August 13, 2007
Since the fall of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) in late December 2006, efforts to achieve peace in Somalia have shown little progress. With each passing day, Somalia drifts further into an anarchy and fragmentation, with clans and warlords gaining control of various localities while the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) steadily weakens. According to a July 2007 United Nations Security Council Report, “Somalia is literally awash with arms,” and key Somali actors, including the opposition, clans, and long-time warlords, continue to regroup and rearm. Attacks on the TFG, Ethiopian forces, and the Ugandan troops (so far the only contingent of a putative African Union (AU) peacekeeping force to deploy), are escalating. Car and suicide bombings, roadside bombings, grenade attacks and targeted assassinations are increasingly common. Meanwhile, humanitarian access continues to shrink as insecurity rises. UNHCR reports that 279,000 Somalis remain displaced from their homes and livelihoods in Mogadishu, with 30,000 civilians fleeing since June.
The principal obstacle to achieving peace in Somalia is the intransigence of key actors. Their divergent goals and the unwillingness to compromise have impeded efforts to launch negotiations. Until these actors can overcome their differences, the situation in Somalia will continue to deteriorate.
The TFG lacks the credibility, legitimacy, and capacity to govern effectively, but refuses to consider any new power arrangement that would broaden its governing base. Greater inclusiveness would increase the TFG’s popular support, but it’s leaders, drawn mostly from the Darod clan, appear confident that Ethiopia and the international community will keep them in power, if only because there are few alternatives. Yet internal fissures and limited human and financial resources will continue to undermine the TFG, making it ever more unpopular as it fails to provide basic services to the Somali population.
A gradually consolidating opposition based in Asmara, Eritrea, and consisting of ousted former ICU members, TFG parliamentarians, and members of the Hawiye community, has stated that Ethiopian troops must withdraw from Somalia if the opposition is to participate in the TFG’s proposed National Reconciliation Conference (NRC). This condition is unrealistic, since it practically assures the defeat of the TFG, and must change if there is to be peace in Somalia.
For its part, the TFG has recently announced that all Islamic leaders and opposition forces would be permitted to participate in the NRC. This move is to be applauded, but the TFG needs to go a step farther and affirm that it is willing to share power in governing Somalia with other actors, particularly former moderate Islamic Courts members and key representatives from the disgruntled Hawiye clan . The NRC represents an opportunity for positive dialogue between competing clans in Somalia, but these opportunities have come and gone before – and will do so again unless these actors moderate their positions.
Eritrea continues to fuel the escalation of the crisis and poses a considerable challenge to stopping the ongoing violence. The UN Monitoring Group on Somalia points to Eritrea as the primary weapons supplier for insurgent forces in Mogadishu in violation of the U.N. arms embargo. Eritrea’s actions are fueled by the ongoing Ethiopia-Eritrea border dispute, which has now become a major driver of events in Somalia. Eritrea’s support for opposition forces in Ethiopia’s Ogaden region, as well as in Somalia, has made success more difficult for Ethiopia and has contributed to widening instability in the Horn of Africa. The key hurdle for the international community is that little leverage exists for influencing Eritrea’s actions. The United States, Ethiopia, and other key actors have no ongoing dialogue with the Eritreans, and the countries with the power to influence Eritrea, such as Libya and other Arab states, have declined to exert any pressure thus far.
Ethiopia now faces a difficult dilemma: its presence serves as a flashpoint for resentment and conflict, but it fears that a withdrawal would lead to the collapse of the TFG and the reemergence of exactly what it was trying to prevent – an authority in Mogadishu that is hostile towards Ethiopia. Desperate to curb the growing insurgency, Ethiopia has resorted to heavy-handed military tactics, including the use of white phosphorous bombs and heavy artillery in civilian areas. This strategy has fueled greater resentment, made Somalis more distrustful of the TFG/Ethiopia alliance, and failed to weaken the opposition. In the absence of an AU peacekeeping force that is capable of replacing the Ethiopians, conflict is likely to continue.
