Somalia: PM Mohamed Resigns Amid Complaints about Ugandan Influence

In Somalia, an ugly political dispute has ended in the resignation of the country’s prime minister. This development came only after street protests backing the prime minister, who initially refused to step down. His ouster has some Somalis, especially in the diaspora, complaining that Uganda is playing too strong of a role in their country’s politics. This in turn fuels sentiments that the TFG lacks any real legitimacy or autonomy.

Kampala, Uganda

Kampala, Uganda

First, some background:

Recent political infighting within Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) made rifts between President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Speaker of Parliament Sharif Hassan Sheik Aden a cause for regional concern. The dispute centered on whether to hold presidential elections in August 2012 (the president’s preference) or August 2011 (the speaker’s preference, and the original date for the expiration of the TFG’s current mandate). Deadlock on this issue threatened to undermine military progress that the TFG and the African Union Mission for Somalia (AMISOM) are making against the rebel group al Shabab in the capital Mogadishu.

The crisis was resolved with the signing of the “Kampala Accord” in Uganda’s capital on June 9, but resolution came at the price of the resignation of Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, whom the president appointed only eight months ago. The president will keep his job, but the speaker scored a victory in removing an important rival.

The strong role Uganda played in brokering the accord – Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni “will guarantee the implementation of this agreement,” one article reads (full text available here*) – reflects Uganda’s already strong role in Somali politics generally. Uganda supplies the largest number of troops to AMISOM; indeed, Uganda and Burundi supply almost all of AMISOM’s troops. President Museveni, who has been in power since 1986 and recently won re-election in February, is a figure with clout in the region. His influence was on display after the agreement. The New York Times writes, “In the end, according to several analysts, Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, forced him to step aside. Uganda plays a bit of a kingmaker role in Somalia.”

Perceptions of increasing Ugandan influence in Somali politics have prompted complaints in different segments of the Somali political class. Kenya’s Daily Nation reports, “Somalis in the diaspora have continued to stage demonstrations in the US, Europe and other parts of Africa, especially in Kenya and Uganda, supporting Mr Mohamed’s position on the Kampala Accord. Somali MPs meeting in Nairobi took issue with the PM’s resignation terming the Kamapala Accord illegal.” An even more explicit complaint comes from the Somali publication Garowe, which even before Mohamed’s resignation published an editorial rejecting the Kampala Accord. Garowe assigns Uganda a primary role in bringing about the Accord, which Garowe says

in effect, is a new constitution. There is no parliament (as the Accord revokes parliament powers) and there is no president (as the president, similar to a parent-child relationship, is repeatedly given orders and chastised under the terms of the Accord). Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signs the document as a witness, but also as an enforcer.

Whatever one’s position on the desirability of the Accord or the role Uganda plays in Somalia, I think these complaints about Uganda are significant. President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed is already perceived in many quarters as illegitimate. His success in delaying elections and remaining in power will, indeed, heighten that perception, as will the feeling that Somali politics is subservient to the calculations and interests of outsiders. In many ways, there is nothing new in this: the TFG and its predecessors have long been widely seen as illegitimate transplants dominated by the diaspora and by outsiders. But the Kampala Accord and its aftermath seem to have left a particularly sour taste in many mouths, and the anger over this deal may persist for some time to come, targeting Somali as well as foreign leaders.

*I am not familiar with the site that hosts this document, but I believe the document to be credible.

Somalia: It’s Not Just the TFG That Has Problems, It’s AMISOM Too

In Somalia, the joint forces of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) are making military progress against the Islamist rebel group al Shabab. The TFG’s internal political problems, especially a dispute over election scheduling between the president and the speaker of parliament, regularly make the news. Yesterday, though, saw the appearance of several reports on problems within AMISOM. These problems, which could disrupt the force’s capacity in Somalia, concern Uganda and Burundi, the two countries that supply near all of AMISOM’s troops (Uganda contributes around 5,000, Burundi around 4,000).

The Ugandan government is upset at the UN’s approach to the TFG’s infighting, and is threatening to withdraw its soldiers:

President Museveni yesterday warned that Uganda would withdraw its troops from Mogadishu if UN-pushed presidential and parliamentary elections in Somalia spark renewed assault by al-Shabaab militants.

“This may allow the extremists to re-organise and cause problems, and also undermine the battlefield gains we have made. We can’t allow to be in that situation,” he said at the ongoing 19th International Contact Group on Somalia conference in Kampala.

