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Somali Peace Negotiations Continue With Hard Line Islamic Insurgents

Ongoing negotiations between President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed's government and hard line Islamic insurgent groups continue in the Somali capital, Mogadishu today (Wednesday). The talks aimed at bringing the Islamic hardliners into government are reportedly going on smoothly despite the refusal of both parties to divulge the extent of the discussions. Political observers believe escalated violence in Somalia could significantly be reduced once Islamic hard line insurgent groups join the new government. But many Somalis say it would be next to impossible for al-Shabaab, with reported links to al-Qaeda, to join the new government after refusing to recognize it.

Political analyst Abdullahi Ali tells reporter Peter Clottey that Mogadishu has a hard task in getting the hard line Islamic insurgents to join the government.

"What has happened in the recent Arab summit in Qatar is that the elected president of Somalia was told to cooperate with the opposition that is in the form of armed groups in Somalia. One of the people who is involved in that is Sheikh Hassan Dahir Awey (is on a U.S. list of terrorism suspects) who is based in Asmara and who was previously in the same group with Sheikh Sharif until they broke up. But what is challenging here is not only are there many struggles in Somalia which are outside the two ARS'S (Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia), the biggest obstacle will be how they are going to share power considering the nature of the power itself," Ali noted.

He said personal differences between the current president and his former ally would make it impossible for the two sides to work under the same government.

"Considering that Sheikh Hassan Dahir Awey thinks that President Sheikh Ahmed is more junior to him and that he (president) shouldn't be more senior to him in government. So, this is a question of a power struggle which will start within Mogadishu. I also hear that Sheikh Hassan Dahir Awey would be going to Mogadishu, so let's see what will happen in the next few weeks," he said.

Ali said the new administration has a Herculean task in its efforts to restore peace to the country after at least 18 years of protracted violence.

"What people have to understand is that there is not only al-Shabaab, there is also Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca and there are a number of armed wings which are involved in armed struggles in Somalia, which are outside al-Shabaab. Bringing them all on board is going to be quite difficult task for the government to tackle. But I think if they try diplomacy and other means they may be also to see eye to eye to probably share power and in a way that is befitting," Ali pointed out.

He said it would be challenging for the government to negotiate with the hard line Islamic insurgents since they feel they are stronger than the government.

"But I do think it would be very difficult the insurgents to accept the formal government which contains over 550 members of parliament which is invariably so weak, and further more how are they going to share power considering that the current government doesn't have any constituency? So, it's quite a big challenge for the government to go deep into negotiations with very strong armed groups. And you know, you normally negotiate from a point of strength and they (Islamists) think they are more powerful than the government and so why should they negotiate with the government?" he asked.

Ali said the current government's lack of strength would go a long way to weaken its efforts at restoring peace and security to the capital, Mogadishu and the entire country.

"The government doesn't have any strength it is a very weak government and not only is it weak, but it is technically weak because its composition is a remnant of former President Abdullahi Yusuf's government. So, it is the retackling of the old people who are there practically they are not changing because it is just a matter of changing the heads. In fact it is worse now because now you have 550 members of parliament who do not have any constituency. So, it is a mess that way and they do not have skills to negotiate with their foes on the ground and they don't have the fire power intellectually and militarily to challenge the opposition as it is now," Ali pointed out.

Ordinary Somalis have welcomed the new administration's efforts in encouraging the hard line insurgent groups to join the government. The efforts are aimed at restoring peace and security to the capital, Mogadishu and other areas of the country after at least 18 years without an effective government since the overthrow of former President Muhammad Siad Barre in 1994.

Described by Washington as a terrorist organization with links to Al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab has refused to recognize President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed's government vowing to use violence to eventually take over the country. It accuses the new administration of being un-Islamic despite the fact that the current President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed is an Islamist leader. Al-Shabaab now controls large swathes of territory in the south and centre of Somalia where they imposed the sharia law.

The group also promised to continue with its attacks on Africa Union peacekeeping mission (AMISOM) in the country. Al-Shabaab gained support as one of many groups waging war against Ethiopian troops who had been propping up the previous government for the last two years. The Ethiopian withdrawal in January placated some Somalis, but al-Shabaab has now turned its fire on the African peacekeeping mission and the new government. Regional diplomats hope the inclusion of many moderate Islamists in the government will provide a new political dynamic that may marginalize hardliners like al-Shabaab.

Somalis, who are traditionally moderate Muslims, say al-Shabaab leaders normally bring security to areas under their control, but many resent their hard line practices. The group is viewed as the main obstacle to President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed's new government seeking to bring peace and central rule to the Horn of Africa nation, in the 15th such attempt