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.
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On the one hand al-Shabab is cornered on the defensive, allowing possible room for the TFG/AU’s growth. And on the other, counterinsurgency usually fails in the long-term when dominated by its military component. As promising as the current military campaign appears, it’s difficult to believe the entirety of these gains will last without a comprehensive and cohesive political framework. Seizing even more territory before August will be that much harder. If border operations are designed beyond diversions for operations in Mogadishu, it may be wise to focus on the capital and gradually expand from there.
The TFG and AU had to move militarily, given their deadline and so many false promises of an operation, but would have liked to see a more solid political strategy developed. Especially with relations in Somaliland and Puntland
On the defensive? They control perhaps a more than half of the country (or at least it isn’t hostile to them) and considering the fact that Al-Shabab is roughly as well trained as the government forces and allies (except for the AU) I don’t think counterinsurgency is the right word for this. Lastly I’d think it would be better to leave the question of Puntland and Somaliland to be settled after Al-Shabab, especially since neither can really be taken by available force.