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Is Al Shabaab poised to take power in Somalia?

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By PAUL GOLDSMITH

Posted  Saturday, December 27   2008 at  12:04

Be careful what you wish for — because you may just get it.”

This conventional wisdom has come up trumps in Somalia, where for years the country wished and prayed Siad Barre would go away. The dictator finally did make his exit in 1991, but so did the Somali state.

Eighteen years later and after multiple attempts to reconstitute a functional government, it has yet to reappear.

The last such initiative under the aegis of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) produced a constitution and a parliament elected in Nairobi. Abdullahi Yusuf, a long-time protégé of Ethiopia, became the surprise choice of president of the Transitional Federal Government.

Like the Transitional National Government before it, the TFG failed to take root in Somalia’s clan-fractured environment.

In the case of President Abdi Salad’s TNG, opposition by clan-based warlords was ostensibly the problem.

They were subsequently included in the Igad process — Abdullahi Yusuf, who had dislodged an elected government in semi-autonomous Puntland by force, was a warlord himself.

The TFG was belatedly installed in Mogadishu after the Ethiopian army terminated the Islamic Courts Union’s six-month reign in the capital.

The main concern of its head of state, however, appeared to be alienating members of his ruling coalition — as evidenced by his unilateral dismissal of popular TFG prime minister Nur Adde at this late stage of the game.

President Abdullahi has used his power mainly to shut down media outlets and to jail journalists and now the TFG’s mandate is about to expire. (As we went to press, there were reports that President Abdullahi was drafting his resignation and that of his government.)

The Ethiopian gendarmes are scheduled to withdraw at the end of the year, the small AU contingent is sure to follow, and the UN has once again failed to authorise the peacekeeping mission concerned observers have repeatedly called for.

In the meantime, President Abdullahi has repulsed offers of assistance from traditional sheikhs and clan leaders alarmed by the expanding power of militant Islamists.

Pirates rule the roost in his clan homeland and another large-scale famine looms on the horizon. Abdullahi Yusuf has used his tenure to insure Somalia’s transition to an even worse state of affairs, and his Islamist opponents appear to be cut from the same cloth.

Despite Somalia’s apparently chaotic internal conditions, most of the country has settled into a state of relative peace. While the peace is periodically interrupted by the political clashes that have replaced the communal conflicts of the 1990s, these events tend to be localised and of short duration.

Somali institutions of internal governance — elders’ councils and customary law — although sometimes subject to manipulation by local warlords, have proven to be resilient in the post-state milieu.

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