Somalia: The West’s “Miserable Failure”

A Nationalist or an Opportunist?

Dr. Michael A. Weinstein

On February 3, Somalia’s Transitional Federal Parliament (T.F.P.) voted 421-11-3 to extend its term for three years beyond its expiration in August, 2011. The T.F.P.’s move was in direct opposition to the United Nations, which serves as the agent of the Western “donor”-powers (Washington, the European Union and European states) that fund the T.F.P. (pay its members’ salaries).

Reflecting the dissatisfaction of the “donor”- powers with Somalia’s Transitional Federal Institutions (T.F.I.s), which they had inspired in 2004 and had backed (inadequately and half-heartedly) since then, on account of their ineffectiveness and corruption, U.N. special representative for Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, issued a statement that the international coalition of “donor”-powers and the U.N. would not permit the T.F.I.s’ mandate to be exteded, and that the U.N. would hold a conference of “stakeholders” in Nairobi to effect a transition to a permanent political formula and apparatus for Somali statehood.

The U.N.’s challenge met an immediate response from the Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.), which opposed being by-passed by the international coalition and then from the Horn of Africa regional state organization, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (I.G.A.D.), which issued a communique in favor of term extension, but only for the T.F.P.

Faced with determined opposition to its plan for managing the “transition,” the U.N. and “donor”-powers entered a “high-level” meeting on the sidelines of the African Union summit on January 31 at a disadvantage. The coalition had expected that the high-level meeting would adopt the U.N. plan and did not have an alternative or fall-back position. As a result, when the high-level meeting did not endorse the U.N. plan, the I.G.A.D. plan for extending the T.F.P.’s term, according to international media, prevailed. Later statements by the “donor”-powers, however, indicated that they had not embraced I.G.A.D.’s position.

The disarray among the stakeholders provided the T.F.P. with the opportunity to use the I.G.A.D. proposal as a justification for extending its term without holding consultations with any of the stakeholders. Rather than having initiated a new policy direction and having assumed management over the “transition” process in “Somalia,” the “donor”-power and U.N. coalition was faced with having to try to claw back as much as it could of the influence it had lost  as the other players positioned themselves to gain advantage in the mutating balance of power.

The Claw-Back Attempt

The U.N.-Western claw back began in earnest by February 6. According to a report in the Sudan Tribune, an A.U.-U.N. “task force on Somalia” had agreed to support the T.F.G. within the framework of a “tripartite commission” comprising the A.U., U.N., and T.F.G. that would “coordinate military and political strategies in collaboration with other regional bodies” (presumably I.G.A.D.). The new position of the U.N.-Western coalition was an attempt to restore the situation that had existed before Mahiga had made his bid to reconfigure the “transitional process” – the U.N.-Western coalition would essentially re-graft itself back into the T.F.G. as its (dominant) player and would continue its attempt to manage and direct it.

Unwilling to take over the transitional process or leave Somalia’s factions and regional states to deal with the country’s conflicts themselves, the U.N.-Western coalition would remain half in and half out, attempting keep the Islamist opposition (Harakat al-Shabaab Mujahideen [H.S.M.], which controls most of southern and central Somalia, and at least half of the country’s capital Mogadishu) from gaining complete control of the capital while giving the T.F.G. insufficient support to be effective (but enough support to be corrupted and to indulge in factional conflict).

Meanwhile Somali actors began their repositioning with various domestic factions expressing their opposition to the T.F.P.’s term extension. The Ahlu Sunna Wal-Jama’a (A.S.W.J.) movement, which controls territories in Somalia’s central regions and opposes the Salafist H.S.M. in the name of Sufism, came out against the term extension and in favor of steps towards “free and fair” national elections. The Tradition and Unity Council of elders of the Hawiye clan denounced the T.F.P.’s decision as “unacceptable” and called for its revocation in the “strongest terms possible.” The autonomous regional state of Puntland, announced after an “extraordinary” cabinet meeting that it would not accept the T.F.P.’s term extension. Dissident T.F.P. legislators denounced their colleagues’ decision, with M.P. Mohamed Aden saying that it had “brought shame on the national assembly.”

