Africa Matters is a blog that follows the news and offers analysis of African affairs. Our aim is to delve deeper into the issues of African politics and development. We don’t presume to be experts, and we don’t presume to have all the answers—we are just trying to ask the right questions.

Thursday, July 5

Somalia update

Although the situation in Mogadishu has been relatively calm compared with the violence that plagued the city throughout the spring, stability in Somalia remains tenuous.

The Somali National Reconciliation Congress (NRC) was due to take place in Mogadishu on July 16, but the congress is likely to be postponed again. The NRC ambitiously hopes to reconcile the clans, a necessary step for political reconciliation, as well as to organize a new constitution and create a road map for elections in 2009. However, the NRC only allows delegations from clans, civil society and the Islamists are also notably excluded. Patrick Smith of Africa Confidential, fears that the British, Americans, Europeans and Ethiopians will interfere in the process, just as external parties manipulated the Somalia negotiations in Kenya from 2002-2004.

One thing uniting diverse Somali clans and religious groups is the desire to see Ethiopian troops leave their country. The Ethiopian government, having grown increasingly concerned about the Islamists' rising influence, sent troops across the border at the end of 2006. No coordinated militia groups opposed the Ethiopian forces, and the fighting was over almost instantly. But since then, Ethiopian forces have had a difficult time leaving Somalia. Adding to the chaos, Eritrea has also re-entered the regional turmoil, pushing Somali opposition figures to form a government-in-exile.

AMISON troops are meant to replace Ethiopian forces— a contingent of 1,600 Burundian soldiers is due to be deployed next month; France is supposed to transfer soldiers from Bujumbura to Mogadishu, and the USA is meant to provide equipment. When (or if) this happens, Ethiopian troops will likely pull back only to the border, remaining poised to return.

Africa Confidential
mentions that Ethiopia is starting to feel the financial burden of its military excursions in Somalia. David Ignatius and Stephanie McCrummen of the Washington Post, and Sadia Ali Aden of the Council on Foreign Relations are just a few of the many authors who have compared Ethiopia's venture in Somalia to America's intervention in Iraq.

Other authors have directly linked Somalia to the U.S. War on Terror. A report released by Chatham House in May argued that the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia was strongly backed by the U.S. government. The report argues that the Islamic Courts Union had won widespread support among the Somali people for providing security that is unlikely to diminish. Farah Ali Hassan at The Conservative Voice writes perhaps one of the more scathing critiques of the Chatham House report.

John Prendergast and Colin Thomas-Jensen explain U.S. policy in the region in the April issue of Foreign Affairs. They write: "the United States' counterterrorism policy in the Greater Horn of Africa now hinges on three strategies: almost unconditional support for the Ethiopian government, extremely close cooperation on counterterrorism with Khartoum, and occasional but spectacular forays into Somalia in the hope of killing or capturing al Qaeda suspects."

It is hard to know what should be done in Somalia, but it is clear that the country needs urgent attention.
Somalia is ranked third in the failed states index published in the current issue of Foreign Policy. Although Sudan and Iraq (numbers 1 and 2 respectively) surpass Somalia on certain indicators of state failure, it is hard to imagine a state with less of a government than Somalia. External support, including peacekeeping forces, may be necessary to bring stability required for any semblance of a government to organize. But the lines of intervention are blurred in a world where, as David Ignatius says, "war-fighting and nation-building have become perversely mixed."