[dehai-news] GO: Somalia: The View from Mogadishu

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From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Tue Nov 04 2008 - 08:10:27 EST

      Somalia: The View from Mogadishu
       Nov 4, 2008 - 6:35:50 PM

Report Drafted By: Dr. Michael A. Weinstein, Professor of Political Science.
A well-informed confidential source reports from Mogadishu that the factions in Somalia's official capital city are already looking beyond a withdrawal of Ethiopian occupation forces and the demise of the country's Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.), which has depended on Ethiopian military protection for its very existence.

The view from Mogadishu captures and depicts an open political situation in which none of the actors trusts the others sufficiently to forge stable alliances, none of them is able to gauge its relative power with respect to the others, and, therefore, each of them is radically uncertain about the future power configuration that will emerge to mark a new phase of Somalia's political history.

Radical uncertainty about the intentions of the others, one's own and others' relative power (the absence of a balance of power or power configuration), and the future leads in practice to a transitional phase of regrouping characterized by a degree of volatility that makes it impossible to forecast what the balance of power that will eventually emerge will look like.

Fractionated Power

The source reports a condition of fractionated power in Mogadishu characterized by the reduction of factions to their minimum as affinity groups followed by dizzying attempts to form coalitions, all in rapid repetitive cycles. Business, sub-clan and Islamist interests divide individuals within themselves and cut across one another, yet, at the same time, provide openings for alliances.

The following is what the source reports:

1. "In Mogadishu, there is no talk at all any more about the T.F.G., or the African Union or the Ethiopians; all discussion is now focussed on what the landscape will look like by mid-2009, and who will be a player in that landscape and how those players ensure that they retain power."

2. "Certainly, the moment the Ethiopians leave, the T.F.G. will no longer exist."

3. "The African Union peacekeeping mission (AMISOM) is hated by all the clans in Mogadishu, and as soon as the Ethiopians leave, there will be concerted major offensives on the port and airport that should force an African Union withdrawal."

4. As a result of the actors' common expectations of an Ethiopian withdrawal and the collapse of the T.F.G. - and, therefore, of the failure of attempts to shore up the T.F.G. by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (I.G.A.D.) guided by Western powers - and their common prediction of impending military conflict, they have been constrained to try to position themselves for a coming power struggle.

According to the source, the militant Islamic factions are best positioned for the looming conflict. Although they are "fractured," the hard-line factions are still "better organized, better funded (lots of foreign expertise being flown in), and better armed - and they have a plan for success." No other actor, including external powers, says the source, has an action plan.

Nonetheless, the Courts movement, conceived broadly, while on "the cusp of victory," is not in a dominating position. The source reports that "clan interests are coming to the fore." "Serious discussions" have been held between Islamic groups and the warlords who were members of the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (A.R.P.C.T.), which the Courts movement had expelled from Mogadishu in its aborted 2006 revolution that was suppressed by the Ethiopian invasion and occupation. According to the source, the Islamic groups are divided by sub-clan and are talking to their respective sub-clans about possible alliances.


The view from Mogadishu on Somalia is surely partial, yet it is of value as a reading of the expectations of actors on the ground and as a depiction of their pattern of behavior in response to those expectations. The primary significance of the expectations is the doubt they cast on any of the present efforts of international and regional organizations, and of Western great powers (primarily) to stage manage a smooth transformation of the T.F.G. into a "unity government" that would prepare Somalia for a permanent constitutional order. The actors on the ground in Mogadishu do not take that possibility into account in their calculations, which could turn out to be a
self-fulfilling prophecy.

The other important conclusion to draw from the source's observations is that the volatility of the transition out of the period of Ethio-T.F.G. formal rule makes any attempt to forecast the future balance of power an exercise in futility.

Report Drafted By:
Dr. Michael A. Weinstein, Professor of Political Science, Purdue University

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