The Terror Journal

A Journal on Terrorism and Genocide

Challenges for Somalia’s new Islamist leader

SomaliaSomalia’s first Islamist president will need outside financial support and must placate the nation’s myriad clans to have any chance of stabilising the country after 18 years of violence.

Unless President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, 42, starts to deliver on his pledges soon, the promise of a bright new chapter in Somali history will flounder, like the 14 other attempts to form a unity government since a dictator was ousted in 1991.

“To the extent that any Somali can reunite the country under the existing situation, his choice is a good one. The challenges remain enormous and clan politics will not go away,” said David Shinn, a Horn of Africa expert and former U.S. envoy to the region.

Establishing some security fast is a must. Government troops and some 3,500 African peacekeepers control little more than a few blocks of the capital Mogadishu and the hardline Islamist al Shabaab group has been gaining in strength.

The African Union expects to bolster its force as countries commit during a summit of African leaders in Ethiopia this week, and says that mission could become a United Nations force.

Some analysts and Ahmed’s aides worry that creating a U.N. force would be counterproductive because it could be seen as Western interference and encourage those who fought invading troops from U.S.-ally Ethiopia to pursue their struggle.

“If the international community over-reaches again and sends foreign troops, any possible chance for success will be undermined,” said Somalia expert John Prendergast, co-chairman of the U.S.-based advocacy group the Enough Project.

More important in the short-term will be tackling an array of Islamist insurgents. Ahmed hopes the promise of peace, a steady wage and the chance of an education can lure many of the young fighters into a national security force.

Analysts say his record as chairman of the Islamic Courts Union in Mogadishu in 2006 will help. Many Islamist fighters were part of that sharia courts movement — but he will need to re-establish leadership on the ground after a two-year exile.

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Shinn said al Shabaab had internal rifts — which Ahmed’s aides hope will now widen — and that many young fighters were opportunists who could be persuaded to switch sides.

CASH INJECTION NEEDED

But to keep any fighters on board they will need to be paid, and that will require injections of cash from outside so a 10,000-strong police force can be established. Ahmed also plans to employ experienced former generals and military officers.

Mark Schroeder, Africa analyst at global intelligence company Stratfor, said he did not expect al Shabaab to cede easily: “They have not fought this fight only to see their gains usurped by Sharif.”

Ahmed will also need to woo the more hardline opposition Islamists who were strong in the Islamic Courts Union and are in exile in Eritrea. They have so far snubbed the peace process.

Getting Somalia’s clans behind government will be another big task, a challenge previous leaders have failed to meet.

“The tent Sheikh Sharif will preside over will have to be wide and deep, and consciously include genuine representatives of all clans, ideologies and regions,” said Prendegast.

The first hurdle will be choosing a prime minister with nationwide respect that placates the semi-autonomous northern region of Puntland, which has so far refused to back Ahmed.

Ahmed’s party includes various clans and he would ultimately like to create a meritocracy, not necessarily bound by strict rules that now dictate the clan composition of government.

But Somali political realities mean the prime minister will almost certainly be a member of the Darod clan, and one who placates the sub-clan of former President Abdullahi Yusuf.

He will also need to appease members of the previous government who did not want an Islamist president.

“A broad-based unity government could isolate al-Shabaab,” said Shinn. “The question is whether Sheikh Sharif can create a broad based government.”

Besides ending violence, forging peace with Ethiopia, curbing piracy, marginalising al Shabaab and developing a good relationship with the new U.S. administration, Ahmed has also pledged to rebuild social services and infrastructure.

Ahmed’s aides say delivering results on these will be crucial to show Somalis the government is making a difference.

This will require massive investment. The U.S. special envoy to Somalia, John Yates, has said Washington hopes to turn the support it gives in aid into direct development assistance.

And Shinn said getting support from wealthy Arab nations may be crucial to the government’s success.

Ahmed’s Islamist roots may prove to be an advantage. Aides say Saudia Arabia, Qatar and other Arab countries have expressed willingness to support Somalia at a donors conference they would like to hold soon, possibly in neighbouring Djibouti.

“It’s very important that we give an injection to this new hope,” said Abdirasak Aden, a senior political adviser to Ahmed.

“Our vision is that Somalia can solve its problems through ballots, not bullets. We are tired of this war.”

Source: Reuters

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