News / Africa

Somalia Transitional Federal Government Called Weak, Bad Option

Joe DeCapua

In Washington, a congressional panel heard a pessimistic assessment of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, or TFG.

The House Subcommittee on Africa took testimony from several witnesses Thursday, including Ken Menkhaus, political science professor at Davidson College in North Carolina.

“Our policy in Somalia has been framed for several years by support to the Transitional Federal Government,” he says.

“That has never been a policy that has been embraced, because it was seen as having high promise, but because it was always seen as the best of bad options.  The bad news…is that the TFG is no longer the best of bad options.  It’s simply a bad option.”

He describes the government as being in “disarray” and “an enormous disappointment,’ despite millions of dollars in support.

“Most of its members have resigned or reside outside the country.  It controls only a few districts of the capital that are in fact secured by African Union peacekeepers.  It has been notorious for corruption.  Its security forces have been a law unto themselves,” he says.

Unwilling and unable

Professor Menkhaus says, “The fundamental problem…is not that it is weak.  If it were only weak, state capacity building assistance would be the cure.  This is not a case of a government that is willing, but not able. This is a case of a government that is neither willing nor able.”

He says Somalia’s “top political elites” are using the TFG to make money “without taking the risks or the hard work of actually reviving the failed state.”


The poor state of the TFG, he says, has allowed the al-Shabaab militia to expand its control over much of the country, despite its own weaknesses.

“Shabaab is not strong.  It has numerous internal divisions.  But it’s the only player on the playing field.  And so it’s strong mainly as a function of the TFG’s weakness.  Many observers believe that …there can be defections [in Shabaab].  There are large groups within Shabaab that are not really committed to hard core Jihadism,” he says.

However, unless there’s a viable alternative to Shabaab, fighters are unlikely to defect.

“So the population is acting in a predictably risk adverse manner, supporting tacitly or acquiescing to Shabaab control,” he says.

Policy shift

“The time is right for a policy shift.  I would argue that for starters, we need to look at a diversification strategy, not to decertify the Transitional Federal Government, but to demote it to a transitional authority tasked strictly with implementing key transitional tasks in this government,” he says.

Menkhaus recommends “engaging any legitimate, powerful and effective authorities that we find at the sub-national level.”

He says they should be “effective to create some competition for good governance in Somalia, to put pressure on the TFG, and to end its monopoly of access to external assistance.”

The conflict in Somalia has created one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters with hundreds of thousands of displaced people needing emergency aid.

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