A leading, U.S.-based analyst on Somalia says the semi-autonomous region of Puntland is in a serious political and economic crisis, which he believes could undermine Somalia's efforts to achieve national reconciliation and to create more instability in the volatile Horn of Africa. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu in our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi spoke to the analyst, Professor Michael Weinstein, and has this story.
In a report published last week on the website Power and Interest News Report, Somali analyst and political scientist Michael Weinstein argues that failures in governance under President Mohamed Adde Muse have badly weakened Puntland's stability.
Among the region's worst problems is hyperinflation, which triggered mass protests last month in Puntland's capital Garowe and in the commercial center Bossasso.
The government's mounting financial problems have prompted President Muse to try to exert control over Puntland's natural and economic resources, a move that Weinstein says has heightened tension with sub-states, the business community, and political opponents.
Weinstein says there are already signs that Puntland is too weak economically and militarily to maintain the status quo. Recently, a region called Sanag, claimed by neighboring rival Somaliland and occupied by Puntland since 2002, and another hotly disputed area called Western Bari, created a new regional state. The Maakhir State of Somalia says it will function independently from Puntland and Somaliland.
"It Puntland starts fragmenting, then you have all the more possibility of terrorist groups forming there," he said. "You have opportunities for the Arab states, Ethiopia, to come in to try to manipulate the situation. And then, you also bring Somaliland into the mix and heighten the possibility that there is going to be an armed conflict in the northeast region."
Since Puntland came into being in 1998, the northeastern region of Somalia, dominated by a clan called the Darod, had been considered relatively stable.
The region's first president was Abdullahi Yusuf, who remained in power until he assumed the presidency of Somalia's Transitional Federal Government in 2004.
Observers say his successor, Adde Muse, is struggling to consolidate power amid Somali interim government's attempts to assert its authority over Puntland.
Last month, Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi's office reprimanded President Muse for signing a fishing deal with Yemen without the government's consent. But Puntland officials say that the fishing deal, and several other deals since, did have the blessings of interim President Abdullahi Yusuf.
Weinstein says he believes Puntland is in a no-win, political tug-of-war between the prime minister, who wants the transitional government to administer Puntland, and the president, who has a different agenda.
Weinstein says President Yusuf has demonstrated repeatedly that his aim is to turn Puntland into a personal fiefdom.
"He is the protagonist in this affair," he said. "He is striving mightily to bring Puntland under his wing, so that he can control Puntland's security forces and extract money from taxes and trade deals Puntland is making."
President Yusuf has not commented on the accusations, which have been voiced by other western analysts and Somali intellectuals.
Weinstein says Puntland has entered a period of deep uncertainty, made worse by the volatile political situation in Mogadishu. He says the only thing that is clear is that Puntland's relative stability can no longer be taken for granted.