S. government position is in regards to the impending conflict between rival groups and outside parties in Somalia. Can you provide us with any verifiable information about what the U.S. government is doing inside Somalia? How about providing references to recent statements re: Somalia from official U.S. government sources? Please don't forget the "other foreign players" involved in this potentially catastrophic conflict on the Horn of Africa.

The Power and Interest News Report (PINR) and the International Crisis Group (ICG) have been publishing a series of expert reports containing facts and commentary about the TFG vs. UIC showdown. Jonathan of the Head Heeb blog has written a very interesting post titled Pincer Movement that may interest you.

Either way, this pending bloody conflict spells even more misery and suffering for the people of Somalia and for the entire region. Sad, very sad indeed.

BTW: Are those women brandishing Chinese-made AK-47 knockoffs or is that the real (Russian-made) McCoy?? Can the girls really fight or is the image just a photo-op for the international press and media?

Anonymous said...

hello from uganda!

i really enjoy reading your work. thanks

i'm at

and looking alot at northern uganda issues. recently become more intrigued in how the conflict in uganda is linked to larger geo-political issues, both in the Sahel, and in the Horn. Would love to get your thoughts on that

Abdurahman Warsame said...

Black river eagle,

Well, the US had no one on the ground for a while, but collected intelligence in Kenya and Ethiopia, that's until early this year. The Washingtonpost (and all other major media outlets) have reported the US's support for the warlords:

Since 2002, US forces are stationed just next door in Djibouti. From their positions, they can easily monitor what is happening in Somalia. The presence of Ethiopian troops isn't secret by any means, it was reported by UN, Aljazeera, BBC ...etc. UN and EU officials have also spoken out against Ethiopia's presence as the prime source for more conflict. The previous Somali government had also formally complained to the security council about Ethiopia.

The point is that Ethiopia supports Puntland, is the only country to recognize Somaliland as an independent state and support the Transitional Government (which, at least on paper, has sovereignty over the whole of Somalia), doesn't that sound contradictory? Yes, but Ethiopia isn't interested in peace in Somalia and the US is the only country able to tell Ethiopia to get out of Somali but it has never done so, why not? No doubt, US can have a positive influence if it wants to, but it's more interested in the useless and baseless accusations of Islamic courts on terror activities (and even before the Islamic Courts). I'm not against or for the Islamic Courts, but I dislike the US's sickening stance on Somalia. Just after 9/11 they freezed the assets of Barakat, the biggest money remittance business in Somalia without any evidence or charges against anyone, not even caring about the fact that Barakat was serving and employing thousand of Somalis.

The ladies in the photo are carrying real AK-47, as a rule of thumb, if you see a Somali carrying something that looks like a weapon, then it's real. In fact, weapons are so widely available that the fakes will be more expensive than the real ones. No, ladies don't fight (at least not anymore), it's just for the cameras.

Abdurahman Warsame said...


Thanks for dropping by, I've just checked your blog, informative and a great read. The conflict in Northern Uganda is largely ignored and especial the human cost and the suffering of the people there. What's fascinating in East Africa, is that countries with major internal problems of insecurity, AIDS, hunger like Uganda, Ethiopia and Eritrea, would interfere in other countries conflicts and spend money and resources they don't have. Uganda in Sudan, Ethiopia in Somalia ... can these regimes get any more dysfunctional?

Citizen journalism is something i'm very interested in (though I don't write about it as often as I should), in fact it might become my job soon. I like your photos of Uganda, if you've a flickr, add me to your profile;

I'll add your blog to my blogroll and drop by often, please keep it up because we need more voices from Africa.

Black River Eagle said...

Re: your statement

"The point is that Ethiopia supports Puntland, is the only country to recognize Somaliland as an independent state and support the Transitional Government..."

Doesn't South Africa also recognize Somaliland as an independent state? Doesn't the EU and other international government bodies provide assistance to the fledgling elected governments of Somaliland and Puntland? I believe the answer is YES.

I will agree with you that some people in Washington D.C. are stirring up the bottom of the pot in Somalia. But so are a lot of other governments and outside players.

Isn't the interim TFG in Somalia supported by the United Nations, giving it full legitimacy to form a government for all of Somalia excluding the two breakaway republics? You can't have it both ways. Either the UN are the good guys or the bad guys. Which is it?

P.S. Oh I know that the weapons that the ladies are brandishig are real. My question is are these the low cost Made in China models or the high-end stuff out of eastern Europe? Sudan has recently opened a new Chinese-built munitions factory you know. Cuts down on the high transport costs and import duties on foreign manufactured arms for the region. Sudan is going to make a killing$$$ on this conflict, literally.