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Somalia: First Steps in a New Direction
Feb 16, 2009 (090216)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
"The shortcomings of [the previous U.S.] approach are abundantly
clear: violent extremism and anti-Americanism are now rife in
Somalia due in large part to the blowback from policies that
focused too narrowly on counter-terrorism objectives. The new U.S.
national security team must make a clean break by defining and
implementing a long-term strategy to support the development of an
inclusive Somali government." - Ken Menkhaus
With the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Somalia, the election
of President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed on January 31, and his
appointment of Prime Minister Omar Ali Sharmarke on February 14,
the opportunities for such an inclusive government seem to be
opening up. President Sheikh Sharif is a moderate Islamist who
headed the Islamic Courts Union before the Ethiopian invasion in
December 2006. Sharmarke, who graduated from Carleton University
in Canada and has worked for the United Nations, is the son of the
last democratically elected president of Somalia, whose
assassination in 1969 was followed by the military coup of Mohammed
Siad Barre, who held power from 1969 to 1991.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains an interview with President
Sheikh Sharif, and excerpts from a new policy paper for the Enough
Project by Ken Menkhaus, on "Somalia after the Ethiopian
Occupation: First Steps to End the Conflict and Combat Extremism"
(Feb 9, 2009, http://www.enoughproject.org).
For a profile of new Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed
For a profile of new Somali Prime Minister Omar Ali Sharmarke,
For an earlier report (September 3, 2008) for the Enough Project by
Ken Menkhaus, see "Somalia: A Country in Peril, a Policy Nightmare" (http://tinyurl.com/de5ppq)
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Somalia and additional
background links, see
Alison Des Forges
Most AfricaFocus readers have probably already seen the news of the
death of outstanding scholar and human rights activist Alison Des
Forges in the plane crash in Buffalo, New York, on February 12,
2009. Her courage and integrity will be greatly missed. Human
Rights Watch has opened a tribute page for her at
Her classic report on the genocide in Rwanda , "Leave None to Tell
the Story," is out of print, but the full text is still available
on the HRW website at: http://www.hrw.org/legacy/reports/1999/rwanda/
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
Editor's Book Notes
(1) New Books on Somalia in AfricaFocus Bookshop
See http://www.africafocus.org/books/amazon_somall.php or
Of particular interest, all published in 2008 or 2007, are
Abdi Roble (photographer) and Doug Rutledge (writer), The Somali
Osman Farah, Muchi Mammo, and Joakim Gundel, Somalia: Diaspora and
State Reconstitution in the Horn of Africa
Kenneth R. Rutherford, Humanitarianism Under Fire: The US and UN
Intervention in Somalia
Mark Bradbury, Becoming Somaliland
Ioan Lewis and Michael J. Dwyer, Understanding Somalia and
Somaliland: Culture, History, Society
(2) Updates on Books by AfricaFocus Editor
"No Easy Victories" in the Classroom - see syllabus and comments
from fall 2008 course on "Race, Class, and Power in Southern
Africa," Dr. Jeanne Penvenne, Tufts University
"No Easy Victories" reference list available on-line
"Apartheid's Contras" now back in print
"King Solomon's Mines Revisited" full-text now available on-line by chapter
New and used print copies available for order at low prices
Somalia: 'The Somali People Do Not Want Any More Fighting'
12 February 2009
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United
Djibouti - Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed was recently elected
President of Somalia at a parliamentary meeting in Djibouti. Before
returning to Mogadishu where he will appoint a prime minister and
form a government, Ahmed talked to IRIN about the challenges ahead.
Below are excerpts:
What are the biggest challenges facing your administration?
The biggest obstacle is trying to get people to believe and have
hope again that things can and will get better. The people have
suffered and are still suffering. They have been divided.
Rebuilding the unity of our people and nation will be one of our
biggest challenges. Every time they were hopeful, they were knocked
back again. We must keep this hope alive.
