With rapidly changing developments in Somalia, observers are debating what it all means. Among those following developments in Somalia is Ken Menkhaus, associate professor of political science at Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina. VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua asked Dr. Menkhaus if Ethiopian forces can hold Mogadishu.
“No, Ethiopian forces cannot hold Mogadishu and I doubt that they would try. What they are going to try to do is encourage the Transitional Federal Government in alliance with defectors in Mogadishu – both clan and factional groups – that want to work with the TFG (Transitional Federal Government) in the absence of any other authority. That’s really the best that can be expected in Mogadishu right now,” he says.
Asked about the speed with which Ethiopian and TFG forces moved, Menkhaus says, “I think this was a surprise for all of us. The biggest surprise was not that the Islamists withdrew to Mogadishu. That was expected. They didn’t want to fight in the countryside in a conventional war. But the bigger surprise is that they have opted to withdraw or partially withdraw from Mogadishu to spare the city of fighting. I suspect that what is happening is that many of their militia are blending back into the local community, rejoining clan militias. Some may not longer be a factor in fighting Ethiopia and the TFG. Others may be simply waiting for the moment to engage in ambushes. This could be a trap for the TFG and for Ethiopia.”
What does he expect to happen next? Menkhaus says, “I think the next step is going to be the most difficult. The TFG is going to have to work in conjunction with some local allies to regain control of Mogadishu. If Mogadishu explodes into criminal violence and looting again, that is going to look very, very bad in the eyes of Somalis. Ethiopia is now going to have to step aside, I presume, and let mediators to bring together the TFG and the Islamists and re-emerging clan authorities in Mogadishu to broker a government of national unity. That remains the best-case scenario. That remains the long-term hope for Somalia.”
And the worst-case scenario? “The worst case is that this is a trap. That what we are going to see is a prolonged asymmetrical war that involves a lot of hit and run guerilla attacks, suicide car bombings and terrorist attacks throughout the eastern Horn of Africa.