Somalia Completes its Devolutionary Cycle – Dr. Michael A. Weinstein, PINR

December 11th, 2007 Print Print Email Email

As a political community, Somalia has disintegrated. (more…)

As a political community, Somalia has disintegrated. The country has now reached the limit of its devolutionary cycle, which began in December 2006, when Ethiopia mounted a military intervention that ousted the Islamic Courts Council (I.C.C.) from control over most of southern and central Somalia. The Courts movement, which sought to institute an Islamic state based on Shari’a law, had provided the first possibility for Somalia’s political integration since 1991, when the brutal dictatorship of Siad Barre was overthrown by a divided group of clan-based resistance movements, whose leaders could not or would not agree on a power-sharing formula to keep a political community intact. From then on, Somalia’s political community devolved and quickly disintegrated into primary clan-based solidarities protected and exploited by warlords. A similar process has marked the period following the Ethiopian intervention and the fall of the Courts.

Having followed Somalia’s political history day by day for the 18 months since the I.C.C. sparked a popular revolution by removing the warlords from the country’s political capital Mogadishu and then moving to rapid control of the south and central regions riding a wave of grassroots enthusiasm, PINR has concluded that a major chapter of Somalia’s political history has been completed. A revolutionary cycle was broken by the Ethiopian intervention and a devolutionary cycle succeeded it. In the terms of historian Arnold Toynbee, it is a paradigmatic case of “challenge and response.”

The basis for PINR’s judgment that Somalia has undergone a full cycle is the reappearance of a power configuration that PINR had described in dispatches published before the Courts’ aborted revolution. All the players from the pre-Courts period are in place and separated out from one another, primed for hostility and in mistrustful relations. In addition, the fall of the Courts precipitated a militant jihadist insurgency and a political opposition led by the I.C.C.’s political wing based in Eritrea, which makes the tensions of disintegration more severe. The persistence of an Ethiopian occupation, which raises levels of hostility among rival clan families and fuels support for the insurgency, engenders more bitterness and mistrust.

PINR sees no new political actors on the horizon and does not anticipate further major fragmentation of primary solidarities. The revolutionary impulse of the Courts movement has been spent, although it is likely that Islamism has become a permanent part of Somalia’s political landscape — and there is nowhere else to look for popular unifying initiatives. Political evolution, institution building and power-sharing, has not gotten off the ground. The possibility of an actor being able to rule Somalia by force of arms is dim. At the same time, power has drained to local and regional warlords representing sub-clans and factions, which appear to be the final breakdown products of devolution. In PINR’s judgment, Somalia will remain disintegrated unless it is jolted by a shock, which would have to be a bolt out of the blue.

The complete devolution of Somalia’s political community was settled in the weeks following PINR’s October 3 report by the collapse of the country’s internationally-backed Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.), which — following the Ethiopian intervention — was the only remaining possible organizational resource for creating a Somali state. PINR’s judgment that the T.F.G. has collapsed is based on having observed a cycle of devolution within the transitional institutions that has rendered them riven by a factionalism that is reminiscent of the period prior to the Courts’ rise.

The break-up of the T.F.G. began with a power struggle between its president, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, and its then prime minister, Ali Mohamed Gedi, over control of exploration contracts for Somalia’s unproven oil reserves. That struggle, which burgeoned into a constitutional crisis that had to be resolved by external powers engineering Gedi’s resignation, has torn the T.F.G. apart, leaving its fate solely in the hands of Yusuf, who succeeded in his power play and is now increasingly isolated and unpopular among clans and external powers. Yusuf, who aspires to be the boss of a state machine, has witnessed that machine fall apart. The T.F.G. has entered a period of drift.

Factionalism Rives the T.F.G.

