Somalia's Power Struggle
20 June 2011:
On June 19, Somalia’s prime minister stepped down amid ongoing violence between the country's Transitional Federal Government and the Islamist group al-Shabab. His resignation followed a power struggle between the president and speaker of the parliament. EJ Hogendoorn, Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa Project Director, discusses the implications for Somalia.
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Welcome to this podcast from the International Crisis Group. I’m Kimberly Abbott, Communications Director for North America. After years of stalemate, Somalia’s U.S.-backed Transitional Federal Government has recently begun chipping away at territory controlled by al-Shabab, the Islamist insurgent group and al-Qaeda ally. But on June 19, Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, also known as Farmajo, announced his resignation, the result of a power struggle within the highest ranks of the Transitional Federal Government. This could potentially derail recent security gains. With me today to talk about this is EJ Hogendoorn, Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa Project Director.
EJ, the struggle between the federal government and al-Shabab is at a turning point for the better. Who deserves the credit for that?
Well, unfortunately, the credit mostly belongs to the AU Mission in Somalia. They’re the ones who have been doing most of the fighting, although the Transitional Federal Government has been taking most of the credit for this. But at least in Mogadishu, the capital, it’s been AMISOM that’s been doing the bulk of the fighting in coordination with some independent militias that are only loosely allied to the government. And then, in other parts of south and central Somalia, it’s groups that are actually proxies for neighboring states.
Tell us a little bit about the dispute that led to Prime Minister Mohamed’s resignation. What effect will this have on the federal effort against insurgents?
The prime minister’s resignation is only going to hurt efforts to stabilize Mogadishu. The larger issue is the rivalry between the president and the speaker of parliament, who have essentially jettisoned the prime minister in an effort to negotiate a compromise that we think is not going to lead to any kind of settling of the dysfunctions within the government.
Crisis Group has accused the Transitional Federal Government of rampant corruption. Given that reality, do you think that U.S. and other financial support has been a net gain?
No, we don’t think that U.S. financial support has been a net gain. In our view, most of the money that has been given to the Transitional Federal Government has been squandered, and essentially it has propped up this very dysfunctional and unstable regime. We have been arguing for quite some time that unless the Transitional Federal Government reforms extensively, that money can be much better spent on supporting local administrations operating in other parts of Somalia, that are actually governing and providing services to their populations.
Who are some of those local governments?
Basically, they are local governments that have been established unilaterally by populations in an effort to try to mediate local disputes, provide some modicum of public services and are trying to gain some recognition from the international community.
And why has the international community ignored these other constituencies and these other governments?
Well, that’s an excellent question. In our view, it essentially has to do with the fact that most international diplomats and bureaucrats think of the state very much as a centralized structure where all power emanates from the capital. And thus, they have this presupposition of working only with the recognized government and not with local authorities that are actually providing services on the ground.
What steps can the Transitional Federal Government, the African Union and international supporters take to improve the situation?
Well, of course, we don’t think the Transitional Federal Government necessarily needs to be jettisoned. We just think it needs to be pushed to do much more to reconcile and to start working in partnership with other local administrations. Local or centralized leaders in Mogadishu need to reach out to those local authorities and bring them into the government. Right now, they don’t want to do so, because essentially all the international support is going to the government and they want to keep it for themselves rather than share it with all these other actors out there, that are actually doing the hard work of trying to govern Somalia.
It’s a political problem, but it’s one that has not only domestic but international consequences. This is also the reason for all of the piracy that we hear about off the coast of Somalia, is it not?
Correct. But again, piracy is a perfect example of it being a political problem. Right now, what we are doing is we are concentrating almost all our efforts on a naval mission to patrol off the coast of Somalia, when in fact the solution to piracy is engaging with those local communities that the pirates are essentially now using to launch and sustain their operations. If we could in fact get these communities to turn against the pirates, the pirates would have no place to operate from and they would have to stop their activities.
Edited for print