In the past week, the al-Shabaab militia and other
insurgent groups have seized several towns in Somalia, including the strategic
port of Merka. The new Islamic insurgency is still on the move, currently about
18 kilometers from the capital Mogadishu.
On Saturday, President Abdullahi Yusuf said Somalia’s transitional
government (TFG) maintains control only over the capital city and the town of
Baidoa, which is the seat of parliament.
Somali-born Professor Abdi Samatar of the University of Minnesota says that the latest military action
signals a new phase of struggle for power in a country which has lacked a
stable government for the past 16 years.
“The Transitional Federal Government
virtually is non-existent, and therefore there seems to be a political vacuum.
And the so-called Shabaab, or youth, will, I think, very soon be able to be on
the outskirts of Mogadishu. And if there
is an agreement between the Shabaab and the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), then
the TFG virtually will be done,” he notes.
Samatar says the Union of the Islamic Courts already occupies a strategic
presence in Mogadishu, and he expects the rival al-Shabaab militia also to play
a role. But he says that as long as neighboring Ethiopia maintains a
five-thousand strong troop presence in the country, the Islamist groups will
let the TFG’s influence fade away before moving to form a new government.
Ethiopians have not departed. They
still have at least five thousand troops on the ground with significant
armament. And so I think (Ethiopian) Prime Minister Meles could order the
troops to immediately act, because last week, when the so-called Shabaab
captured the town of Merka, which is about 90 kilometers south of Mogadishu,
Ethiopian troops moved from Mogadishu into another town, Afgoye, on the way to
Merka. So that is still a major
factor,” he noted.
Samatar, who teaches geography at the midwestern US university, says that under
current circumstances, he thinks that Somalia’s various Islamic militias will
strive to maintain a delicate provisional balance of power in the country until
a clearer picture of conditions emerges.
sense is that I don’t think that the insurgency will move to create a new
regime immediately, but it simply will make the old one defunct. The second thing to know about is that there
are sufficient Ethiopian troops still in Mogadishu and Baidoa, and in a few
other areas of the country. And so what
will determine what becomes of this new insurgency is the ways in which the
Ethiopian government will react to that, because in the past, it said that it
considers the Shabaab as a terrorist organization and that it will not stand by
the wayside to see them take over the country,” he explained.
United Nations envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah has asked Somali
factions to put aside their disagreements in the interest of achieving national
unity. But dischord has been
widespread. The President and Prime
Minister are unable to agree on the makeup of a cabinet, and a rivalry as well
has developed within the Islamist movement, which is split between a so-called
moderate faction, based in Djibouti, and a more militant group of expatriates
based in Asmara, Eritrea. In addition,
Professor Abdi Samatar notes that the international community has been
sidelined with only a very small role that it can play as the transitional
government’s hold on power declines.
“The TFG, for all practical purposes except
at the level of having recognition of the international community – the UN and
the AU – are virtually done. So they
don’t have any effect on the ground, except in small areas of Mogadishu and
except in small areas of the small town of Baidoa, where the parliament is
seated. And many of those
parliamentarians are in Nairobi, Kenya,” he observes.
African Union has maintained a small peacekeeping force in Somalia since March of 2007. But several African countries expected to
contribute to the force have yet to do so.
Professor Samatar says that at the current juncture, he believes an
expanded UN or AU military presence might raise the level of tensions even further.
“I think the AU force has been relatively
ineffective and impartial. But unless
there is a political agreement between the so-called transitional government,
the Ethiopians, and the Union of the Islamic Courts, and the local militias,
injecting more groups into the ground from the UN or the AU may be
counterproductive,” he said.