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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Somalia: Some of our ministers are missing


The resignation of no less than 40 ministers and deputy ministers in recent weeks underscores the rapid change of power dynamics in Somalia. When forces loyal to the Council of Islamic Courts (CIC) started making large territorial gains in June, the interim government headed by the president, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, and interim prime minister, Ali Mohamed Ghedi, appeared uncertain how to react--understandably, given that the CIC had clear military superiority and controlled more of the country than the official administration. Amid fears of a direct conflict between Somalia's interim government and the CIC, representatives from both sides met for a day of talks under Arab League mediation in late June. The result of this was a seven-point peace deal, including mutual recognition, the cessation of fighting, and an end to "all harmful propaganda" against each other. However, the process later stalled when Mr Ghedi refused to continue talks with the CIC, claiming that negotiating with them was tantamount to negotiating with Osama Bin Laden. Mr Ghedi's obstructionist stance has cost him dearly: his government only narrowly survived a vote of no-confidence in Somalia's interim parliament, and struggled to cope with the loss of 40 cabinet members (admittedly out of a total of more than 100) protesting at his stance.

Consequently, Mr Yusuf dissolved the government in early August, retaining only the prime minister and giving him seven days in which to select 31 new ministers and form an administration. However, the split within the interim government is unlikely to go away in the short term, as there is no real consensus on how best to deal with the CIC. CIC forces have been credited with restoring the first semblance of law and order to the capital in the past 15 years--when the city was divided between a collection of warlords--but there are also fears that elements within the CIC want to see the establishment of a Taliban-style government in Somalia. The position is further complicated by the closeness of the interim government to the Ethiopian administration. Addis Ababa is a close ally of Mr Yusuf and is firmly opposed to the establishment of an Islamist regime in Somalia. For its part the CIC sees the Ethiopian government as a threat to Somali sovereignty and accuses it of "meddling" in the region. Reports of Ethiopian soldiers in Baidoa in mid-July prompted CIC leader, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, to threaten a holy war against such troops.

As things currently stand the interim government appears to be coming to the realisation that the CIC is not going to go anywhere anytime soon, and that it does not itself have the capacity forcibly to remove Council forces from any part of the country. In theory this insight should help to further talks between the two groups under the mediation of the Arab League, although a substantive agreement between the two sides is unlikely to be concluded soon. The CIC has the upper hand in negotiations, while the interim government will remain dependent on the support of Ethiopia, the US and the UN for its continued existence, and as a result will have to defend the interests of its benefactors in negotiations. The most likely short-term scenario will involve continued negotiations over the presence of international peacekeepers (sought by the interim government but firmly opposed by the CIC) and ways of bringing the country's two main "authorities" together under one governing body. However, the longer the situation persists the greater the threat of large-scale fighting between the two sides, with Ethiopian soldiers being the main source of military support for the interim government. Any such intervention would most likely serve to mobilise Somalis who are not aligned to the CIC but who oppose the presence of Ethiopian troops, so escalating the fighting further.
Source: ViewsWire Africa
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