Obama urged to support democratic change in Somalia

Sunday June 19 2011

By Kevin Kelley

The Obama administration is being pressed to support Somali’s embattled Prime Minister in a political showdown that holds the key to ending the country’s two decades of war.

Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has refused to resign, ignoring the terms of an agreement recently reached between Somalia’s President and Speaker of Parliament.

Signed last week, the “Kampala Accord” brokered by President Yoweri Museveni resolved a showdown on how to manage elections slated for August by deferring them to next year. It also required Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed to step down and a new premier to be appointed by mid-July.

The Kampala Accord’s provision requiring the prime minister’s resignations was inserted, some analysts say, because the president and parliament speaker resent Mr Mohamed’s political popularity.

On his part, Mr Mohamed, in power for seven months, says the Kampala Accord cannot be imposed by the president and must instead be ratified by parliament.

“I will respect the wish of the Somali people who want me to stay in office, rather than implementation of the Kampala Accord,” Mr Mohamed told a press conference in Mogadishu last week.

The Obama administration had earlier this year voiced frustration with the TFG’s seeming inability to capitalise politically on the military advances made by Amisom forces. US diplomats signalled that the White House and Congress were losing patience with a set of squabbling and corrupt politicians in Mogadishu who owe their power mainly to US underwriting of the TFG.

Now Mr Obama is being urged by US lobbyists to support Mr Mohamed’s call for parliamentary review of the Kampala Accord.
“We hope that the US government will come to the side of democracy and parliamentary inclusion... with respect to the future of the TFG,” says John Zagame, vice president of Park Strategies, the US lobbying firm that is being paid $20,000 a month to represent Somalia in Washington.

Wave of reform

“We know that President Obama supports the wave of democratic reform sweeping the Islamic world, and we trust that this support will extend to the Republic of Somalia,” Mr Zagame adds.

The Obama administration has not yet taken a public stand on the dispute between Somalia’s president and prime minister.

The prime minister appears to be basing his claim on more than rhetoric, analysts said. Thousands of Somalis quickly took to the streets in support of his continued tenure.

And some analysts suggest it is highly significant that the demonstrators in Mogadishu, mainly from the Hawiye clan, were rallying on behalf of a politician from the rival Darod clan. Somalia’s 20-year conflict has been driven in part by animosities among the country’s leading clans.

Many members of parliament and Somalia’s army are also transcending their clan differences by speaking out in support of Mr Mohamed.

He has won broad backing within Somalia and among international monitors for implementing promising reforms, including regularised payments of soldiers and government workers.

The Somalia army’s recent killing of top Al Qaida operative Fazul Abdullah Mohammed has further encouraged the view that a turning point may be at hand in Somalia.

Even prior to the death of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the African Union military mission in Somalia (Amisom) had made major gains against the Al Qa’ida-linked Shabaab insurgency that still controls much of Mogadishu and many other parts of the country.

But in addition to the access afforded by Park Strategies, Mr Abdullahi Mohamed has ties of his own to US policymakers. He emigrated to the United States in 1990 and eventually became an official in the New York state government.

Even if Mr Abdullahi Mohamed does prevail in the battle over the Kampala Accord and thereby greatly enhances his political authority, the TFG may still remain mired in corruption and incompetence, some independent analysts warn.

“We’ve seen too many false dawns to be optimistic about what’s happening now,” says a US academic specialist on Somalia who declines to be named because of contractual obligations. “The prime minister does show promise, but one man isn’t going to be able to save Somalia from itself.”