The initial opposition to the T.F.P.’s move was helpful in the short run to the U.N.-Western coalition’s claw back, although it also indicated the difficulties that the coalition would encounter in trying to manage any political process in Somalia.

In response to the expressions of opposition to its term extension, the T.F.P. majority dug in, with M.P. Abdalla Ahmed saying that the group for which he was speaking would table a motion against Mahiga for his “interference” in Somalia’s internal affairs. M.P. Abdulfatah Rashid, from Puntland, scored the Puntland administration for taking a position on term extension since it had separated itself from the T.F.G.

On February 8, the T.F.G., which initially had been opposed to the T.F.P.’s term extension, entered the fray after an “extraordinary” session of its cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Mohamed Farmajo, issuing a statement in which it attempted to hew to the line between the T.F.P and the U.N.-Western coalition. The cabinet “took note” of the majority T.F.P. view that the extension was necessary “to prevent a political vacuum and a constitutional crisis” during the “transition.”

On the other hand, the cabinet “noted concerns” about the term extension “raised by the international community” and opposition to it by other actors. The cabinet concluded by emphasizing the T.F.G.’s importance in the transition. Distancing itself more from the U.N.-Western coalition than from the T.F.P., the cabinet said that while it welcomed advice from and consultation with the U.N.-Western coalition (“international community”), “the ultimate decision on the way forward belongs to the Somali People represented by the Somali Government” (T.F.G.).

The T.F.G. had moved towards acceptance of the situation created by the T.F.P. so that its current officials might be able to maintain their positions when the T.F.P. put forward a (re-)new(ed) government.

On the same day, the majority T.F.P. group made its case for term extension, explaining the decision as a move to stop the “international community” from holding “another reconciliation conference” that would be “used as a pretext to solicit more donor funds in the name of the Somali people” that would not benefit its supposed recipients. The T.F.P. group asserted the T.F.P.’s  “right to make decisions on issues” concerning Somalia “as representatives of the Somali people.”

Parliamentary Secretary Umar Islow said that a conference held outside Somalia would be a “national disgrace” and that the “international community” could assist Somalia by facilitating a conference in the country. The majority T.F.P. group declared that Mahiga was opposed to the Somali people by claiming that the T.F.P. did not have the right to extend its term. The T.F.P. majority continued to press its line on February 9 at a meeting at Mogadishu’s Sahafi Hotel attended by M.P.s and clan elders.

On February 10, the T.F.P. majority’s rhetoric became even more heated with M.P. Abdalla Ahmed insisting that the T.F.P. would not reverse its term-extension decision even if the “international community” defunded the T.F.P. T.U.C. chair, Mohammad Hassan Haad, continued the group’s opposition to term extension, calling on the T.F.P. to reverse its decision and “consult members of the public.”

On February 11, Garoweonline reported that the T.F.P.’s speaker, Sharif Hassan Sh. Adan, was “canvassing” the U.N.-Western coalition for support in his bid to become the T.F.G’s president, and the T.F.G.’s current president, Sh. Sharif Sh. Ahmad, and Farmajo were plotting tactics to thwart Sharif Hassan and retain their posts. The normal pattern of factional conflict within the T.F.I.s had reasserted itself.

With its position having deteriorated since the T.F.P.’s extension of its term, the U.N.-Western coalition mounted its attempted claw back. On February 12, Mahiga met with Ethiopia’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister (Ethiopia is the current chair of I.G.A.D.), Hailemariam Dessalegn, to discuss implementation of proposals on the fate of the T.F.G. made by I.G.A.D., the A.U., and “other institutions.”

Mahiga appears to have made little progress, with ENA reporting that Dessalegn held to the line that only “the people of Somalia” could be the “determinants for their country.”

Mahiga was reduced to saying that his talks with Dessaleyn were “relevant” in order “to verify the objective reality in Somalia for the international community.”

