May 28, 2011

AU Looks To Untie Somalia's Political Knots

Those who monitor Somalia’s ongoing war and even casual observers of the region know that the UN is reaching its limit with the Transitional Federal Government (TFG). Not that Western or African states have many alternatives.

While Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, the TFG’s Western-educated Prime Minister, has rallied the frail government into a semi-stable position, the TFG remains politically gridlocked heading into August. Due to expire at the month’s end, the TFG’s mandate was extended months ago but remains in limbo due to a variety of factors. President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Sheikh Sharif Hassan Adan, the Speaker of Parliament, have dueled over term extensions. After blocking Ahmed’s own extension and calling for a parliamentary election to determine his future, Adan extended his own term another three years.

Parliament is considered the TFG’s least efficient body, and stiff Western resistance negotiated Aden’s extension down to one year. Conversely, a national election was delayed for one year in accordance with the TFG’s mandate. Except like many of the TFG’s internal dilemmas, this crisis remains unresolved and the two officials have yet to bridge their differences. Earlier this month Augustine Mahiga, UN special representative to Somalia, told the Security Council, “The problem is that neither Parliament nor the Government want change. And that is the crux of the paralysis.”

“What we are trying to do in the Security Council and [other] stakeholders in the region, the African Union and IGAD [regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development] is to heal this paralysis and provide a fresh momentum to push the peace process forward by agreeing on the necessary benchmarks for the end of the transition.”

Sounds like a plan - if more benchmarks create less confusion, not more.

The UN generated further headlines after blasting TFG officials for smuggling up to $70 million in Western cash out of the country. These rumors have circulated for years, but they come at a make-or-break point for the UN’s AMISOM campaign. Western donors continue to withhold their pledges due to the political crisis and widespread corruption, and expect major reforms to be hammered out by August. The task may be too large for the TFG to handle, and the immediate fear is that political stalemate will jeopardize the AU’s military gains against al-Shabab.

“This is the worst possible time to be distracted by untenable election processes and the divisive campaigning that will inevitably take place,” Mohamed warned as the AU gears up to seize Mogadishu’s notorious Bakara market. “We need to defeat these aggressors at their source and this needs strong political will, cooperation and collaboration.”

The African Union now lands amid the TFG’s crisis with hopes of untangling at least some of these knots. Somali Minister for the Presidential Palace Abdulkader Moalim Nur told reporters, “Today Somali president received a high level AU delegation here at the presidential palace—the AU delegation congratulated AMISOM and Somali government forces on the successes they gained in recent combat operations against Al-shabaab terrorists.”

If the TFG and AU want to keep and build on those gains, they will have to spend the majority of their conversations on Somalia’s political crisis. A reconciliation summit is scheduled for next month and a clear position still needs to be developed before testing the waters. So many things to do, so little time and “will,” as Mahiga complained. Somalia’s politicians may find resolving their differences and correcting their own behavior to be like seizing ground from al-Shabab.

It remains to be seen how AU officials respond to the blood of their men being wasted on political feuds.

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