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Somalia's Transitional Government Celebrates First Anniversary - 2001-09-01

After a decade of war and anarchy, Somalia's transitional government is celebrating its first anniversary this week. But it only controls a fraction of the country.

When the new Somali President Abdikassim Salad Hassan arrived in the capital, Mogadishu, a year ago, his presidential motorcade included more than 100 heavily armed pickup trucks, also called "technicals."

It was a stark reminder that Somalia is not a safe country and that the warlords who have dominated Somalia since the overthrow of former President Siad Barre's government in 1991, continued to control vast areas of the country.

Abdikassim Salad Hassan was elected president of an interim Somali government at the Djibouti-sponsored Arta Peace Conference a year ago. The president and legislators agreed to serve during a three-year transition, after which there are to be national elections.

One year later, 90 percent of the country is still in the hands of President Abdikassim's opponents be they warlords like Hussein Mohammed Aideed or secessionist mini-states like Somaliland in the north.

But President Abdikassim's transitional government, which is called the TNG, has made significant progress, according to University of Nairobi political analyst Moustapha Hassouna. "I think the most remarkable success of the transitional government has been to foster a sense of stability and continuity," he says. "To improve the image of Somalia as a state and to get it accepted as a government, which is in transition. The level and the intensity of fighting in Somalia has reduced drastically over the last one-year or so. Mainly because of the conviction by the warlords that the way forward is political, rather than through the barrel of the gun. I think the TNG has a brilliant future ahead of it. There is a great optimism in Somalia at the moment."

The new government has demobilized half of the 20,000 militias that once roamed the streets, and set up a national police force and army. The biggest obstacle it now faces is disarming the warlords.

According to Mr. Hassouna, the warlords will be forced to negotiate a political settlement because they are rapidly losing legitimacy. "The push factor here is from the donors and the supporters of these various warlords who are beginning to get increasingly tired of meeting the requirements and demands and needs of these warlords," he says. "Today, the push factor is on to the negotiating table. The legitimacy and the recognition that they are getting has dwindled. More legitimacy has accrued to the TNG at the expense of the warlords. They have tried over and over to get their presence felt by doing all sorts of illegal acts such as taking hostages of foreign aid workers but this has not helped their cause. Truly and sincerely the warlords are on their way out."

Somalia's warlords refuse to recognize the transitional government because they were not present when it was elected at last year's Arta peace conference in neighboring Djibouti. They want President Abdikassim to renounce the office and take part in another reconciliation conference.

The two northern breakaway states of Somaliland and Puntland also pose a threat to President Abdikassim's administration. Unlike the rest of the country, which has been devastated by conflict, they have been living peacefully under their own governments for several years. But neither has won any international recognition as a sovereign state.

For Mohamed Warsawa, a Somali news analyst, this lack of international recognition is putting pressure on Somaliland's President Mohamed Ibrahim Egal to return to some form of union with Mogadishu. "There is an increasing feeling that is gaining popularity in Somaliland that it is better in the long-term interest, given the fact that they have failed in 10-years of secession to gain international recognition, they opt for going back to some sort of union with the south," he says. "But not on the old basis. Federation is the best option. Even Egal himself is thinking on those terms."

Puntland's Vice President Mohamed Abdi Hashi says the people of Puntland are also willing to re-join Somalia if they are given federal autonomy. "What we are saying is this," he notes. "A new conference to be called for where the Somali can choose a genuine government which represent them. I think the best way we can get a central authority acceptable to everybody is to get building blocks, say Puntland to be one state, Somaliland to be one state, Digil and Merifle area to be one state and Mogadishu to form their own state. And then the four states to come together and form a government, which is acceptable to all different parts of the country."

Vice President Hashi says the government in Mogadishu, which he calls the Arta government, will wither away if it does not find a way to unite with the rest of Somalia. "I do not think, unless you know there is understanding between Arta and other parts of Somalia, like Puntland, Somaliland, Digil and Merifle area, I do not think they will survive any more," he adds. "They will just remain there and then they will wither away. Because they do not have land to rule. And without land and people they cannot survive unless there is some sort of understanding between the other parts of Somalia and other people."

Like the warlords, Puntland's Vice President Hashi wants the transitional government to enter into negotiations as an equal partner and not as a government.

Mr. Hassouna of Nairobi University predicts that Somalia will hold another national conference, but not on these terms. He believes it will give the transitional government a chance to win recognition from its political rivals and consolidate its rule.