Somalia: Can the Somali Crisis Be Contained?
August 10, 2006
Posted to the web August 10, 2006
Somalia is on the verge of a new war which can only be contained if both sides and the international community take urgent steps to pull together a government of national unity.
Can the Somali Crisis Be Contained?,
the latest report from the International Crisis Group, analyses the country’s slide toward war and warns that without vigorous, coordinated action, the stand-off between the fracturing and increasingly misnamed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and its Ethiopian ally on one side, and the Islamic Courts, who have gained control of Mogadishu on the other, will draw in a widening array of state actors, foreign jihadi Islamists and even al-Qaeda. The TFG must broaden its base to include moderate elements of the Islamic Courts and other important Mogadishu-based groups.
The situation is, in part, a by-product of ill conceived foreign interventions.
"Factional leaders who once monopolised Somali politics faded from the scene and left a political vacuum filled by the Islamists. U.S. counter-terrorism efforts designed to contain foreign al-Qaeda operatives have accelerated the expansion of jihadi Islamist forces", says John Prendergast, Crisis Group Senior Adviser. "Misguided U.S. policy has produced the largest potential safe haven for al-Qaeda in Africa. Decisive international action is long overdue".
The Islamic Courts’ success and the rise to prominence of some hard-line jihadi Islamists within them, has alarmed neighbours and the broader international community. Ethiopia, Kenya and the U.S. all share determination not to allow Somalia to become an African version of Taliban-Afghanistan. The TFG and Ethiopia claim too simplistically that the Islamic Courts are merely an umbrella organisation for terrorists, and the Courts have responded to Ethiopian deployments in Somalia by calling for a defensive jihad and breaking off peace talks under Arab League auspices. Skirmishes between TFG and Islamic Court forces south of Mogadishu in late July were widely perceived as the first exchanges of a coming conflict.
It will be difficult for the two sides to find middle ground and share power but they should be urged, as a first step, to send signals to one another aimed at reducing hostilities and building confidence. Ethiopia and Eritrea should be pressed to cease their military involvement and refrain from inflammatory rhetoric. There is no ideal candidate to lead a mediation. The UN is best placed to take on the challenge but it will need to work closely with the regional organisation, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the African Union, and the Arab League. The U.S. needs to become more active in support of the initiative through the Contact Group of states with major interests in Somalia.
Diplomatic efforts cannot continue to tiptoe around the core issues: any negotiated settlement must reconstitute the TFG as a genuine government of national unity, including credible leaders from both the Islamic Courts and the broader Hawiye community and the TFG’s draft National Security and Stabilisation Plan must be revised to reflect new realities on the ground.
"Every effort must be made to reverse the slide toward war", says Suliman Baldo, Crisis Group’s Africa Program Director. "Otherwise, another tragic chapter will be written in what is approaching a generation of failed efforts to help Somalia come back together".