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Somalia: To Move Beyond the Failed State
Somalia: To Move Beyond the Failed State
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Al-Shabaab Militancy in Somalia: A Timeline
Al-Shabaab Militancy in Somalia: A Timeline
Report 147 / Africa

Somalia: To Move Beyond the Failed State

Since 1991 Somalia has been the archetypal failed state. Several attempts to create a transitional set-up have failed, and the current one is on the brink of collapse, overtaken yet again by an Islamist insurgency, despite the support of an Ethiopian military intervention since December 2006. Over the last two years the situation has deteriorated into one of the world’s worst humanitarian and security crises.

Executive Summary

Since 1991 Somalia has been the archetypal failed state. Several attempts to create a transitional set-up have failed, and the current one is on the brink of collapse, overtaken yet again by an Islamist insurgency, despite the support of an Ethiopian military intervention since December 2006. Over the last two years the situation has deteriorated into one of the world’s worst humanitarian and security crises. The international community is preoccupied with a symptom – the piracy phenomenon – instead of concentrating on the core of the crisis, the need for a political settlement. The announced Ethiopian withdrawal, if it occurs, will open up a new period of uncertainty and risk. It could also provide a window of opportunity to relaunch a credible political process, however, if additional parties can be persuaded to join the Djibouti reconciliation talks, and local and international actors – including the U.S. and Ethiopia – accept that room must be found for much of the Islamist insurgency in that process and ultimately in a new government dispensation.

The Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has failed in four years to create a broad-based government and now is non-functional, existing almost only in name. President Abdillahi Yusuf has marginalised large parts of the population and exacerbated divisions. The latest confrontation with parliament and the prime minister has underlined that Yusuf hampers any progress on peace, has become a liability for the country’s survival and should be encouraged to resign.

Ethiopia’s attitude has hardened over the last few months, and the mood in certain circles in Addis Ababa has become almost hostile to the TFG leaders, in particular Yusuf. The intention to withdraw reflects this frustration, as well as unwillingness to continue to accept considerable losses in a war against the insurgency that is going badly. Opposition to the Ethiopian occupation has been the single issue on which the many ele-
ments of the fractious Islamist insurgency could agree. When that glue is removed, it is likely that infighting will increase, making it difficult for the insurgency to obtain complete military victory, or at least sustain it, and creating opportunities for political progress.

For now, however, the Islamist fighters are gaining ever more ground. All major towns in south-central Somalia have been captured by one faction or another except for Mogadishu, where TFG control is ever more contested, and Baidoa. The Islamists already dominate nearly as much territory as they did before the Ethiopian invasion, and a takeover of the entire south seems almost inevitable.

While the Djibouti peace process did initiate new dialogue, it has accomplished little in its eight months, not least because the parts of the Islamist insurgency that have the most guns and territory are not participants. The key aim of its architects was to create a powerful political alliance, capable of stabilising the country, marginalising the radicals and stemming the tide of Islamist militancy. This was quickly made unachievable by splits within the insurgent Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) as well as the TFG, and the rapid advance by the parts of the opposition, in particular radical militias like Al-Shabaab, that reject the process. The ARS faction located in Asmara (ARS-A) and its controversial leader, Hassan Dahir Aweys, also have stayed away from Djibouti. Those around the table – the ARS faction based in Djibouti (ARS-D) and the TFG – control very little territory. In addition, Yusuf has continuously undermined the process, as he believes Djibouti is ultimately a strategy to oust him.

Despite the reluctance of the international community to engage with the Islamist opposition, there is no other practical course than to reach out to its leaders in an effort to stabilise the security situation with a ceasefire and then move on with a process that addresses the root causes of the conflict. Support for the process from countries with moral authority or influence on the militias, such as Eritrea, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, will need to be sought.

Timing is vital. The African Union peacekeeping mission (AMISOM) originally sent to Mogadishu to relieve the Ethiopians is far too small and weak and will be at increasing risk from insurgent attacks following the Ethiopian withdrawal. But it would be a bad idea to try to send a UN peacekeeping mission in now, as the U.S. is urging the Security Council to do, when there is no viable peace process and sufficient troops cannot be found. The priority must be the political settlement, after which UN peacekeepers will have a vital, traditional monitoring role to play.

There is no guarantee that a political settlement is achievable. The militias that have carried the fight to the TFG and the Ethiopians and now control most of the territory will be reluctant to negotiate just when they have reason to believe that they have defeated their enemies and can take what they want with guns. But there is no good alternative to making the attempt. One way or the other, Somalia is likely to be dominated by Islamist forces. It makes sense for the international community to use the incentive of international recognition and extensive support for such a regime to ensure that it draws in a wide spectrum of militia elements, including not only ARS-A but also Al-Shabaab elements; respects the territorial integrity of its neighbours, including Ethiopia, and the internationally guaranteed rights of its people; and renounces any relationship with terrorists.

Consultations should be pursued with Muslim countries from outside the region (Morocco, Jordan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Bangladesh) about troop pledges so that the UN could swiftly introduce a peacekeeping operation to support implementation of a serious cease-
fire agreement, the first step toward a genuine political settlement. If hard-core elements reject negotiation and either press on to establish a more extreme regime or fall into conflict with each other, however, Somalia will become an even more chaotic and dangerous place. No conceivable peacekeeping force could reasonably be expected to bring order. Parallel to the urgent efforts needed to reform and re-energise the political process, therefore, contingency planning should be started so that AMISOM can be swiftly evac-
uated if the security situation deteriorates further, and it is repeatedly attacked. Planning will also be needed on how such a Somalia might be cordoned off in a way that minimises its ability to export instability and per-haps terror to the region and even beyond.

Nairobi/Brussels, 23 December 2008

Interactive / Africa

Al-Shabaab Militancy in Somalia: A Timeline

There’s no end in sight to the war with Al-Shabaab Islamist militants in Somalia, which has been raging for more than fifteen years. This timeline explains how the group came into existence and how it evolved amid the country’s other troubles.

Al-Shabaab’s Islamist insurgency has sown chaos in Somalia for more than fifteen years and shows no sign of abating. In the face of military operations by Somalia’s government and its foreign partners, Al-Shabaab has proven resilient, continuously adjusting its strategy while entrenching itself deeper in Somali society.

This timeline helps make sense of Al-Shabaab’s evolution in a country whose government struggles to establish itself outside major towns. It traces the group’s history, from its beginnings as the enforcement wing of an alliance of Sharia courts to an insurgency holding swathes of Somali territory and perpetrating attacks elsewhere in East Africa.

You can find all of Crisis Group’s work on Somalia here, including our latest report on Al-Shabaab, “Considering Political Engagement with Al-Shabaab in Somalia”.