Politicians and clan elders met in southern Somalia last weekend to “to find a way to establish a semi-autonomous state encompassing six regions – Gedo, Bay, Bakool, Lower and Middle Juba and Lower Shabelle.” The meeting took place in Dolow (see map below).
With Puntland and Somaliland effectively outside the Transitional Federal Government’s control, the creation of a new regional polity would further weaken the TFG’s legitimacy.
Observers say if the conference attracted as many delegates as claimed, it underscores the growing sense of frustration among various clan-based communities in southern Somalia. They say some Somalis may be viewing regionalism as a solution to Somalia’s problems because they are not convinced the weak U.N.-backed central government in Mogadishu can be counted on to curb radicalism, restore stability in the country, and share resources equitably.
Al Shabab rejects the idea of southern autonomy for pro-government forces, insisting on its own right to establish a state.
If non-Shabab southern leaders can tap into strong local support, they could threaten al Shabab, but I find it more likely that fragmentation among non-Shabab leaders will play to the Islamists’ advantage. Rumors are circulating that al Shabab itself has split into multiple factions, and conflicts with rival Islamists Hizbul Islam have given al Shabab a major headache, but they still seem to be the strongest military and political force in southern Somalia. If fragmentation among their enemies outpaces fragmentation within their own ranks, they could come out on top.
Furthermore, if the TFG finds itself completely isolated in Mogadishu, that makes them it even easier for al Shabab to wipe them out. However, if al Shabab appears close to conquering southern Somalia, I imagine other powers will intervene. So maybe there are no winners here, just smaller and smaller political groups wrestling for control.