February 3, 2011

Somali Parliament's Gain is Country's Loss

A great cheer and an equally loud groan must have pieced the Mogadishu air. Inside Somali’s parliament building, 421 out of 435 MPs had just voted to extend their term into 2014. Speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden told reporters afterward, "Parliament will carry out huge reforms in order to serve the people of Somalia. This is a victory for future Somali democracy."

Except the odds favor a de facto victory for al-Shabab.

Aden’s optimism is so misplaced that, beyond the freshly-contracted MPs, lies a unified opposing viewpoint. The executive branch of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG), African Union (AU) officials, international donors, and ordinary Somalis all have reason to doubt parliament’s capabilities. Despite Aden’s assurance that President Sharif Ahmed may seek re-election before July, the two have repeatedly clashed over Sharif’s next term and a new constitution, two main conditions to the UN’s mandate in Somalia.

Although parliament is supposed to choose the president, Aden has unnerved Sharif by calling for a national-election, one that most believe cannot be held in Somalia's condition.

The faults of Somalia’s parliament also run deeper than Sharif and Aden’s personal quarrel. For instance, parliament initially vetoed newly-elected Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullah Mohamed’s cabinet out of clan divisions and politicking. Considered Somalia’s most able cabinet in years, a fuller parliament later approved Mohamed’s list after an unnecessary delay. Delay in general is parliament’s MO.

While nearly every MP showed up today to renew their paycheck, much of parliament fails to show for its duties on a regular basis, often (but not always) because they haven’t been paid by the international community. The result is that parliament lacks accomplishments to its name, and is widely considered as the TFG’s weakest link. So what AU army would celebrate its renewal? What Western state? What Somali in Mogadishu?

Only al-Shabab is smiling at the moment.

Given that TFG and even Western governments are preparing to challenge Aden’s motion, it’s still possible for the situation to reverse course. He’s likely to be surrounded until he caves, as he’s trying to circumvent the TFG’s expiring mandate in August. But this gamesmanship will escalate into a negative cycle wholly unnecessary to the TFG and AU’s military plans for the next seven months. Attempting to sell the international community on extending their mandate - and jockeying for a new position in the event of termination - the TFG cannot afford to distract itself with internal politics.

A hint of continuity was beginning to develop, momentum Sharif and Mohamed intended to fuel the AU’s military campaign in Mogadishu and eventually Somalia’s southern region. Now the TFG risks additional delays to the AU’s military push, which has run low on funds and is unlikely to receive more until the West regains confidence in the TFG’s ability.

The only option going forward, then, is to clear up parliament’s motion without delay. This requires addressing the TFG’s fate after August and developing a new construct for the entire government. While the TFG itself is reportedly planning its next form, its interdependence with the international community requires a heightened level of coordination. The AU and West always have too many complaints when they leave the TFG to rearrange itself.

Somalia doesn’t have time for do-overs.

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