Somali Islamists and opposition leaders continue their meeting in the Eritrean capital, Asmara. The gathering comes shortly after the end of a six-week reconciliation conference in Mogadishu sponsored by the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG). Many opposition members refused to attend.
Among those following developments is Professor Ken Menkhaus of Davidson College in North Carolina. He spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the Asmara meeting
“This is not unexpected. We’d been planning to see an opposition meeting and we knew for a long time it was going to be held in Asmara. It certainly is provocative in terms of Ethiopian-Eritrean relations, which really couldn’t get much worse, short of an outright war, particularly with the arrival of Hassan Dahir Aweys yesterday or the day before at the meeting. That is guaranteed to rile up Ethiopia and raise additional concerns in the United States,” he says.
Menkhaus explains the significance of the Islamist leader’s arrival. “Hassan Dahir Aweys is on the US list of designated terror suspects and is believed to have close links to the Shabab militia, which is accused of leading the insurgency in Mogadishu, engaging in political assassinations and so on,” he says.
Asked why the Asmara meeting would follow the TFG-backed reconciliation conference, Menkhaus says, “It’s certainly timed to pose as an alternative to the peace building process that the TFG initiated. The opposition, both Islamist and non-Islamist, does not recognize the legitimacy of the TFG and by establishing themselves as a coherent alternative a couple of things could happen. One is they could be beginning to lay the groundwork to lay claim to power or some position in negotiations in a post-TFG Somalia if the TFG doesn’t succeed.
“Alternatively, if they can hold together a coalition – which a big question, this is a very diverse group – but if they can, that would open the door to the possibility that the TFG would have a discrete opposition movement to negotiate with if they wanted to negotiate them. Right now, it is not interested. It is arguing, as is the US and others, that a precondition for any peace talks is renunciation of political violence. And as most of these groups support the insurgency as a justifiable, defensive jihad against an external occupation of their country there’s not a lot of wiggle room between the two.”
Menkhaus says that in the short term he does not see any real hope for peace.