Ungovernable Somalia and the Imminent Collision of Hegemonic Interests

Modern day Somalia became a nation of profound paradox and a web of political conundrum- a country where perception is always reality; where the “mundane” is a cherished deadly thrill; where “new” political dynamics are nothing but old, and, where potential “solutions” are problems. But, that is not all.

Once again, Somalia became a magnetic political rink that lures powerful entities with incompatible strategic interests into a potentially deadly competition that causes more suffering for that dying state.

In the past it was between the super powers of the Cold War who armed Somalia to the danger zone and paved the way to its ongoing demise. Today, it is between partners on the “global war on terror” with dichotomous interests: Ethiopia– a country lately became known as ‘the Hegemon of the Horn’– and Washington.

Beneath the veneer of their mutual strategic interest highlighted by their recent military cooperation against the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) there is an intriguing political undercurrent that is rapidly gathering momentum as Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and the leadership of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) continue their “business as usual” approach and implement a successive, haphazard set of initiatives that proven to add fuel to inter-clan deadly polarization and keep Somalia in perpetual chaos. The reckless invasion of the residence of an influential clan leader as he met with other clan elders and the former president of the Transitional National Government is but one such example.

The Ethiopian/US invasion prematurely ended a delicate peace process, six months of law and order, and threw Mogadishu back into that all too familiar vacuum of nihilism. Today, motors and artilleries are routinely fired from all directions; assassinations– including high profile ones– became part of the daily rituals; robbery and rape became rampant, and a full-fledged insurgency is underway.

The latter was ignited by the Ethiopian occupation which is seen by the majority of Somalis as that country’s centuries-old hegemonic aspiration coming to fruition. Not only because the TFG Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister recently insinuated annexation enthusiastically, but because of the reports of systematic establishment of new “facts on the ground” that continues to settle thousands of Ethiopian families in various regions such as “Somaliland” and “Puntland” that could, in due course, make annexation of Somalia a tantalizing option.
That is why many Somalis are generally skeptical of the authenticity of the TFG. To many, there is no difference between the TFG led by Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi and President Abdullahi Yusuf and the Ethiopian regime led by Meles. They consider the first duo as self-serving charlatans and the latter as their master and puppeteer.

Yet, as ironic as it may be, the trio insists on convening a “national reconciliation congress” and is already appealing to the international community for the most important element in attaining their objective: “urgent funding.” They are determined to bring together 3000 Somalis who would neither see this as flawed process nor as a delusional enterprise.

According to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi "The situation in Somalia is broadly positive in a sense that the transitional government is embarking on a reconciliation process.” On the other hand, according to the Somali civil societies, voices coming from various Somali intellectual circles and the Diaspora-based organizations: a reconciliation conference that grants one of the parties in conflict the sole authority to dictate who participates, under what terms and preconditions, and more importantly, who arbitrates would, at best, prove an extravagant exercise in futility.

In the mean time, the Bush administration is undergoing a great deal of pressure.

The clock is ticking rapidly toward the end of their second term. The pendulum started to swing back as the administration apparently started to cleanse itself from the influence of a number of Islamophobic and zealot officials; Congress has a new majority, and lawmakers such as Russ Feingold, a ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, are turning up the heat – they are publicly expressing their dissatisfaction with the current policy toward Somalia and are soliciting a better alternative.

However, even with its current policy toward Somalis, the Bush administration realizes the importance of restoring law and order in Mogadishu and establishing a “broad-based” government to the attainment of its strategic goals. It is for this reason that the State Department is actively pushing to bring back ousted leaders such as the last Speaker of the Parliament, Sharif Hassan Aden, and the Islamic courts leaders such as Shiekh Sharif Ahmed.

These leaders carry significant political credibility and clout that could help disarm Mogadishu, restore peace and order, and give credence to any future (mutually organized) intra-Somali reconciliation conference. Alas, neither one is in the Meles’ approved list.

For Meles who micromanaged most of the 14 previously failed “reconciliation” conferences, maintaining the status quo is the sure approach to attaining his overall objective. It is what diverted attention away from him; what veiled his dictatorial tendencies and his regime’s systematic disenfranchisement of certain ethnic groups such as the Amhara; what gave him a carte blanche on human rights abuse; and, of course, secured his country an endless follow of US taxpayers’ dollars as a “partner” in the perpetual global war on terror.

Obviously, that which benefits Meles does not only hurt Somalia.