crisis pushes Somalia closer to war
By William Maclean
NAIROBI (Reuters) - A worsening political crisis threatens to
plunge Somalia back into war and open a new era of humanitarian
suffering, experts say.
Trust collapsed between the two opposing wings of its divided
government many months ago, triggering a mainly rhetorical
struggle for power as both sides squabbled over where in the
failed state their administration should be based.
That development failed to stimulate a forceful international
response, due to growing disarray among interested foreign
powers over how to handle the Horn of Africa country.
But recent events have taken emotions inside President Abdullahi
Yusuf's government to new levels of acrimony, and foreign powers
will find it hard to remain aloof if warlords start settling
their disputes through armed force, Somalis say.
Worried analysts point to movements of pro- and anti-Yusuf
militias, a huge increase in arms imports, assassinations of
high profile Somalis in Mogadishu, the failure of a disarmament
project in the capital, and increased activity by militant
Islamists seeking to exploit a deepening power vacuum.
"The ill-will of the protagonists has brought our people to the
brink of another bloody war," wrote elder statesman and former
Prime Minister Abdirazak Haji Hussen in a paper circulated among
"Recent militia movements in the central region and reportedly
from Ethiopia, and in Mogadishu, are clear signals that
something ominous is about to unfold.
"I alert the world community to brace itself for another
catastrophic humanitarian situation and a flood of refugees."
THRIVING ON CONFLICT
If the country tumbles deeper into anarchy, the only winners are
likely to be warlords skilled at thriving on conflict and
militant Islamists who have adroitly used the political crisis
to carve out a bigger role in Mogadishu politics, experts say.
The government has been recruiting fighters across the country
in recent weeks in what looks to many like the prelude to an
attack on bases held by some cabinet ministers critical of Yusuf,
many of whom are based in Mogadishu.
Yusuf, on good terms with regional power Ethiopia, said he would
persuade rather than force his critics, who include some
Mogadishu warlords and powerful businessmen, to cooperate.
But critics say the attempt by Yusuf, 70, to build a force is
consistent with his past as a provincial warlord who has never
shown flair for the diplomatic deal-making needed to build
alliances among Mogadishu's fractious clan militias.
Ethiopia, Somalia's historic foe, denies giving Yusuf military
help, but witnesses have reported Ethiopian officers helping
train Yusuf's forces in several places in recent weeks.
Yusuf's opponents -- warlords and Islamists -- have reacted by
reorganizing their own militias to form a united front strong
enough to deter what they see as Yusuf's bid to impose his rule.
"Abdullahi Yusuf's militarist approach to reconciliation has
produced an opportunistic solidarity among warlords in
Mogadishu," said Somali analyst Abdi Ismail Samatar.
Some dismiss the effort to create a common front as a marriage
of convenience to defend lucrative businesses including ports,
airports, checkpoints, drug smuggling and weapons trading.
But so big are the spoils, the alliance could well last as long
as it takes to rebuff any attack by Yusuf, experts say.
Yusuf's opponents want him and his prime minister, Mohamed Ali
Gedi, to come and govern from Mogadishu. But Yusuf, whose
political base is north-central Somalia, is working temporarily
from provincial towns as he feels the capital is too risky.
Earlier this year the U.N. Security Council declared that any
hostile military action by any party would be unacceptable.
But no major foreign government has bothered to repeat that
message consistently at a senior level, partly because there is
no consensus on how to restore the peace process, experts say.
"WATCHING PREPARATIONS FOR WAR"
Italy, China and Ethiopia are seen as closely allied to Yusuf.
Eritrea, and some Arab states, are seen as allied to the
Mogadishu group. Other major powers want to hold back funding
for the government until it can agree where it should be based.
"It is incomprehensible that the international community is
inattentively watching the two factions prepare for war," said
Somalia has been without a central government since warlords
ousted former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Most of
Somalia has since been carved up between rival militias and
hundreds of thousands of people have died from famine and war.
Any conflict would trigger yet more suffering, Somalis say.
The Food Security Analysis Unit, a project of the European Union
and U.S. government, predicts the lowest cereal harvest in a
decade in southern Somalia this year thanks to poor rains.
It said one million Somalis, including 377,000 displaced people,
urgently needed food to stay alive. "The entire southern part of
Somalia (is) on alert status due to unsolved tensions within the
government and reports of military build-ups," it said. "If
widespread combat were to ensue it would have a devastating
effect on human lives and livelihoods."