June 12, 2011

Updating Somalia’s Fluid Dynamics

Fallout from the Kampala Accord is descending at an accelerated rate:

Inner workings of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government

It appears safe to conclude that the resignation of Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, Somalia’s Prime Minister, remains in limbo. While the Kampala Accord is backed by Uganda and Ethiopia, the two major African powers involved in Somalia, and accepted by the international community, the document was quickly swept up in residuals of the Arab Spring. Foreign interference and a history of failed political deals have jaded the Somali people to the point where many refused to accept Mohamed’s loss.

The majority of emerging information continues to damage the Kampala Accord’s credibility. Under heavy pressure from Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and the UN, President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed and Parliamentary Speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden agreed to sacrifice Mohamed to save themselves. Tied to Sharif and Aden, Uganda and Ethiopia are suspected of preserving their own status quo regardless of the effects on Somalia. According to sources in Kampala, Mohamed voluntarily resigned after refusing to cede half of parliament’s seats to Aden’s political allies, or to participate in any foreign settlement of the TFG's grievances.

As neither the President nor Speaker governed as effectively during Mohamed’s nine-month tenure, this shady deal sparked more popular opposition than anticipated.

Facing intense public protest in Mogadishu from civilians and government officials, Somalia’s Parliament has now succumbed to voting on Mohamed’s resignation. This move could diffuse tensions but also throw the Kampala Accord into new disarray if either Sharif or Aden feel threatened. Our predictions going forward are based on past failures to resolve political feuds, and dumping Mohamed will in no way repair the damaged relationship between Sharif and Aden. However the flip side this chaos does hold a bright outlook: any civil reaction should be considered a positive development.

If the TFG manages to reach a compromise that allows Mohamed to stay, a demonstration of governance could work wonders on Somalia’s civilian front. Mohamed has come along way from being perceived as too green, and no standing official has more credibility to oversee the critical year ahead. Such an outcome, though seemingly far-fetched, would add real political momentum to the African Union’s (AU) military progress in Mogadishu.

The UN mission in Somalia

Like Mohamed’s double-edged sword, the potential firing of Augustine Mahiga breaks down into diverging outcomes. The UN’s Special Representative is rumored to sit on the chopping block after “the collapse of public confidence in his policy to Somalia.” With the UN temporarily abandoning its humanitarian work amid a severe drought, Mahiga struggled to keep the TFG on-track throughout a prolonged debate on its August 20th mandate. The UN Envoy insisted on elections before August, a position that conformed with Aden’s but few Somalis or AU officials, until eventually caving.

Exasperated by political gridlock, Mahiga proposed a ridiculed power-sharing agreement that Sharif and Aden continued to oppose, each demanding more than they were offered. Once Museveni threw his weight behind a year-long extension, Mahiga was forced to surrender and back the Kampala Accord. The entire situation put him on the wrong side of Mohamed, and appears to have cost him the last of his credibility in Somalia.

Mahiga’s exit may prove beneficial, though, if the UN can reorganize under new blood. Turning disadvantages into advantages is difficult work, but it can - and must - be done during a time of war.

Saif al-Adel's shadow

The death of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed has cast a short-lived cheer over Mogadishu. More than a tactical boost, Somalis are feeling a boost of momentum that could carry over into the battle against al-Shabab. A significant drop off in operations is less evident. According to various reports, Mohammed has already been replaced by the equally clever Saif al-Adel, an Egyptian trained in explosives.

As a veteran of the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan, a member of AQ’s religious council (majlis al shura) and a leading strategist, al-Adel is speculated as a successor to Osama bin Laden. Contrary to claims that Mohammed was the last US Embassy plotter, al-Adel is also believe to have participated in the planning.

The arrival of al-Adel can also split one of two ways: either al-Shabab rallies around or becomes further alienated by their new commander. Far from global jihadists, a large percentage of al-Shabab’s foot soldiers want little to do with al-Qaeda. The presence of foreigners has sparked numerous in-fights between the group’s leaders, to the point that al-Qaeda has (for now) ceded to the nationalist Mukhtar Robow. If al-Adel takes a firmer stand than Mohammed, who choose a softer tact to avoid tensions, his presence could further destabilize al-Shabab’s alliance.

Either way his deployment would signal a strong play in Somalia. Risk comes with reward, and U.S. Special Forces already operating in the country will surely be on the hunt after missing Mohammed. However diversifying its leadership rather than centralize it in Pakistan brings its own benefits of strengthening al-Qaeda’s global web. Somalia is no demotion for al-Adel but a pivotal piece on al-Qaeda's board, and allows Ayman al-Zawahiri to carry on as normal.

al-Adel’s potential arrival is all the more motivation for the TFG to pull itself out of its tailspin. Mohammed’s respite probably won’t last for long.

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