We also face the task of building government institutions from
scratch. We are basically broke and the country broken. All these
in my opinion are obstacles we will have to deal with urgently.
What role do you expect donors to play?
In the past donors have put money into Somalia but unfortunately,
it did not have [the] impact it should have had on the people for
various reasons, including corruption. Often, aid did not reach the
intended targets. We hope and expect that donors will increase
their support. For our part, we have to change the way things are
done and make sure that any money given will be used appropriately
and in the manner intended, that it will reach the people. We will
not allow corruption to take root and public money [to be] misused.
Do you think the international community is serious in its support
and will give the necessary help to allow your government to
It is too early for me to answer that question. Give it time and we
may be able to answer it.
There are groups that do not support you, including the more
radical Islamists. How do you intend to deal with them - negotiate
First, I don't have any desire for more fighting. The Somali people
do not want any more fighting. Those who think that more fighting
will resolve things, I want to tell them it will not. Let us try to
find a better way for them to accomplish what they are looking for.
The best way is through dialogue and negotiations and we are open
to talking. We will talk to anyone willing to talk. We will not
engage in war. I am for a negotiated settlement to our differences.
You will need a security force. Where will you find them?
Security will come from a combination of the TFG [Transitional
Federal Government] forces, our forces in Mogadishu and other
supporters and of course the Somali people who want to see the
government succeed and are ready to join the security forces. So,
yes we are going to create security forces.
Do you need outside help in forming a security force?
Obviously outside help is necessary but then it must be done in a
way that they can help without inflaming the situation and creating
instability and animosity among the people. It will have to be an
approach that is appropriate and will help without hurting us.
Does this help need to include military as well? Do you need arms,
soldiers, maybe even blue helmets?
Because we are in a new situation we need to figure out what
exactly we need. We need arms and security forces and of course we
need the world to help us. However, we have to figure out the best
form that help should take. Therefore, it will be the
responsibility of the new cabinet to come up with the best way to
ask for the help.
In the past two years, thousands have been killed and over a
million displaced in Mogadishu due to the fighting. What plans do
you have to alleviate the suffering of the people?
I am deeply saddened by the suffering of those people affected by
the fighting. Taking care of them and resettling them is going to
be one of the biggest challenges facing this government. We [will]
do our part in assisting them ... but we are also going to invite
humanitarian agencies to come and help. We are putting in place
plans to ensure the security of the city to enable people to return
home. With this two-track approach, ensuring security and providing
the necessary help, I am convinced there will be changes that will
lead to the return of the displaced to their homes.
There is an enormous naval taskforce fighting piracy off the Somali
coast. Do you think that is the best way to combat the problem?
I think the best way to fight piracy in Somalia is to have a strong
and functioning government capable of taking charge of security
both on land and at sea. But I also understand that while ships are
being hijacked nations will not stand by and watch. That is why
foreign forces at sea are taking action.
Some Islamist groups have been very rigid in their application of
what they see as Islamic law. People are flogged and even stoned.
What is your view of their interpretation of Islam?
I believe that the way they deal with people is not right and has
nothing to do with Islamic Sharia law. Islam has a legal framework
and courts. So for individuals to take their whip and flog people
on the street is wrong.
The clan structure in Somalia has been a problem. Do you think it
will pose a problem for you when it comes to naming your
I don't think the problem has been the clan but the way it was
used. It has been misused and I think we will find a different and
positive way and whatever problem it presents, I am confident we
will be able to deal with it without resorting to its negative
How do you plan to deal with Somaliland and Puntland?
Both are enjoying real, tangible peace and stability. Therefore, we
must acknowledge the contributions of those who made this peace and
stability possible. We are opposed to anything that will jeopardise
the peace and stability enjoyed by those regions. We are determined
to resolve any misunderstandings through dialogue and negotiations.
I trust that we will succeed in finding common ground.
