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Somalia Stability Challenged by Complex and Shifting Politics


A pledge by donor nations last week to provide more than $200 million to enhance security in Somalia is being hailed by some, criticized by others. Analysts in the United States say the international community is narrowly focused on trying to stabilize Somalia without fully considering its complex and shifting politics.

At the donor conference last week in Brussels, Somalia received a pledge of more than $213 million from the international community, which has been growing increasingly concerned about the rampant piracy off the Somali coast and the threat of radical Islamists turning Somalia into a terrorist haven.

More than $30 million is earmarked to help the country's transitional government build up its security institutions, including a 6,000-member National Security Force in the capital Mogadishu and 10,000 policemen.

More than $135 million is expected to be given to the African Union to strengthen AMISOM, its peacekeeping mission in Somalia.

Earlier this week, the U.N. Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, released a statement, praising the international community for its generous contribution. The envoy called for the funds to be made available as soon as possible and to ensure the money is spent wisely and responsibly.

But Policy Advisor Colin Thomas-Jensen of the Enough Project in Washington says the decision to allocate much of the money to the African Union is likely to cause additional problems for Somalia's transitional federal government. A popular Islamist leads the government, but it is still violently opposed by Islamist hard-liners and homegrown radical groups.

"AMISOM, while providing some useful services on the ground in support of the TFG, I question whether AMISOM is really the vehicle through which we, as donors, want to be channeling that much money into Somalia," said Colin Thomas-Jensen. "Somalia is a very complicated operating environment and AMISOM is a political issue. It is the issue around which the opposition is going to frame their argument that Sheik Sharif's government is not the right leadership for Somalia."

President Sharif is a moderate Islamist leader who fled to Eritrea after Ethiopian troops, with U.S. support, ousted the country's Islamic Courts Union from power in late 2006.

In the Eritrean capital Asmara, Sheik Sharif and his colleague hard-line cleric Hassan Dahir Aweys, formed an opposition group in support of insurgents fighting the Ethiopian occupation. AMISOM troops began arriving in Mogadishu in March, 2007 to help the newly-installed Ethiopia-backed government guard key government buildings and installations from insurgent attacks.

Last June, Sheik Sharif broke ranks with Aweys to sign a peace deal with the government.

The U.N.-sponsored peace agreement signed in Djibouti paved the way for Ethiopian troop withdrawal from Somalia, the expansion of the parliament to include Islamists, and the election of Sheik Sharif as president of a new unity government.

President Sharif and his government gave their approval for AMISOM troops to stay in Somalia to train Somali security forces. But the approval angered nationalists in the Asmara group led by Aweys. Many Islamist clerics who had backed Sheik Sharif in his bid to become president were also angry because they, too, had urged the withdrawal of peacekeepers.

The Asmara group formed an alliance with three other groups to oppose President Sharif's government.

The alliance, called Hisbul Islam, split shortly after it formed when one faction decided to support the government. But the hard-liners in Hisbul Islam maintain an alliance with al-Shabab, a militant Islamist group linked to al-Qaida, which currently controls large areas of southern and central Somalia.

Last week, Aweys returned to Mogadishu, raising hopes he had returned to support or join the government. But since his return, Aweys has repeatedly criticized the government and become even more vocal in his call for the withdrawal of AMISOM.

Somali analyst Michael Weinstein says Aweys appears determined to use the presence of foreign peacekeepers as a pretext for launching a broader political challenge against President Sharif.

"The actor who is working to change the landscape is Sheik Hassan," said Michael Weinstein. "Instead of wanting to join reconciliation [efforts], I think he sees the weakness of the TFG and he sees that he has to step in to try to knit together the armed opposition as a political wing."

Analyst J. Peter Pham says President Sharif needs to quickly shore up support for his government among influential groups such as clerics, clan elders, civil society leaders, and businessmen. But he says it is not clear if the Somali leader will have enough time or money to counter the challenges ahead.

"Sheik Hassan, al-Shabab and others are just waiting to see if this shaky transitional federal government actually makes it past a few months," said Pham. "We know from various sources that one of the things that Sheik Sharif has done is [he] has been going around promising that he would be distributing resources to those who support him. It is yet unclear whether he will actually have any resources to distribute himself or whether the international community will be channeling the resources mainly through the African Union. So, if Sheik Sharif does not have his "walking around money," he might have difficulty maintaining the loyalties of those who support him."

Policy advisor Colin Thomas-Jensen says President Sharif will also likely have a tough time trying to meet the expectations of the donor nations while trying to maintain popularity and credibility among the Somali people.

"It is a very difficult tightrope that Sheik Sharif is walking because on the one hand, he needs support and he needs to expand his influence and control and broaden the umbrella under which his government is operating," he said. "But on the other hand, he cannot rely too heavily on external actors because that will sink him with many Somalis, who see external intervention as the enemy."

In his statement to the media, U.N. envoy to Somalia Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah urged Hassan Dahir Aweys and other government opponents to be, in the envoy's words, "patriotic enough to move forward and not take their country hostage to their personal ambitions."

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