“If the current system collapses, or if it is seriously undermined, we can have no justification to stay in that situation—we will leave Somalia,” he added.

[...]

President Museveni told the conference that the mandate of the Sheik Sharif-led Transitional Federal Government (TFG) – due to expire in two months – should instead be extended by a year.
“We believe that to have a win-win situation, we should allow the TFG complete their tasks, after all Somalia has been unstable for the last two decades. Why should one year be a big issue?”

With this statement, Museveni has taken sides in the TFG”s internal disputes, backing the president’s position over the speaker of parliament’s. Museveni’s threat, even he does not seriously intend to withdraw troops and is only trying to apply political pressure, raises the stakes for the TFG, the UN, and Somalia as a whole.

Burundi’s soldiers in AMISOM, meanwhile, have a different problem, but one that also undermines the stability of AMISOM: they are not getting paid.

The five months of arrears total an estimated $20m (£12m) for the nearly 4,000 Burundian peacekeepers.

Burundi’s army spokesman Col Gaspard Baratuza said the African Union had paid the money into the Bank of the Republic of Burundi.

But he said the central bank had not disbursed the salaries to the soldiers.

The soldiers, needless to say, are not happy. What happens when their frustration reaches the boiling point?

Between Uganda’s threats to pull out and Burundi’s disgruntled soldiers, AMISOM’s durability is looking a little bit less secure. These problems may not be enough to shatter the force, but combined with the TFG’s problems the situation in Somalia seems to be getting more and more uncertain. That uncertainty could be an opportunity for al Shabab, currently on the defensive, to mount a comeback.

A Pyrrhic Victory in Mogadishu?

In Somalia, the forces of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) are poised to take control of Bakara Market, a key rebel-held position in the capital of Mogadishu (see here and here). Analysts are saying that control of Bakara could translate into a decisive advantage within Mogadishu, but that the TFG/AMISOM victory over al Shabab rebels could cause more problems than it solves.

The push toward Bakara has already come with costs, including disruptions for the traders there. Some fear that as fighting continues, casualties will run high among both fighters and civilians.

That’s not the only problem with the campaign. At Reuters, Richard Lough argues that military control will not automatically bring about political progress:

Winning Mogadishu might expand the government’s capital prison a little, but it is unlikely to bring any tangible peace to the rest of the nation.

“Has enough emphasis been put on a political strategy of holding that territory and putting in a civilian administration which is acceptable, legitimate and can provide minimal services that help win hearts and minds?” said Rashid Abdi, Somalia analyst at the International Crisis Group.

For now, the answer appears to be no.

The United Nations’ patience is running out with Somalia’s bickering leaders who are locked in acrimonious feud about what should happen when the government’s mandate runs out in August.

Some donor aid, the Somali government’s life support machine, could be pulled if the president and speaker of parliament, who covets the top job, fail to overcome their differences, Security Council members have said.

AMISOM also says the political row is undermining military gains in the capital. The aim is to capture the capital and install a government that can at least make progress and demonstrate to the rest of the country that peace is viable.

Since the TFG’s offensive began several months ago, I’ve argued that the military campaign is a political campaign too: the TFG hopes to prove its viability to its international backers. As Lough points out, though, progress on the battlefield will not mean as much when the civilian government is racked by infighting and corruption.

Lough adds that, as far as the rebels are concerned, losing control of Mogadishu

would deal a major psychological blow to al Shabaab, but it would not be a mortal blow to the four-year insurgency that has cost tens of thousands of lives.

The militants hold sway over much of central and southern Somalia and can lean on other sources of revenue, including taxes from ports under their control and a cut of some ransoms paid to pirate gangs.

Whether or not the TFG takes Bakara, August will be a major turning point for Somalia’s would-be government. The continued progress of the offensive could make some difference to the TFG’s political fortunes, but it seems that much will depend on whether the TFG addresses its internal flaws as well.

Somalia: The TFG and Its Partners Stumble Toward 2012

Despite deepening dissatisfaction among international donors regarding Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG), the would-be state will likely stick around for at least another seventeen months.

Following an extraordinary meeting held in Mogadishu on Sunday afternoon, the cabinet of the transitional federal government of Somalia resolved an extension of one year for all the Transitional Federal Institutions (TFIs).

