Somalia: TFG One Year Out, AU One More In

Hard to believe it’s been a year since Ethiopia withdrew its forces from Somalia, after an occupation of roughly two years. I agree with Adam Serwer that, for many reasons, the invasion was a mistake – but the past year has not been easy on Somalia either.

Somalia coastline

The Transitional Federal Government celebrates its one-year anniversary today. “Celebrating,” actually, is probably the wrong word. Despite confident statements from some officials in Mogadishu, the TFG effectively controls very little territory. Recent victories against Islamist rebels al Shabab were won not by government troops, but by a pro-government Muslim group called Ahlu Sunna. That may be encouraging for some in the  TFG, but it does not signal the government’s own capacity to establish order. And the fighting, though nearly constant, has yet to produce any clear victors.

That’s why the AU, which deployed troops in Somalia in March 2007, will be keeping its forces there for another year. They protect the government that, AFP writes, “has owed its survival largely to AMISOM,” the AU’s peacekeeping force. And that’s why the US will continue pumping millions of dollars into Somalia. Foreign backing can keep the government in existence. But so far, that backing has not succeeded in expanding the TFG’s reach.

2010 has opened in Somalia with stalemate still in effect. Will it hold? Perhaps Ahlu Sunna can not only repel al Shabab’s attacks on its territory, but also push the Islamists back and seize control of southern Somalia from them. But I doubt we will see al Shabab’s defeat soon, or at least not without greater foreign involvement – and given the disastrous consequences of Ethiopia’s occupation, hopefully policymakers in Addis Ababa and Washington would think twice before committing to such a course of action for a second time. As for a successful al Shabab offensive, we may see it – but that would make Ethiopia and the US very nervous, likely prompting some kind of response. Thinking through the potential outcomes actually starts to feel a bit cyclical, after a while.

In other words, no easy solutions present themselves, but at the same time the risks are increasing that some nasty terrorist incident will come out of Somalia – whether in a nearby country, such as Yemen or Kenya, or in the United States itself. If that happens, all bets are off. So while the continuities from this time last year are striking – what, fundamentally, has changed politically? – it’s impossible to predict what might happen in Somalia in the rest of 2010.

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