Somalia: A Political Agreement and a Military Offensive

Somalia took an important step this week in its bid for stability. In neighboring Ethiopia, Somali leaders have signed a deal setting August 20 as the date for a transition to a new government (presidential elections must take place before that date). Meanwhile, within Somalia, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) have launched a new offensive to capture territory from the rebel movement al Shabab, pushing into areas outside Mogadishu, where the TFG-AMISOM forces hope to take the towns of Elasha and Afgoye (map).

As is often the case, we can greet these events optimistically – VOA says that Somalia is “on track to end failed state status” – or pessimistically, noting the challenges that remain.

Culling information from the BBCVOA, and the communique from the meeting published on the site Raxanreeb, here are some facts about the transition framework:

  • The agreement has six signatories: TFG President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, TFG Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, Speaker of the Transitional Federal Parliament Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden, President Abdirahman Farole of the semi-autonomous Puntland region, President Mohamed Ahmed Alin of the semi-autonomous Galmudug region, and Khaliif Abdulkadir Moallim Noor, a representative from the pro-government militia Ahl al Sunna wa al Jama’a (Arabic: “The People of the Traditions of the Prophet and the Muslim Community”).
  • By June 20, Somalia must assemble a National Constituent Assembly whose members will meet in Mogadishu by June 30.
  • By July 10, Somalia must adopt a new constitution.
  • By July 20, Somalia must swear in a new parliament with 225 members selected by elders.
  • On August 4, the parliament will elect a speaker and deputy speaker.
  • These MPs will then elect the next president by August 20.

Now for the potential problems:

  • Establishing the framework could prove to be the easy part; carrying it out could be difficult. A power struggle between President Sharif Ahmed and Speaker Sheikh Aden has already forced a delay of one year (the presidential election was originally set to take place in August 2011). At each step in the process, there is potential for factionalization and deadlock. Additionally, it is possible that the time-frame will prove too short to move through all the steps, at least without rushing and thereby creating problems that will appear later.
  • Despite gains in the military offensive against al Shabab, there have also been costs, particularly massive displacement of civilians. Some critics are also charging that the Kenyan offensive against another al Shabab stronghold, Kismayo, is going too slowly and may be futile. Military progress, in other words, has come in fits and starts, taking a heavy toll on civilians, and the new government will still control only portions of southern Somalia.
  • Reuters wonders whether oil production in Puntland might complicate relations between that area and the TFG (and the TFG’s successor).

So should we be optimistic or pessimistic? I certainly think that the agreement in Addis Ababa marks a positive step. And political progress is critical to solidifying any military gains – if the government at the center is plagued by infighting and confusion, how can it establish a legitimate and continuous presence in newly conquered areas? For once, the politics and the conquests seem to be moving partly in sync. But this summer will put optimism to the test, as we see how papers signed in Ethiopia will translate into realities in Somalia.


7 thoughts on “Somalia: A Political Agreement and a Military Offensive

  1. I agree with your first problem – the timeline seems incredibly fast. I remember when elections were being discussed in Libya, six months from the formation of a plan to elect a government was considered too soon, and this is what – less than two months to form a parliament and three months to hold a nationwide election? I’ll hold out for optimism, but I agree, it’s going to test the boundaries of that.

    • If the groundwork has been prepared then the TFG can have an election relatively quickly, but to also include national elections in parts of Somalia that have only recently been taken from Al-Shabab seems hasty. I would have been more encouraged to hear six months to a year from now.

  2. The UN and AU don’t think that they can wait any longer. Their time-line has a lot of working parts that could break, so the outcome is likely to a mix of successes and failures. The inclusion of Puntland and Somaliland is encouraging, still searching over the national reaction to the UN’s decision that parliamentarians will vote for the presidency.

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