14/10/07 (B417) BBC : Somalia’s political swords are drawn (En Anglais – Info lectrice)

By Daud Aweis –
BBC News, Nairobi

As if Somalis do not have enough battles to contend with, their two leading politicians, President Abdullahi Yusuf and Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Ghedi, have fallen out.

And as parliament marshals to take stock of the achievements of the two men since they took office three years ago, it looks likely that one will get their marching orders.

The formation of the interim government had been a time of hope; President Yusuf declared himself a man of peace.

Yet violence once again reigns in the capital, Mogadishu, following the December ousting of Islamists, who had ruled most of Somalia for six months last year, by Ethiopian-backed government troops.

Insurgent attacks proliferate against Ethiopian and government targets. Even the presence of African Union peacekeepers is failing to reassure the city’s residents, who continue to flee in their thousands.

The United Nations says in September alone 24,000 people left. In the same month some 300 people were admitted to hospital with serious gunshot wounds.

Donor fatigue

Neither Mr Yusuf nor Mr Ghedi has been spared the onslaught.

On a number of occasions Villa Somali, the president’s residence has come under attack, as has the hotel hosting the prime minister.

Some argue that the current leaders are hardly better than the warlords whose feuds fed the city’s violent disorder over the past 16 years.

Although the transitional government has the support of the UN and Western governments like the US, it has failed to win popular support on the ground.

There is also a growing fatigue, some foreign diplomats say, about picking up the tab for Somalia, in terms of government expenses, with no tangible returns.

Hence the clamouring call for a change of guard – and Mr Ghedi looks most likely for the chop.

He is seen as a political novice, installed as prime minister by the president with Ethiopian backing, who is now a stumbling block to progress.

While analysts complain that the cabinet it is made up of sycophants with little commitment to effect real change.

Fall guy

There has also been disappointment on the reconciliation front: the opposition – an alliance now based in Eritrea, which includes moderates of the Union of Islamic Courts – boycotted a much-touted reconciliation conference.

Instead the event turned into a cosy gathering of government supporters.

Without the opposition on board, analysts say there can be little chance for future stability.

Not prepared to be the fall guy, the president has garnered the support of more than 20 ministers and a large number of the 275 MPs who are calling for a parliamentary vote of no confidence in Mr Ghedi’s administration.

The prime minister is not taking this lying down and has forged an alliance with the Hawiye, a power clan which has been supporting the insurgency and long controlled Mogadishu where Mr Yusuf has always been unpopular.

The country is braced for a political duel.

But should Mr Ghedi get the boot, it may not be to the president’s gain as it will renew his rivalry with the Hawiye who want him and his Ethiopian allies out of Mogadishu.

Mr Yusuf, under pressure from donors, also needs another favour from parliament: he must convince MPs to change the Somali Transitional Charter to co-opt non-politicians into cabinet.

Given that most Somali technocrats have aligned themselves with the opposition, this means this too could compromise what grip Abdullahi Yusuf still has on the reins of Somali politics.