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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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