PINR’s October 3 report had taken the fight between Yusuf and Gedi to the point at which calls for a no-confidence vote on Gedi from Yusuf’s parliamentary faction had begun, and officials from Yusuf’s faction had arrested Somalia’s chief supreme court justice on charges of corruption, paving the way for parliament, which Yusuf believed he could control, to resolve constitutional questions pertaining to Gedi’s tenure without appeal. [See: "Somalia's President Yusuf Loses His Grip on Power"]

By October 8, Yusuf’s faction had drafted a no-confidence motion, citing a wide variety of complaints, including Gedi’s failure to achieve security in Mogadishu and his alleged misappropriation of foreign aid, and failing to mention the dispute over responsibility for allocating oil exploration rights, which had touched off the power struggle. As Yusuf and members of parliament headed to Somalia’s transitional capital Baidoa, Gedi said that he had “no dispute” with Yusuf, yet was already holding meetings with sub-clans unfavorable to him in his Hawiye clan family in order to try to mobilize support in the coming showdown.

On October 9, Yusuf was in Baidoa leading a delegation of members of parliament and Ethiopian and Ugandan officers associated with the small and ineffective African Union peacekeeping mission (AMISOM) in Mogadishu. Yusuf was prepared to present legislation to parliament endorsing provisions of the summer 2007 National Reconciliation Conference, especially a constitutional amendment allowing non-members of parliament to be selected as cabinet ministers and prime minister, which was poison to Gedi’s faction. Gedi wrapped up his talks with the Hawiye Tradition and Unity Council, reporting an agreement that clan elders would work with the T.F.G. in suppressing the insurgency in return for a promise that the T.F.G. would “do something” about their complaints, including suppressing looting, assaults and indiscriminate firing by government forces.

On October 10, Voice of America reported that the disaffected Hawiye sub-clans had decided not to support Gedi, as the Tradition and Unity elders appealed to the T.F.G. and its Asmara rival — the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (A.R.S.) — to reach a peace agreement, offering themselves as mediators. Yusuf’s ally, parliamentary speaker Sheikh Adan Madobe, met with Yusuf and Gedi in an attempt to broker an accord, and warned legislators against “taking sides,” as intense lobbying and alliance building among factions was reported.

On October 12, tensions had risen to the point that Ethiopian generals postponed their plans to disarm Yusuf’s and Gedi’s security forces, fearing an armed confrontation if they tried to do so. More than 20 T.F.G. cabinet ministers loyal to Yusuf issued a letter threatening to resign if Gedi failed to appear for a no-confidence vote, while cabinet ministers loyal to Gedi held a rival meeting, claiming that only the prime minister could convene a parliamentary session. With parliament temporarily out of session until October 14 for “security reasons,” Gedi warned that if his government fell, Somalia could “return to civil war,” adding that “a bad government is better than no government at all.”

With parliament back in session and deadlocked over whether or not to debate a no-confidence motion, Ethiopia’s prime minister, Meles Zenawi, held talks with Gedi and representatives from the United States, European Union and United Nations in Addis Ababa. At the end of the three-day meetings, Gedi held a press conference at which he announced that he would abide by a vote of no-confidence should it carry.

Back in Baidoa, Gedi met with his parliamentary faction, which comprised more than 100 members of the transitional parliament’s 275 members, but fell short of a majority. In a miscalculation that would prove to be his undoing, Gedi defended his meetings with anti-T.F.G. Hawiye sub-clans and urged Somalia’s people to “defend themselves against men in government uniform who commit crimes.”

Following the meeting, Gedi’s faction declared itself to be a “political party” and issued a pledge “to protect the constitution and government.” The new bloc, which opened up a division in the T.F.G similar to the one that had riven the transitional institutions before the Courts revolution, included powerful former warlords Mohamed Qanyare and Muse Sudi Yalahow, and Deputy Defense Minister Salad Ali Jeele.

The showdown came on October 22 and ended without resolution as parliament voted for a no-confidence measure, which passed 115-23-5, failing to achieve the 138 votes necessary to remove Gedi. Eighty members of Gedi’s faction walked out of the session, emphasizing the rift that had opened up.

