As has been the case for the past 15 years, here is yet another ‘good news, bad news’ political development that puts this peace-starved nation on that roller coaster of hope and despair once again.
On one hand, the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has signed an agreement with the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) to, among other things, build a joint national army and to form a peace committee to determine the scope of that army and the steps of implementation.
On the other hand, Monday’s violence between TFG forces and a local militia over who should rightfully control the Baidoa Airport that left at least 12 people dead and 11 others wounded adds yet another dangerous element to a cachet of equally dangerous elements that could easily combust into renewed civil war and chaos.
In its latest adventure, TFG seem to have decided to abandon ‘the gracious guest’ role in order to assert more authority, consolidate power, and gain political leverage that might strengthen its position at the roundtable with ICU. This, however, does not come without a hefty political price and the threat of widening the conflict.
And considering the thin political ice that it has been on since the mass resignations of a few weeks ago that almost collapsed the whole government, the last thing that the TFG needs is to create and environment that would deepen political hostilities and violence in Baidoa.
Locals, especially the militia that welcomed TFG into this town about a year ago, have increasingly been expressing frustration per their gradually decreasing political clout, and on what the locals see as TFG’s selective assertion of authority (since their town is the only one under the TFG control) which, in essence, undermines the coveted regional autonomy that the locals have attained and conditional surrendered to the transitional government under the assumption that their town would be the capitol city of new Somalia.
Another good news is that both Ethiopia and the Eritrea were recently warned by the UN and US to stay out of interfering with the Somali affairs, especially “at this volatile stage”. Furthermore, the delegation led by Sheikh Sharif Ahmed who met with the UN’ special envoy to Somalia FranÃ§ois Fall a few days were reassured that so long as the arms embargo is still in place, no foreign troops could intervene in Somalia militarily ‘unless Somalia’s challenging parties agree up on the issue’.
But the bad news, on the other hand, is that both Ethiopia which already has its troops in various Somali territories and Eritrea which supports any group that would resist or challenge its arch enemy are already adding fuel to the fire; and worse, are likely to continue for a long time since the warnings neither come with a set of “teeth” nor with specific deterrent consequences.
In other words, any significant retaliation from, say, the militia that lost control of the airport to the TFG will constitute a threat to the latter, which in turn will give Ethiopia the pretext for intervene and Eritrea to follow suit. And such scenario will eventually drag the ICU into the action and thus rendering peace and reconciliation, at least in the foreseeable future, impossible.
With all these possibilities in mind, perhaps the best course of action for the TFG is to follow the footsteps of the ICU and implement certain confidence-building measures in Baidoa, namely, resource-sharing with the locals in terms of economic opportunities and capacity-building, especially in areas of education and health. Furthermore, as ICU has earned public confidence and support by restoring law and order in Mogadishu and reopened both the air and the seaport, the TFG could, on its part, zoom into certain measurable successes to achieve. And there is no more dignified success that it could achieve than to get that mammoth political burden–”Ethiopia–”off its back.
Ever since they came to power, both President Abdillahi Yusuf and Prime Minister Ali Geddi have overtly competed to demonstrate their allegiance (and some say, blind loyalty) to the dictates of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s regime.
So, in order to establish themselves as legitimate leaders in the eyes of the great majority of the Somali people, they must prove their independence of any hegemonic, foreign influence. They must seize this opportunity and do all within their capacity to expedite the peace process in order to reach a comprehensive sustainable agreement with ICU that includes the formation of a joint national government.
It is time for the TFG to emerge out of its political cocoon and end its self-imposed exile within the very country that it was elected to govern. It is time to put the interest of the nation before the personal ones. It is time to focus on the positive and work hard toward lasting peace.