Somalia After the Ethiopian Occupation: First Steps to End the
Conflict and Combat Extremism
Feb 9 2009
[Excerpts: full text available at http://tinyurl.com/bphkdm]
President Barack Obama has inherited a dangerous and fast-moving
crisis in Somalia - one with profound implications for regional and
international security. While some within the new administration
will be tempted to continue to place short-term counterterrorism
goals ahead of a more comprehensive strategy approach as was done
during the Bush administration, the shortcomings of this approach
are abundantly clear: violent extremism and anti-Americanism are
now rife in Somalia due in large part to the blowback from policies
that focused too narrowly on counterterrorism objectives. The new
U.S. national security team must make a clean break by defining and
implementing a long-term strategy to support the development of an
inclusive Somali government.
Building on the recent creation of a more broad-based transitional
parliament, and its selection of Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, a moderate
Islamist, as president of Somalia's transitional government, the
United States should immediately bolster its diplomatic engagement
in the region and assign a senior diplomat to drive U.S. policy and
harmonize its counterterrorism and state-building agendas. At the
same time, the United States should work multilaterally to provide
focused, conditional support to expand the legitimacy,
inclusiveness, accountability, and capacity of Sheikh Sharif's
fledgling government. It must make clear that it will provide
sustained support to the general principles of reconciliation,
consensus-building, power-sharing, and moderation, but not support
to specific individuals or factions.
U.S. policymakers must approach Somalia with humility. Somalia has
been much more susceptible to negative external forces than
positive ones over the last two decades. U.S. engagement will only
prove effective if it is driven by sound analysis, sound policies,
and a willingness to invest in the hard work of local consensus
building. The Obama administration must adopt a clear set of core
principles and interests, develop a better understanding of
regional and local political dynamics, and take a more pragmatic,
nuanced approach to dealing with local actors that works with
rather than against powerful social and political undercurrents
within Somalia. Given Somalia's deeply dysfunctional state, policy
choices may often have to be a matter of selecting the least-worst
New dangers and opportunities in 2009
As the Enough Project chronicled in its most recent report, U.S.
policy under the Bush administration helped push the crisis in
Somalia to catastrophic dimensions. An Ethiopian military
intervention in Somalia in December 2006 succeeded in ousting an
increasingly radical Islamist movement, the Islamic Courts Union,
but provoked a brutal cycle of insurgency and counterinsurgency
that plunged the country into new depths of misery. As conflict
raged and humanitarian conditions spiraled downward, flawed U.S.
policies only strengthened the Islamist shabaab movement and its
commitment to attack Ethiopian and western and United Nations
interests, as well as regional governments collaborating with the
United States. This homegrown terrorist threat emanating from
Somalia has the potential to become even more dangerous than the
East Africa Al Qaeda cell that was responsible for the 1998
terrorist attacks against U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. And
as the recent epidemic of piracy off the Somali coast demonstrates
- as did Afghanistan earlier this decade - the cost of ignoring
failed states can be very high.
Several major developments present both new opportunities and new
risks for Somalia and the Horn of Africa in 2009.
The Ethiopian withdrawal: Ethiopia has made good on its decision to
withdraw its military forces from Somalia, a move which has
transformed the political landscape in Somalia. The worst fears
that the shabaab would consolidate control over the capital
Mogadishu - a fear the Bush administration sought to exploit at the
eleventh hour with a failed push for authorization of a U.N.