With the T.F.G. in crisis and Ethiopia disaffected with Gedi for his remarks condoning resistance to “men in government uniform,” Gedi was called to Addis Ababa once again, saying that he would “not resign from my post even if the international community requests me to do so.” Nonetheless, on October 29, Gedi resigned as prime minister “voluntarily,” eliminating a no-confidence vote and giving Yusuf the victory in their power struggle and leaving the T.F.G. disintegrated. Hawiye political leader Mohamed Uloso commented that Gedi had been made a scapegoat for Yusuf’s failures and that Yusuf was in the process of instituting an “authoritarian system” in Somalia.

Immediately after Gedi’s resignation, Yusuf began a series of meetings with stakeholders on Gedi’s replacement and prepared to go to parliament for approval of a constitutional amendment, requiring a two-thirds majority, to allow a non-member of parliament to assume the post of prime minister. After a reported and unspecified compromise with Gedi’s United Somali Parliamentarians bloc, parliament voted unanimously for the amendment, opening up the field of candidates and satisfying external actors, particularly Washington, which was reportedly urging a neutral intellectual or technocrat, or a moderate from the Courts political wing for the prime minister’s post.

From Yusuf’s viewpoint, anybody whom he believed he could control and who was acceptable to Addis Ababa and Washington would be a suitable nominee, but he had to avoid giving way to his patrons’ interest in having him name one of their respective protégés in order to maintain his tenuous grip on power. Yusuf also had to resist pressure from competing former warlords, the most powerful of whom, Mogadishu’s mayor, Mohamed Dheere, came to Baidoa with a delegation of 250 supporters, met with Yusuf, tried to press a candidate on him and was reportedly rejected, after which he insulted Yusuf and was ejected from the president’s office by security guards.

Determined not to erode the gains in power that he had made through Gedi’s resignation, Yusuf was able to finesse the forces pressuring him and settled on Nur “Adde” Hussein Hassan, a 69 year old former official in Siad Barre’s regime who was currently director of Somalia’s Red Crescent. A member of the Hawiye clan family, as required by the T.F.G.’s clan-based system of representation, Hussein is described as a political “neutral,” a “good fundraiser” and a “respected administrator,” all of which qualities are consistent with Yusuf’s interest in claiming political dominance for himself. Before his nomination, Hussein had been cleared by Dheere and, on November 23, he was approved by parliament by a vote of 211-0-1, indicating another compromise had been reached.

Through a combination of tactical skill and his adversary’s desperate miscalculation, Yusuf had managed to regain his grip on his severely limited power. His strategy, foretold by Uloso, was made clear in a speech — first reported by Voice of America — that he had given the week before to a government budgetary and planning session, in which he proposed putting the T.F.G. in control of all sectors of the economy and social services, and limiting private enterprise and civil society organizations; and warned officials not to cooperate with aid agencies that did not coordinate with the T.F.G.

The T.F.G. Collapses

Yusuf’s aspirations, which border on fantasy, have nothing to do with Somalia’s current power configuration. Following Hussein’s parliamentary confirmation, the T.F.G. has been unable to function.

Lacking charisma and a political base, Hussein was immediately caught between demands of donor powers that he name an “inclusive” cabinet involving members of the exiled opposition and diaspora intellectuals; and pressures from clan-based political factions to retain current members in cabinet posts.

Hussein held a round of meetings with members of parliament, leaders of clans, donor powers and Ethiopian officials — with Yusuf’s shadow in the background — on how to staff his government. Yusuf reportedly was demanding his choices for the Petroleum, Finance and Defense Ministries. It was clear that Hussein had no power resources of his own and no mobilizing vision.

On December 2, Hussein announced his cabinet list, which — out of 31 posts — included only three nominees from outside parliament. Hussein had acquiesced to factional pressure and had closed the latest “window of opportunity” for Somalia’s political integration.

The condition of extreme factionalism in the transitional institutions became evident on December 3, when parliament failed to ratify Hussein’s list and debate became acrimonious, with some demanding new faces in the cabinet and others defending the list, and some demanding a secret ballot, others calling for an open vote, and others rejecting the process entirely.

