July 26, 2007

HARRISONBURG—In his weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, examines the ongoing violence in Somalia and questions the United States and international policy of backing that country’s ineffectual “Transitional Federal Government” (TFG).

Dr. Pham argues that the dispersal of the internationally-funded and long-postponed “national reconciliation congress” amid mortar rounds last week was no great loss since it “was limited to mainly clan issues with no real political questions on the table” and the meeting would have enjoyed little legitimacy anyway because leaders of rival clans as well as moderate Islamists were excluded. According to the author, the reason for the seriously circumscribed conference is obvious:

The TFG “president” was not about to allow a discussion of his position to occur, much less in a city dominated by his clan rivals (the Hawiye ran most other Darod out of town in the early 1990s after the collapse of last real government, the Siyad Barre dictatorship). Nor was the position of its prime minister, Ali Mohamed Gedi, open to be filled since the incumbent enjoys close ties with the TFG’s chief supporter, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who employed Gedi’s father as a glorified valet in the 1980s. Likewise precluded was any real debate about allocations of the TFG’s only source of revenue other than international mendicancy, fees collected at the port of Mogadishu. The latter, however, have been treated as little more than a privy purse by the president and prime minister, both of whom are proud owners of new villas in the capital of neighboring Kenya…

In this context, it is not particularly surprisingly that the TFG, its Ethiopian defenders, and the pathetically undermanned African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) find themselves facing a growing armed resistance which, as I predicted in a column nearly five months ago, is “repeating almost step-by-step the tactical and strategic evolution of the Iraqi insurgency.”

[As a result,] according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), at least 10,000 people fled the sometime capital city last week alone, bringing the net emigration figure to an estimated 275,000 since the beginning of the year.

Dr. Pham concludes : “If last week’s botched congress is any indication, the only thing that has changed is that we have wasted several more months and several more million dollars even as the insurgents gathered strength from the accumulating grievances of those marginalized by the TFG. If a foreign-funded kaffeeklatsch by the handpicked (and paid) invitees of a “government” with no grass-roots support is the most creative solution the international community’s Africa policymakers can come up with, it is going to be a very long, very hot, and very violent summer in Mogadishu.”

To read the full text of Dr. Pham’s article, “Mired in Mogadishu,” click here.