peacekeeping force through the U.N. Security Council - have not
materialized. On the contrary, the Ethiopian withdrawal has the
potential to dramatically reduce violence and defuse radicalism by
removing the presence of a "foreign occupier" which Somalis of all
stripes resented and which fueled the insurgency. It also promises
to strengthen the coalition of moderates from the Transitional
Federal Government, or TFG, and opposition groups - including many
Islamists - who signed the Djibouti Peace Agreement in the summer
of 2008. That coalition will now enjoy greater legitimacy for
having delivered the Ethiopian withdrawal, while the shabaab will
have lost its main adversary and rallying point. Periodic Ethiopian
incursions into Somalia are inevitable, but are unlikely to be
sustained and will hopefully not undermine the new transitional
President Yusuf's resignation: Under sustained pressure from
Ethiopia, Kenya, and Western countries, TFG President Abdullahi
Yusuf resigned in December 2008. Yusuf was a deeply polarizing
figure in Somalia, a hardliner who actively sought to block
implementation of the Djibouti Agreement and who specialized in a
particularly divisive style of clan politics. He was widely viewed
as a major impediment to peace in Somalia, a conclusion eventually
reached by his former patron, Ethiopia. Yusuf's departure opened
the door for progress toward implementation of the Djibouti
Agreement and the building of a broad-based coalition government.
It also robs the shabaab of another important rallying point.
Formation of a new government: On January 31, 2009, an expanded
transitional federal parliament met in Djibouti and selected a new
president, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed. Sheikh Sharif's selection signals
a major power shift in the TFG toward the moderate Islamists within
the former Islamic Courts Union. ... It is [...] not yet
sufficiently broad-based; important Somali constituencies currently
feel marginalized in the government, a problem President Sharif
must address as he forms a new cabinet. Nonetheless, the formation
of a post-Yusuf government offers the promise of a more broad-based
administration which, if successful, should be able to negotiate
with parts of the armed insurgency and contain the rest.
A new U.S. administration: With the arrival of a new administration
in the United States, a window of opportunity clearly exists to
reverse the very high levels of anti-Americanism prevailing in
Somalia. Most Somalis were deeply impressed with the election of an
African-American president, are hopeful for a change in U.S.
policy, and, if the Obama administration takes the appropriate
steps, could quickly shift attitudes toward the U.S. government.
Moreover, the new face of the American government also deprives the
shabaab of some of its ability to demonize the United States.
Resistance to Islamic extremists: Armed groups, organized mainly
around clan but in some cases Islamism, have actively resisted the
shabaab's attempts to gain control of some neighborhoods and key
sites in Mogadishu. This is an important indication that the
shabaab was tolerated, and enjoyed some support, when it posed as
the main source of resistance to Ethiopian occupation, but is not
acceptable to most Somalis as a source of political leadership once
that existential threat has been removed. While it is still too
early to say, there is a good chance that the shabaab reached its
high water mark in late 2008, and is now facing resistance from
Somali constituencies and struggling with internal fissures.
Successful selection of new government in Puntland: The
northeastern polity of Puntland, long a zone of relative stability
and economic recovery in Somalia, suffered dangerous political and
security deterioration over the past two years, threatening to
slide into violent anarchy. It also became the hub of the world's
worst piracy epidemic. But last month the Puntland Parliament
selected a new President, Abdirahman "Farole," resisting efforts by
the incumbent faction to manipulate the election. The election
raises hopes that Puntland can reverse its worrisome slide and can
re-establish public order.
Articulating principles for engagement
Effective policy in Somalia must be integrated within a broader
strategy to promote regional stability: The Somali crisis is deeply
enmeshed in a broader regional dynamic, including
Ethiopian-Eritrean tensions and Ethiopia's domestic politics,
including the ongoing counterinsurgency campaign against the Ogaden
National Liberation Front in eastern Ethiopia. U.S. policy in the
Horn of Africa over the last several years has brushed past these
important regional dynamics while making efforts to kill or capture
specific individuals responsible for terrorist attacks in the
region the paramount objective. Unfortunately, this approach has
essentially gone after a symptom of Somalia rather than trying to
treat its underlying disease. Even worse, this narrow focus has
consistently exacerbated rather than reduced levels of extremism,
anti-Americanism, and jihadism inside Somalia and negatively
impacted U.S. relationships in the region. This approach has
reduced the U.S.-Ethiopia partnership to an ill-advised
quid-pro-quo: Ethiopia helps the U.S. achieve its counterterrorism
objectives and, in exchange, the United States has had little to
say about the shrinking democratic space inside Ethiopia and the
severe human rights abuses committed by the Ethiopian government in
both Ethiopia and Somalia.