Garowe Online reported that during the debate, the parliament’s deputy speaker, Mohamed Omar Dalha — who was chairing the session — received a call from Yusuf summoning him, tried to adjourn the session temporarily, met with opposition from vociferous members of parliament declaring “we do not take orders from the president,” and finally adjourned the session altogether.

During the debates, objections to Hussein’s list took on a clan character, with smaller clans complaining that they were under-represented in the cabinet and some larger clans complaining that they had not been consulted sufficiently on the list. On December 4, four cabinet nominees from the Rahenweyne clan family, including former warlord and national security minister, Hassan Mohamed Nur, resigned over issues of representation and consultation. On December 8, T.F.G. and Ethiopian forces broke up a meeting of 50 members of parliament at Nur’s home, claiming that an armed protest was being organized there.

As Hussein failed to form a government, Yusuf entered the hospital with a chest infection, from which he appears to have recovered. His illness provoked a flurry of speculation about what would happen if Yusuf left the scene. The most pointed commentary was provided by South African analyst Richard Cornwell in a Voice of America interview: “It is very unwise to depend on a 72-year-old, who has had a liver transplant, to carry the whole political system.” Cornwell’s concluding judgment, with which PINR concurs, is that absent Yusuf, there will be a severe struggle for power in Somalia and there will be “a need to go back and look at the entire transitional arrangement.” That would mean starting the 16th attempt to give Somalia a political structure since 1991.

Conclusion

In PINR’s judgment, the power struggle within the T.F.G. has ended with its devolution into factionalism and a government divided between Yusuf — an irreparably failed boss — and Hussein — an appeaser without a power base; both are weak and appear to have no possibility of providing national leadership. Yusuf is no longer the protagonist and Hussein is incapable of replacing him; the last piece of Somalia’s devolution is in place.

As the T.F.G. collapsed, the patterns of devolution described by PINR in its reports throughout 2007 persisted and deepened. The insurgency against the Ethiopian occupiers and allied T.F.G. forces continues despite an Ethiopian attempt to mount a brutal crackdown and has spread beyond Mogadishu to other regions. The political opposition to the T.F.G. remains intransigent in its demand that Ethiopian forces withdraw from Somalia before it will negotiate on power-sharing. Tensions remain high between Somaliland and Puntland over their conflicting territorial claims. Some regions in Somalia have competing governments, extortionate roadblocks have proliferated, inter-clan conflicts over water and pasture persist, piracy and crime have risen, and there is a humanitarian crisis brought about by the Ethiopian crackdown, which created hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons. Independent media are being suppressed. The donor powers continue to call for broad-based power-sharing in the T.F.G. and for more contributions to the weak African Union peacekeeping force in Mogadishu, to no avail and with no relevance to the actual situation. PINR sees no need to document the above conditions in detail, since they simply prolong a familiar pattern.

With Somalia devolved, the ball is in the court of the external actors, who no longer form a single team. Desperate to pull out, Addis Ababa lost an ally when it forced Gedi out and received in return a “neutral” anxious to please the donor powers. Look for Addis Ababa to be forced to lower its profile as a result of its weakened position. The donor powers are caught between persisting in supporting the T.F.G., which has lost every shred of its unity; devising a new strategy; or pulling back.

A new strategy, the outlines of which have been floated by some strategists in the U.S. military, would be to cantonize Somalia in order to isolate and encircle its most unstable regions; that would involve as its central feature diplomatic recognition of Somaliland and an abandonment of the T.F.G. and of any possibility of a Somali state. Were a cantonization strategy to be pursued, its success would depend on substantial reconstruction aid for the most stable areas, which, in PINR’s judgment, would be unlikely to be forthcoming.

Cantonization is simply a return to pre-Courts Somalia, as are continued support for a collapsed T.F.G. and pulling back. There is no present actionable strategy that does not lead back to devolution.

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