According to the government spokesman, Mr Abdi Haji Gobdon, the ministers considered the current situation in Somalia and decided to propose an extension for a period of one year for the parliament, cabinet, presidency and the judiciary, effective 21st of August this year.

The extension will last till August 2012 to give the Somali government an opportunity to deliver on promises made to secure a number of pending tasks.

The delay also means postponing presidential elections scheduled for this August. The postponement plays into the TFG’s internal politics, favoring a faction led by incumbent President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed over a rival faction that had hoped to defeat him at the polls.

How will the TFG’s decision affect its relations with the international community? On the one hand, the extension may receive a poor welcome in Washington, London, and elsewhere. The adoption of this one-year extension follows the Transitional Federal Parliament’s decision, taken in February, to grant itself a three-year extension. That move disgruntled the US, the UK, and the UN, among others. On the other hand, world powers who are at their wits’ end in seeking a solution for Somalia’s twenty-year crisis may be quietly relieved to put hard choices and confrontations off by a year. I predict they will allow the extension to stand.

Going forward, then, a major factor in the TFG’s international popularity will be its fight against the Islamist rebel force al Shabab. The TFG’s current offensive against al Shabab (undertaken in partnership with the African Union Mission for Somalia or AMISOM) is not only a military operation, it is a political performance for a world audience. As the TFG has made some recent progress, more support appears to be forthcoming. Uganda and Burundi will send 4,000 more troops to Somalia, significantly boosting the 8,000-strong force already in the fight. One source also reports that the EU will donate $93 million to AMISOM (though note, for what it’s worth, that this money will not go directly to the TFG). Assuming world powers grudgingly accept the extension, the next year and a half will likely tie the TFG’s political prospects to its performance on the battlefield.

Somalia: US Hails AMISOM’s Military Progress, Criticizes TFG’s Politics

Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson recently gave an interview to All Africa on US government positions on various political situations in Africa. A large portion of the interview focused on the crisis in southern Somalia, where the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) are battling the rebel movement al Shabab. Carson credited AMISOM for recent military progress against al Shabab, but criticized the TFG”s lack of political accomplishments.

We have seen AMISOM perform extraordinarily well…One can no longer say, derisively, that only six or seven city blocks are controlled by Amisom forces. Amisom now controls 60 to 70 percent of Mogadishu and continues to make serious and significant headway against Shabaab forces in the area.

But we have been disappointed that the military progress has not been matched by similar political progress on the part of the TFG, which has not been able to do the things that it was assigned to do under the Djibouti process. It is important that the TFG be more than a government in name alone. It must continue to reach out and become more inclusive and representative of all of Somalia’s important clans and sub-clans and regional groups. It must look for ways to bring in and integrate and collaborate with the forces that are fighting against extremism and al-Shabaab. It must be able to deliver services and assistance to the people who need it. Where AMISOM makes progress in the city, the TFG must also be able to make progress in delivering services.

Carson also expressed disappointment in the Transitional Federal Parliament’s decision, taken in January, to extend its mandate by three years. This move flew in the face of the fact that the TFG’s mandate expires this August.

Carson then moved on to talk about ways in which the US is essentially bypassing the TFG.

The second track that we rolled out in October is to expand contacts and development assistance relationship and engagement with the governments of Somaliland in Hargeisa and Puntland in Bossaso. We think that it is important to reach out to those governments and to provide assistance in economic areas to help strengthen their young governments as they try to make democratic gains and progress. We also see them as partners in dealing with piracy; particularly the government of Puntland, which is nominally in control of many of the areas from which pirates come, such as Hobyo and and Eyl.

[...]

In the south [where the TFG's sway is theoretically greatest - Alex], we are looking for ways to effectively work at the very local level, sub-regional governments – to help them provide stability and opportunities for greater economic development. These would be groups that are not associated with the TFG; but are opposed to the radical extremism espoused by al-Shabaab. We see a number of clan groups in Galmudug, for example, where leaders are determined to provide both stability and economic opportunity and security to their people. We’re talking with them and looking for ways to provide development assistance support to their efforts.

Stepping back, Washington is clearly happy to see AMISOM make headway against al Shabab, but it seems that Washington’s disappointment with the TFG outweighs that happiness. The parliament’s reach for more time alienated the US, and it appears that going forward Washington will decentralize its political contacts in Somalia even more. What that says for the TFG’s future I can’t say, but August is not far off, and from the TFG’s standpoint it’s a bad time to have run afoul of Washington.

