March 23, 2005

TOO GOOD AN OPPORTUNITY TO SQUANDER:

As Its Lawmakers Squabble Abroad, Somalia Suffers: Amid Kenya's safety, legislative fistfights and ministerial walkouts threaten to doom the latest effort to install a government next door. (Robyn Dixon, March 23, 2005, LA Times)

Pessimism has grown because of the government's slowness to relocate to Somalia, the failure of President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed and Prime Minister Mohammed Ali Gedi to visit Mogadishu during a recent trip to the country and bitter disagreements over whether to allow peacekeepers from neighboring countries.

There are four big clans in Somalia and various smaller clans and sub-clans. The fighting and rivalries run along clan lines, and loyalties run deep. A person's clan is the basis of his identity and defines his home territory.

Osman Harare, 30, from the Mareehaan clan, was brought up to believe that his main duty was to defend his clan, even if it meant dying. In 1992, his family fled Mogadishu to the interior of the country to escape clan fighting. But gunmen found them and killed his two older brothers. [...]

Harare said he believed that strong clan identification had hurt the cause of peace.

"The only way you can destroy clan identity is to make the younger generation believe that clan identity was the reason their forefathers were killed, and they are going to die for it in the future," he said.

The new government includes members of all the main clans, a fact widely regarded as a necessary evil. The last government, formed in 2000, was snubbed by the powerful Mogadishu warlords and never controlled more than a few blocks of the capital. The new government is more inclusive, but deeply divided.

Analyst Matt Bryden of the International Crisis Group said that while many people in Mogadishu were willing to give the president and new government a chance, Abdullahi was a divisive figure.

"He represents for many the winning side in the civil war. People will tell you he's seeking revenge against their clan," Bryden said.

Divisions over the peacekeepers and the question of an interim capital are worsening sharply, he said.

"If these issues are resolved without consensus and compromise, then you really do risk destroying the unity of the government and the Cabinet," Bryden said. "Then you'll have two armed camps and no peace process."

Abdullahi initially demanded a force of 20,000 international peacekeepers, leading to speculation that he was so concerned about the government's credibility that he wanted a massive protection force, or that he wanted to use it to protect himself from his rivals.

He also called for neighboring countries' troops to be part of the force despite deep opposition, especially to troops from Ethiopia, which is accused of arming some of the Somali factions. The issue has sparked demonstrations in Mogadishu on three occasions.

The United States and the International Crisis Group have opposed the inclusion of troops from neighboring countries as too divisive. Nations promoting the peace process are urging a force of 6,800 that would exclude troops from neighboring countries.

The failure to resolve these issues without walkouts and fistfights bodes ill for tougher issues in the future, such as forcing warlords to disarm and surrender control of roads, ports, airports and other lucrative infrastructure.

"It's going to require a level of leadership that we haven't seen from the leaders so far," Bryden said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 23, 2005 9:09 AM
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