Ethiopia has legitimate, vital security interests in Somalia and
has the capacity to block developments that it views as threatening
to its interests. Moreover, Ethiopia's constructive response to the
Djibouti Agreement and its support of the creation of a moderate
coalition of opposition and TFG leaders suggests that, under the
right conditions, ample political space exists to find solutions
which are acceptable to both Somalis and the Ethiopian government.
Policies which privilege Somali-driven processes, rely mainly on
Somali interests and actors to drive outcomes, and respect Somali
preferences will stand a much better chance of success than those
imposed from the outside: External actors, including the United
States, have only modest capacities to shape short-term outcomes in
Somalia. Though limited, the Obama administration can increase its
influence by embarking on a much more sustained and extensive
public diplomacy with Somalis across the full spectrum of society
and in multiple locations, including in the Gulf states and the
Diaspora. Increased engagement with Somalis will not only yield
benefits in terms of public attitudes, but will also produce
better-informed policy. ... Effective Somali policy cannot be
conceived or executed if primarily confined to discussion at the
State Department and inside the walled compounds of the U.S.
Embassy and U.N. agencies in Nairobi.
Policies that maximize space for negotiations are especially
valuable; an overreliance on punitive action and isolation reduce
the already narrow room for diplomatic maneuver: The 2008 U.S.
designation of the entire shabaab movement as a terrorist
organization, while debatable on its merits, served to reduce space
for Somalis to negotiate, and painted shabaab leaders into a corner
from which their only option is to fight. Although some leaders and
units in the shabaab are certainly extremists and could never be
brought into a normal political dialogue, others may well be
mainstreamed if conditions are right. This is also true for U.S.
policy toward Eritrea, a principal backer of the insurgency in
Somalia and a state that has interests in playing the role of
spoiler in Somalia as long as it is diplomatically isolated.
Designating Eritrea a state sponsor of terror (which the Africa
Bureau within the State Department unsuccessfully tried to do
during the last days of the Bush administration) would make it
almost impossible to engage Eritrea in a constructive dialogue to
convince it to cease its proxy war in Somalia.
The key role for external actors at this time is not to impose
solutions on Somalia but rather to create more permissive
conditions for Somali-driven solutions to take hold. Toward that
end, the Obama administration must take the following steps:
- Designate a senior diplomat to lead U.S. Somalia policy, base
that person in the region, and provide him or her with adequate
staffing and resources.
- State its willingness to accept political outcomes that occur
beyond the Transitional Federal Government. While there are a
variety of reasons why the TFG may be a preferable vehicle for a
unity government and a political transition, the TFG's survival and
advancement is not essential for a durable solution in Somalia and
should not be conflated with it.
- Maintain continuous communication with all significant Somali
political, social, and economic actors. The U.S. government must
avoid over-reliance on contact with a small number of top leaders
and facilitators, both to avoid being perceived as playing
favorites and to protect Somali contacts from being portrayed as
- Run interference between Somali political processes and
well-meaning international actors who seek to impose external
agendas and tired, template-driven solutions in Somalia. The United
States should voice confidence that a Somali-driven process is the
solution and infuse that conviction in the international community.
- Ensure that Ethiopia is fully involved in whatever capacity it
chooses, so that it is confident political processes in Somalia are
not threatening its interests, and so that Ethiopia is tempted to
undermine the process.
- As part of an integrated regional policy, explore quiet overtures
to Eritrea to de-escalate tensions and provide that government some
incentive not to play the role of spoiler in Somalia.
- Support conflict resolution between Ethiopia and Eritrea,
particularly in resolving with finality the border dispute between
these two countries.
AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication
providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with
a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus
Bulletin is edited by William Minter.
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