June 24, 2011

Has Somalia Finally Bounced Back?

He’s probably the smoothest transition Somalis can hope for. On Friday President Sheik Sharif Ahmed named Abdiweli Mohamed Ali as the Transitional Federal Government’s (TFG) new Prime Minister.

June has witnessed significant political upheaval as Ahmed, Parliamentary Speaker Sheikh Sharif Hassan Adan, the UN and African Union (AU) battled over the TFG’s future mandate. The Kampala Accord, signed under heavy pressure from Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, extended the TFG’s August deadline through 2012, avoiding Adan’s demand for an ill-advised election. In the process Ahmed and Adan cut a deal to stay in power at the expense of Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, Somalia’s most popular Prime Minister in recent memory.

The Kampala Accord initially played out in the worst way possible. For a people already suspicious of its neighbors, the thought of Uganda choosing Ahmed and the unpopular Adan over Mohamed was too much for Somalis to stomach. Thousands of protesters, whose ranks included government officials and troops, poured into Mogadishu’s streets and maintained a steady opposition for weeks. This reactive support - a sign of life from Somalia’s political sphere - gave Mohamed enough justification to initially resist his departure. His outcome would be put to a Parliamentary vote.

Only when both Uganda and Ethiopia exerted a final round of pressure did Mohamed cave for good.

Now the flip side of this political crisis may be turning over. Although the feud cast a negative light over the killing of al-Qaeda commander Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the TFG can benefit from successfully sorting out its internal politics. Mohamed appears gone for good, but he’s replaced by his former Minister of Planning and International Cooperation. Both share a link in U.S. education; Ali obtained a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard, a master’s degree in economics from Vanderbilt and a Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University.

Ahmed had already temporarily appointed Ali, the TFG’s Deputy Prime Minister, to the head position before finalizing his promotion.

The New York Times reports that, “Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed seemed to be continuing with his preference for Western-educated technocrats by naming Abdiweli Mohamed Ali as prime minister.” As Mohamed, not Ahmed, chose Ali for his cabinet, the President’s “preference” is more likely aimed at the West itself to keep its aid flowing. While U.S. and UN officials remained quiet during the TFG’s internal struggle, opposing Museveni’s extension before ultimately ceding because of his 5,000 AU troops, various reports have the West unnerved by Mohamed’s absence. Ali tones down the criticism Ahmed has received for dumping Mohamed.

Now AMISOM can continue its offensive in Mogadishu until it begins to expand into Somalia proper.

Ali is Sharif’s way of soothing multiple lines of friction, including alleged pressure from Puntland (Ali comes from the breakaway territory). These matters are secondary though. The primary question is whether Ali becomes a pawn of Ahmed, or whether he exerts his full influence and eventually displaces Aden. If Somalia’s new Prime Minister has the skills and clean reputation to win the people’s support, this war-torn nation may finally be bouncing up from rock bottom.

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