Present levels of insecurity in Somalia, coupled with the absence of a reliable government, have led clan-based Somali warlords to take matters into their own hands, resorting to the often brutal survival tactics of the past. The UN Monitoring Group has reported that warlords are rearming and gaining control over key areas, such as the ports of Kismayo and Merka, in southern Somalia. Checkpoints are reemerging, and as a result, essential humanitarian deliveries have been impeded. Support for the TFG among the Somali business community, once an important stabilizing force for the Islamic Courts Union, is spotty. Some businessmen pay taxes, others are reluctant, and some continue to finance opposition forces. Many have decided to abandon Somalia entirely by moving their businesses outside the country.
The United States has legitimate security concerns about moves by Al Qaeda forces and radical South Asian Islamists to establish cells in Somalia’s ungoverned space. However, its exclusive focus on counterterrorism in Somalia has strongly damaged the U.S. ability to affect positive change in Somalia. Fearing the emergence of a terrorist safe haven under the auspices of the Islamic Courts, the United States has maintained a strong and often murky alliance with Ethiopia. Although policymakers initially stated only that the United States supported Ethiopia’s sovereign right to defend itself by attacking the Courts, recent evidence has shown far greater U.S. involvement in backing the Ethiopians. The United States helped coordinate the intervention by sharing satellite information with Ethiopia and it ignored information that a secret arms transfer from North Korea to Ethiopia was occurring prior to the invasion, contrary to a UN arms embargo on weapons from North Korea. This policy, along with reports of a secret U.S. detention program aimed at alleged terror suspects and conducted in conjunction with the governments of Ethiopia and Kenya, has significantly undermined American credibility and leverage in the region. The United States must now find ways to distance itself from Ethiopia, get past its overweening focus on counterterrorism, and more effectively push the various spoilers to move forward in a unified direction.
Given current constraints, the United States will be most effective if it participates in and tries to shape multilateral initiatives aimed at fostering regional peace. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy are deeply engaged in seeking a solution to the Darfur crisis, and these efforts could be broadened into a European Union-U.S. initiative to stabilize the broader Horn of Africa region.
The UN Security Council provides the best arena for a concentrated and effective international response. The Council’s July 2007 report on Somalia details several key areas where international attention should be focused. First, the international community needs to exert greater pressure on the TFG to enlarge its government to include key Somali actors. Countries can be encouraged to provide incentives to the Somalis in the form of development aid in exchange for the achievement of set benchmarks – and restrict foreign aid if progress does not occur. Second, the international community should find the necessary diplomatic mechanisms, perhaps by encouraging the Arab League to become engaged, needed both to convince Eritrea to stop meddling and to persuade the Somali opposition to engage in a dialogue with the TFG. Third, an international effort to control the flow of arms into Somalia is essential. There already exists a clear UN mandate forbidding the transfer of arms into Somalia, but little is being done to restrict the weapons flow. The Combined Coalition Naval Task Force (CTF-150), a multilateral maritime initiative undertaken to patrol the Gulf of Aden, Red Sea, and Indian Ocean off the coast of East Africa, is one possible avenue for action. The international community should explore the feasibility of utilizing CTF-150 to help enforce the existing UN mandate.
Ultimately, the road to a Somali peace will be long and arduous, and can be traversed only if the Somali people are willing to effect real and positive change. Nonetheless, the United States and the international community can play a positive role in Somalia by exercising smart and patient leadership. Together, the United States and international community should work through the UN Security Council to play a supportive, but non-threatening role intended to persuade the divergent actors to cooperate with one another. In the end, unless key actors can abandon their own zero-sum calculations and focus on moving forward towards mutual gains, Somalia will continue to deteriorate, with potentially dire consequences for the entire Horn of Africa. ______________________________________________________________________
David Henek is a Research Assistant with the CSIS Africa Program and co-author of “Somalia’s Future: Options for Diplomacy, Assistance, and Peace Operations,” a CSIS Report published in February 2007. CSIS is a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions; accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed should be understood to be solely those of the authors.