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Enough bickering... time for action in Somalia

Andrew Harding | 18:21 UK time, Monday, 1 November 2010

You're in a sinking life-boat, surrounded by sharks. What do you do? In Somalia, the answer seems to be "don't paddle - just haggle".

For months now, the country's grandly titled, but barely functioning "Transitional Federal Government" (TFG) has been preoccupied with a level of internal political wrangling that even the decks of the Titanic probably didn't have to endure.

So could this weekend's breakthrough mark the start of a more constructive period for the TFG, and the tiny, besieged patch of Somalia that it occupies?
Fresh from Buffalo, USA, the new Prime Minister Mohammed Abdullahi Mohammed faces a daunting task, with less than a year's mandate left to restore some credibility, broaden his bickering government's political base, tackle corruption and bring some concrete benefits to the beleaguered residents of Mogadishu. A tall order, says a Western diplomat, involved in the laborious international process of trying to resuscitate Somalia's state - as things stand, "I can't see anyone being enthusiastic about extending their time in office."

As for the TFG's enemy - al-Shabab - the group is stretched and divided but by no means beaten. A friend emailed me recently from Mogadishu, lamenting the group's latest move against the international money transfers that act as a life-support system for so many families. "They are spoiling everything," he wrote. "This is really very sad. It will affect everyone."

The African Union peacekeeping force protecting the TFG in Mogadishu should very soon be up to its full, but modest, strength of 8,000 men. But then what? No force in Somalia is close to delivering a knock-out blow. The lines shift, but the stalemate holds.
The AU's Ugandan troops are forceful, competent and keen to push forward, but they're being restrained by the paralysing incompetence of the TFG. There's no point, after all, in seizing more territory by force if there isn't a credible political, administrative and humanitarian entity to fill the vacuum.

On that front, there are some encouraging examples to follow - the Mayor of Mogadishu, for example, has shown a willingness to roll his sleeves up. But now the TFG, and anyone it can entice into a partnership, needs to do the same.

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  • 1. At 11:35am on 04 Nov 2010, Mark K Torokwa wrote:

    It will be interesting to see how Somalia’s new Prime Minister works to bring about positive progress in the war-torn country. His performance will indeed be measured against a number of challenges that await him including: the divisions within the TFG itself, corruption, insecurity, law and order and ever the increasing threats from the opposition militia groups such as Al-Shabaab. Opposition from the armed militia groups is perhaps the most pressing challenge that he will have to confront head on if he has to secure the city of Mogadishu and then the rest of the country in order to extend the necessary services to the needy population.

    The Shabaab may try to make political gain out of this i.e. accuse the new PM’s appointment as that influenced by ‘infidel’ US, the AU and other supporters of the TFG. In their eyes, they will see the new PM as someone who is not different from all the other “Christian backed enemies”.

    The AU in Somalia needs to be logistically and materially funded sufficiently by the international community in order that they can influence the TFG and the all the opposing armed groups to negotiate lasting peace in Somalia.

    The UN (Security Council) must take urgent action and not simply sit back and look at the crisis in Somalia as an African problem……

    Mark K Torokwa

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  • 2. At 3:37pm on 05 Nov 2010, BluesBerry wrote:

    Tough job ahead for Somalia's new PM, especially becuase I don't believe Somalians want the TFG. Somalians have never liked foreigners, never trusted foreigners.
    This is the 4th Somalian President since 2004.
    What can he do that other Presidents have not?
    "Plucked" out of the United States, the hope that Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed ("Farmajo"), has a better chance than his predessors is unrealistic.
    "Plucked" from the US, sworn in on 1 November, Mohamed was nominated by President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed to replace Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke (who resigned on 21 September).
    Mohamed: "I will soon form a government that will make security its priority ... and complete the transitional tasks outlined in the charter."
    Okay, I'll bet against that.
    Mohamed begins as the TFG is fighting Islamist insurgents, mainly Al-Shabab. Al Shabab controls much of south and central Somalia and most of the capital, Mogadishu.
    "Plucked" from the us, Mohamed comes in wearing handcuffs; he cannot negotiate with Al-Shabab and Hisbul Islam. If Mohamed cannot convince the international community to free his hands, he will leave office with things much worse than when he began. The military solution is not working. It could not work, not even with 100,000 soldiers.
    Why?
    There is infighting between President Sharif and Speaker Sharif Hassan. This is the very reason that most Somalis have no faith in the TFG which lacks cohesion. Can Mohamed establish credibility? Can he overcome the divisions within the TFG. The TFG seems doomed to lose more and more ground to Al-Shabab and Hisbul Islam.
    Also, there is corruption - widespread within the TFG. There is plenty of misappropriation by senior government officials. Can Mohamed take control of this corruption? This is a severe problem; troops have gone without basics like food & ammunition.
    On top of all this, I believe the Somali People do not want the TFG; they want a loose Federation that can unit the tribal clans while each tribal clan retains what is unique/special to that clan. The Somali People have wanted a Federation from the beginning of this turmoil; so, who is responsible for dumping this Transitional Force on the Somali People when they did not want it?
    Some country must have a HUGE vested interest in maintaining violence and corruption within Somalia; otherwise, a Federational Government could have been implemented long ago.

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  • 3. At 6:05pm on 05 Nov 2010, AKPAN wrote:

    Mr Harding, if you really believe there is any prospect of Somalia ever becoming a viable nation-State, you're seriously mistaken. Somalia, in my view, has become comfortable with anarchy. I have never been there myself, but am told it even has a thriving economy - complete with an assortment of financial institutions, businesses, grid electricity, news media, etc. More Afghanistan than Sweden, you might say, but they've created a system (if you could call it that) that works. Moreover, its so-called leaders seem only ever willing to come together to form a "government"(and, as you know, they've done so a million times so far) when promised foreign aid of one form or another, not out of any genuine sense of civic responsibility. And so the idea that any of these "leaders" is remotely interested in building a proper nation-State can only be based on breathtaking naivety.

    But if Somalia serves any purpose at all, it stands a reminder to us in much of Africa, of the possible consequences of tyrannical misrule that characterized the Siad Barre era.

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  • 4. At 10:27pm on 07 Nov 2010, Mark K Torokwa wrote:

    “Tough job ahead for Somalia's new PM, especially becuase I don't believe Somalians want the TFG. Somalians have never liked foreigners, never trusted foreigners. This is the 4th Somalian President since 2004.” BluesBerry

    …..That may well be true, but it may also be asked, how do the Somalis trust themselves? What will it take to have the rivalling clans of Somalia to unite. After so many years with the country operating under the dark and chaotic shadows of a failed state, what should give one the guarantees that the Somalis will now manage their own affairs amicably and unite to save Somalia from total destruction?

    Let’s face it, even if the TFG went today, the group that will take over will similarly be opposed by other armed groups – recycling the brute violence.

    I think that the question of Somali people liking/disliking foreigners is perhaps irrelevant at this point in time and especially when looked at against the background of the total collapse of the Somali state and together with it, the abject poverty that the ordinary Somali people are subject to by the unending conflicts. What is clearly evident is that probably due to the selfish power-politics and influence, leaders of various fighting groups have persistently failed to come together as one, to save their country and people from perpetual violence and killings. This is why the UN, working together with the AU and other regional partners must urgently take steps to help Somalia and the suffering Somalia people achieve lasting peace in this globalised 21st Century. Such actions must not be looked at from narrow religious or tribal grounds as occupation or foreign interference.

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