Matthew Bryden, consultant for the International Crisis Group, says Ethiopia’s presence in Somalia is breeding resentment among the local population.
Bryden says, “There is now a political vacuum in southern Somalia that the transitional government alone is not able to fill. And there is a real risk now of a slow burning insurgency that combines clan rebels and nationalists, who resent the Ethiopian presence, and jihadists trying to make a comeback, unless some kind of political consolidation can be achieved to cement this military victory.”
Asked how this political consolidation might be accomplished, Bryden says, “The key is really for an inclusive political dialogue that would see the Transitional Federal Government reconstituted as a government of national unity. And in practice, that would mean reaching out to the leaders and the elites of the constituency that supported the Islamic Courts. And those to a large extent are based in certain clans. Engaging them and offering them a genuine share of power in the transitional government. That would include cabinet posts. It means probably the prime minister’s post would have to be on the line. And it may involve some shifting of members of parliament, people who are considered more representative of those communities.”
Bryden says that clan leaders should give up their militias if they do take part in a government of national unity. “The ultimate objective is for all of the heavy weapons and militias to either be decommissioned or placed under a central unified command. But under present circumstances, politically, we’ve had the government, backed by Ethiopia, win a military victory and a heavily armed population that feels humiliated, alienated and threatened by this government. And so they’re not going to hand over their weapons to anybody,” he says.
As for US attacks on suspected Al Qaida targets, Bryden says, “If the US can demonstrate it has actually found and killed foreign members of al Qaida, they may be able to justify, in a limited way, that intervention. And there may be a degree of understanding of why they’ve done it.”
However, he says the air strikes are likely to complicate the political situation in Somalia, with the United States, Ethiopia and the transitional government looking upon Somalia as a new battlefield in the war against terrorists.