A progressively deteriorating security situation in Somalia’s capital has hastened the departure of thousands of Mogadishu residents. It has also given Ethiopia new concerns about the convoys of reinforcements Addis Ababa has been sending in to curb the fierce fighting. On top of that, the departure of Transitional Federal Government (TFG) Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi last week raises questions about the type of replacement Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf can find to unify his transitional government against rivals and Islamic insurgents. Somalia specialist and professor of political science at Davidson College, Ken Menkhaus, says the change in personnel could bring advantages or it could spell greater instability for the weak central government.
“The best-case scenario is it opens the window for President Abdullahi Yusuf to select an alternative prime minister who is from the opposition. So he reaches out to create a government of unity which would diffuse – it wouldn’t end -- but it would diffuse the insurgency in Mogadishu. The worst-case scenario is that he appoints another person who is seen as part of a narrow coalition that’s too close to Ethiopia. Or that he can’t find someone, that the opposition just isn’t interested in joining the TFG, in which case, he runs the risk of losing Gedi’s clan, so that now the insurgency is even broader,” he cautions.
Last December, Ethiopian troops entered Somalia to help the transitional government topple Islamists, who were poised to take control of the entire country. But the ruling regime’s opposition that is based in Eritrea has strengthened Somalia’s insurgency to a point where Ethiopia has had to bolster its presence in Mogadishu to counter moves by its adversary in Asmara. Professor Menkhaus says that President Yusuf’s choice of a successor to Prime Minister Gedi could likely influence how long Ethiopia feels compelled to defend its position on Somali soil.
“There’s no question that there are only a couple of ways that Ethiopia can depart from Mogadishu. One way is by having a government that’s inclusive enough that the people of Mogadishu feel that they’re stakeholders. Or, at least a critical mass of powerful constituencies in Mogadishu feel that they are critical stakeholders. And again, a lot depends on the selection of the prime minister,” he notes.
Menkhaus thinks it’s highly unlikely that African Union forces could fill in for a departing Ethiopian contingent. And a third scenario he suggests might be an Ethiopian realization that it needs to make a unilateral withdrawal from the Somali capital to maintain its preeminence in the region. Just how perilous the choice of a new prime minister might be for Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government is dependent on several factors that Menkhaus says President Yusuf will have to overcome, including the factors that necessitated Prime Minister Gedi’s departure.
“A lot of this also has to do with money, and in the end, the biggest problem, well two biggest problems are that, one was that Yusuf was increasingly captive to the Mogadishu-based groups in the central government. And then the other was that any effort to broaden the government was being resisted by Gedi, in large part because he understood that he would probably lose his position as part of a more inclusive government, so he had to go in Yusuf’s eyes,” said Menkhaus.