Escalation in Somalia(?)

Fighting in Somalia rages, with battles in Mogadishu claiming some 230 lives in the past two weeks. The escalation of violence – and the continued reverberations of al Shabab’s bombings in Uganda earlier this summer – are leading to increases in the number of African peacekeepers in Somalia. In the past five months, African Union forces have opened nine bases in Mogadishu, and have added more troops. Uganda is talking of sending 10,000 more soldiers to Somalia – if they can get American support.

The AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) currently numbers around 6,000 Ugandan and Burundian soldiers, some 2,000 troops short of its intended full strength.

The forces are the only hurdle between the Al Qaeda-linked Shebab and their total takeover of Mogadishu, where they have waged relentless battles with the AU troops to oust the transitional government.

“All those that have pledged assistance to AMISOM, including America, should deliver as soon as possible so that we are able to carry out our mandate,” [Ugandan army spokesman Felix] Kulayigye said.

But the he did not say the size of force the United States is ready to support for deployment.

“We have the capacity to raise a big force including calling up the reservists but the challenge is logistics which we hope America will look into. “Should the assistance come in time, I can assure the world we can raise 10,000 soldiers for deployment in Somalia in a short time,” said Kulayigye.

The UN says things in Somalia are going in the right direction, and seems keen to see more AU peacekeepers head there. The UN is also pushing political change in Somalia, including hints that the Transitional Federal Government should reach out to “dissidents” (does that include al Shabab?).

Despite such optimism from the UN and despite the AU troop increases, some observers remain pessimistic.

U.S.-based Somalia observer Michael Weinstein says the inability of the international community to establish the transitional government as a viable alternative to al-Shabab is a critical point.

“The reason why we have this slow-bleed, this stalemate is that the West, particularly, Washington, is left with no cards in its hand,” said Weinstein. “The situation has gone too far. It has become too fragmented. There is no viable force to replace the TFG.”

Weinstein says what happens next in Somalia is anyone’s guess.

I leave you with two conflict viewpoints on what should come next:

James Gundun, “a political scientist and counterinsurgency analyst based in Washington D.C.”:

Instead of paying [Ugandan forces] to fight Somalia’s war, perhaps America should finally overcome its historical fear and pay its own troops to do the job.

The United States Marine Corp might welcome the challenge of exorcising Black Hawk Down. US forces may also attract the least Somali resistance out of all possible foreign troops so long as they operate under a strict counterinsurgency mandate, though that is easier said than done. Colonel Ahmed Mohammed, a TFG commander trying to hold his poorly-equipped troops together, pleaded for US assistance: “They must forget this pain (Black Hawk Down) and realize that we share a common threat coming from international terrorism.”

Adding a Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) to the mix would, among many factors, ensure a reliable supply of funds. US Marines have achieved a long record of policing operations, including 1992’s Unified Task Force (UNITAF) in Mogadishu, and the capital still requires the constant presence Marine brigade provides and the AU lacks. Their role would take on a military-police operation over a conventional, urban assault. Of course the Marines would lead the heavy fighting too, concentrating on driving al-Shabab’s rank and file out of the capital and freeing up the AU and UN for peacekeeping operations. The Marines should function as a one or two-year transition to a more stable and robust AU mission.

Scott Baldauf, Christian Science Monitor:

“There are not many countries lining up to join this mission,” says E.J. Hogen­doorn, head of the Horn of Africa mission for the International Crisis Group in Nairobi, Kenya. “Everyone is concerned, but no one wants to be the one risking their forces’ lives.

“Now we hear of reinforcements for AMISOM [the African Union Mission to Somalia], but even the Ethiopian contingent numbered 40,000 troops, and they still weren’t able to pacify the place,” he adds. Ethiopia occupied Somalia from 2007 to 2008, when Al Shabab was less formidable.

It’s not that Somalia has been free of foreign intervention. In the two decades since the fall of Somalia’s last government, the country has accepted massive foreign food relief; today, half the population survives on foreign food aid. But foreign troops tend to strengthen the hand of extremist politicians of either the nationalist or religious sort, and the legacy of the US intervention and the Ethiopian invasion has been a network of warlords who are difficult to dislodge.

And when it comes to American troops going into Somalia, let’s not forget the American domestic political landscape. My guess is that public support for armed US intervention in Somalia would run very low.