In an analysis published on February 16, Mohamud Uloso has pointed out that Sharif Hassan had received the “green light” from Addis for effecting the T.F.P.’s term-extension decision “before IGAD’s meeting” in late-January at which it released its communique contradicting the U.N.’s position. A source in the Horn of Africa says that Addis’s underlying position is that a stalemate between a weak T.F.G. and a divided H.S.M. is preferable for its interests to a strong Somali government of any kind.

Despite his lukewarm reception in Addis Ababa, Mahiga pushed on to Mogadishu where he met with Sh. Sharif, Farmajo, and Sharif Hassan. According to the Mareeg website, Mahiga told Sh. Sharif that the T.F.P.’s move was “impossible” and asked for its review, and that Sh. Sharif responded that the T.F.P.’s decision “had its consideration.” After the meeting, Mahiga said that the U.N. would continue to support the T.F.G. despite “differences” on term extension. He had, he said, discussed “how to move forward regarding the process of ending the transition.” Mahida concluded that the “good news” was that “we are finding a convergence of opinion between the international community and the regional actors.” Sh. Sharif commented that he “respected the decision by the parliament to extend the term.”

By February 14, it had become clear that the U.N.-Western coalition’s claw back had failed or at least had not succeeded in reasserting the coalition’s influence. The T.F.G. appeared to have acquiesced in the T.F.P.’s decision and was maneuvering within its parameters. On February 14, the T.U.C. had changed its position, with Shabelle media reporting that Mohammed Hassan Haad had said that the T.F.P.’s term extension would “help bring back peace” to Somalia and that the “international community” should pay the M.P.s’ salaries. Haad “acknowledged” Mahiga’s efforts to “unify the viewpoints” of the international community and the T.F.P.

The I.G.A.D. position came out in the open on February 14 in remarks by Djibouti’s president, Ismail Omar Guelleh, who justified the T.F.P.’s decision to extend its term as a response to a looming power vacuum if the T.F.I.s ended in August. Using blunt rhetoric to criticize the U.N.-Western coalition, Guelleh said that “those so-called donor countries are in no position to accuse” the T.F.P. and to blame it “because free and fair elections cannot be held in the country at this time.” Lecturing the U.N.-Western coalition, Guelleh told them that “meddling in Somalia’s affairs should be refrained from.”

It is obvious that, in addition to particular interests that the I.G.A.D. states have in “Somalia,” they did not and do not believe that U.N.-Western management of “Somalia’s transition” is practicable or credible, and that they believe that they can state their position and judgments explicitly despite their reliance on the “donor”-powers.


In a statement reported by the Somaliweyn website on February 14, Abdishahim Ali Hirsi, head of the A.S.W.J.’s “national salvation force” and former member of the warlord-dominated and Washington-supported Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism, succinctly and accurately concluded: “The American government and the European Union have miserably failed in establishing a unity government in Somalia and its other missing segments [Somaliland and Puntland].”

One can add that the miserable failure has left the U.N.-Western coalition where it was before its initiative/intervention/interference, only weaker. The coalition is likely to continue its attempts to claw back its influence, but it has lost credibility and is defied openly by actors and factions whom it had counted on as its “partners”/clients.

Will the U.N.-Western coalition continue to expend its (inadequate) resources on its half-in half-out “policy,” propping up the T.F.I.s for another three years, keeping the African Union peacekeeping” mission (AMISOM) in Mogadishu to prevent the Islamists from taking over the city entirely, and allowing and abetting the country’s chronic bleed? Given the present indications, that is the most likely prospect.

Sh. Sharif appears to have adjusted to the resumption of “business” as usual, holding a press conference on February 12 in which he commented that the T.F.G. had “no authority” to pronounce on the T.F.P.’s decision to extend its term, but assured the “international community” that  “we will always need” them.

It is possible, nonetheless, that domestic and regional actors are in the process of going their own ways and will increasingly take over events, exacerbating conflict-generating fragmentation or moving towards a measure of integration. The problem for the U.N.-Western coalition is that the other actors seem unwilling to take it seriously – for good reason, one might add.

Report Drafted By: Dr. Michael A. Weinstein, Professor of Political Science, Purdue University in Chicago  [email protected]

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