Report Drafted By: Dr. Michael A. Weinstein
A closed source who is on the ground in Mogadishu and is privy to developments within Somalia’s ruptured Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.) reports that its president, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, has launched a power play to oust his rival, Prime Minister Nur “Adde” Hassan Hussein, and take over the transitional institutions and extend their term for two to three years, cementing himself as the “only option” for the international community’s and Ethiopia’s support.
According to the source,Yusuf is paying off members of Somalia’s transitional parliament to rally behind a vote of no-confidence in Nur Adde.Yusuf has also reportedly spoken with Washington’s envoy to Somalia, John Yates, and has threatened to walk away from the T.F.G. and return to his core power base in Puntland, to which Yates responded with pleas that the president stay.Ethiopia, which occupies parts of Somalia militarily, reportedly warned Yusuf that if he succeeded in removing Nur Adde, the international community would withdraw recognition from the T.F.G., whose single power resource is recognition and the funds from donors and Ethiopian presence that it brings with it.Yusuf is reported to have been unmoved,calculating that none of the external actors is willing to translate their rhetorical support for Nur Adde into concrete action that would bolster the latter’s position.
Ethiopia, which summoned Yusuf and Nur Adde to Addis Ababa in a desperate effort to heal their rift, is reportedly furious with Yusuf, but has failed after a week of “mediation” to persuade the president to approve Nur Adde’s dismissal of Mohammed Dheere, the mayor of Somalia’s official capital Mogadishu – the event that precipitated the rupture. Instead, Yusuf countered that he would sign on to the dismissal if Ethiopia replaced its present commander in Somalia, General Heard Gabre, who, according to Garoweonline, Yusuf accuses of siding with Nur Adde and taking bribes from local businessmen to let them pre- empt the T.F.G.’s security function.
The source also reports that external actors and non-governmental organizations are doing whatever business they can with Nur Adde’s replacement for Dheere, Mohamed Osman Ali Dhagathur, and that “there is not a fly moving in Dheere’s compound.” Shabelle Media Network reports that any semblance of governance has disappeared from Mogadishu.
Commenting on the present political and military situation in Somalia, the source observes that the power vacuum created by the split between Yusuf and Nur Adde, and the failure of the international community to admit to the crisis, much less to make any effort to resolve it, has led to “dozens of new factions” emerging, shifting coalitions appearing and “freelance” fighters proliferating who “join and switch sides every day.” Long-time political leaders, the source says, are leaving Somalia because they believe that the situation has escaped their possible control.
The power struggle between Yusuf and Nur Adde began from the moment that the Western donor powers working through the United Nations engineered the Nur Adde’s ascension to the prime minister’s post after a rift had opened up between the president and then PM Ali M.Gedi over oil-exploration contracts with foreign firms. Acknowledging the failure of the Ethiopian occupation to stem an Islamist-led insurgency and of the TFG to govern, the donor powers, led by the United States, abandoned their policy of trying to isolate the opposition to the TFG and opted for a strategy of “reconciliation” of the TFG and the opposition in order to isolate Islamist militants from opposition moderates, using Nur Adde as its instrument and, thereby, marginalizing Yusuf whose power would be diminished by successful reconciliation. From then on, Yusuf was placed in the position of having to fight to maintain his power.
Yusuf’s situation worsened when the donor powers were able to pressure Ethiopia, which has been drained by the insurgency, to distance itself from Yusuf – its former protege – and back reconciliation. The straw that broke the T.F.G.’s back came when Nur Adde dismissed the unpopular Dheere in an attempt to gain credibility with disaffected sub-clans of the Hawiye clan family, which dominates Mogadishu. Local media report that Yusuf saw the dismissal as a mortal threat to his position and asked: “Who will be next?” Fearing that his supporters would lose their places, Yusuf felt constrained to reject the dismissal, setting off the crisis and generating the president’s gambit.
The success of Yusuf’s gambit depends upon the donor powers’ continued failure to put financial and military muscle behind their rhetoric of “reconciliation,” which would open the way for the no-confidence vote in parliament. Were the motion to carry, the opposition’s moderate wing would be left without a negotiating partner, the donor powers would be unlikely to repeat their Nur Adde performance with another candidate, and Yusuf would be the “only option” for the donor powers. Ethiopia would be left out on a limb.
That such a scenario might unfold is behind Ethiopia’s fury, which came into the open on August 21, when its foreign minister, Seyoum Mesfin, told the Financial Times that “internal squabbles” in the TFG are the greatest obstacle to peace in Somalia and that the “major challenge” at present is “intra-governmental crisis.” Mesfin criticized “a lack of vigor and, if I may say, a lack of commitment” among the T.F.G.’s factions. Mesfin concluded by suggesting that the TFG implement plans for “regional administrations” in Somalia that would give people a stake in their government and provide an environment for resolving clan rivalries, but would also serve Ethiopia’s aims of keeping Somalia fragmented while allowing Addis Ababa to withdraw its occupation forces. During mid-August reports surfaced that the Ethiopian forces were preparing to decrease their presence in Somalia and were loading their military equipment on ships destined for the port of Berbera in Somaliland, from which they would be brought back to Ethiopia.
If Ethiopia draws back, there is little likelihood that the occupation will be replaced by a U.N. “stabilization force,” which is called for in the agreements reached by the opposition moderates and Nur Adde’s faction of the T.F.G. On August 20, the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution supporting the reconciliation process, but – despite appeals by the moderate opposition, Nur Adde and the African Union, which wants its understaffed and underfunded peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM) replaced by a U.N. force – repeated its position that it would be “willing to consider” a U.N. mission at an “appropriate time,” that is, when there is “progress” in Somalia’s “political process” and “improved security” in the country.
It is within the context of a lack of vigor and commitment from the donor powers and Ethiopia that Yusuf’s gambit makes sense from his point of view. Although Yusuf has been marginalized by the external actors and appears to have been weakened, he believes that the external actors lack the resolve to stop him, and he is probably correct.
Whether or not Yusuf succeeds,the observations of the closed source on the fragmentation of Somalia’s political landscape, which are corroborated in open sources, are likely to hold for the foreseeable future – political entropy at the state level seems to have set in, with no power center strong enough to provide governance on a national level, the insurgency unabated and intensifying, and localism asserting itself. If Yusuf carries through his power play, he will not become Somalia’s kingpin; he will, instead, be one of Somalia’s many “spoilers,” as he has been in the past.
Report Drafted By:
Dr. Michael A. Weinstein,
Professor of Political Science, Purdue University