Somalia, after undergoing a period of improving stability, may be headed once again towards tragedy. On December 6th, Somalian lawmakers, under pressure from President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, ousted their Prime Minister Abidweli Sheikh Ahmed in the capital Mogadishu. President Mohamud had sparred with Prime Minister Ahmed over the composition of Mr. Ahmed’s Cabinet, causing destabilizing internal conflict within the legislature. Only a year ago, a similar schism between President Mohamud and the former Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon led to Mohamud ousting Shirdon through a suspiciously executed no-confidence vote. Now, as the Somalian government scrambles to name a new Prime Minister, a combination of drought, floods, political turmoil, and terrorism portends a famine that may be the most devastating in the past three years.
Only a few weeks ago Somalia appeared to be moving towards increased stability, and appeared to be putting a close to the 23-year long civil war. Three months ago a US air strike took the life of Ahmed Abdi Godane, the charismatic leader of the radical Islamic militant group al-Shabab. After al-Shabab conquered most of southern and central Somalia, including the capital, Mogadishu, in 2008, the federal coalition government of Somalia, led by Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, launched a counteroffensive against the terror group. With the help of the UN, the African Union, and the Kenyan and Ethiopian Armed Forces, the campaign had been largely successful in establishing peace. In 2012, when the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia captured the last al-Shabab stronghold in the southern port of Kismayo, the radical Islamic network dispersed into the countryside. However, with the turmoil created by the ousting of Prime Minister Ahmed, al-Shabab is back on the rise. On December 5th, a suicide bombing in Baidoa left fifteen dead, and on December 10th, two policewoman were beheaded.
While the war in the south of the country continues to simmer, the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) has many other problems, both internal and external, that seriously threaten its existence. Somalia as it stands today is not a single unified state. Somaliland, the northern region of Somalia, declared independence from the Federal State of Somalia in 1991 after the end of the autocratic rule of Siad Barre; Puntland, the region that encompasses the Horn of Africa, declared autonomy in 1998. The FGS has always refused to recognize the independence of these regions, and, as borders have been drawn along clan lines, this underlying tension threatens to develop into clan warfare. Two months ago, the FGS, attempting to ameliorate the situation, formed a bilateral agreement with the Puntland State that demarcates disputed borders. However, this agreement has heightened tensions with Somaliland, which feels threatened by the improved relations between the federal government and its neighbor.
By endorsing decentralization, the FGS is walking a fine line. More regional freedom could lead to a more free and open society, but at the same time, because borders have been drawn in a way to unify clans, this could pit clan against clan in a war for territory, as has happened earlier in the now-waning Civil War.
With the recent removal of another Prime Minister by President Mohamud, the FGS may face the issue of declining legitimacy, which may cause further regional fragmentation. In order to ensure that the country moves forward, compromises must be made and institutions must be respected. The FGS should negotiate openly not only with Puntland, but also with Somaliland. Decentralization should continue to be intelligently pursued, but for this to work, new borders and administration rights must be respected; the African Union and UN should be active enforcers during this diplomatic process, and clan leaders in the disputed regions should be involved in the discussions. However, the current political turmoil within Mogadishu is threatening the fragile authority of the FGS, and although President Mohamud recently named Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke his new prime minister, legitimacy for Mr. Mohamud’s authority is declining and regional negotiations may break down, leading to the increasing strength of extremist networks such as al-Shabab. While Somalia can still stabilize with a recommitment to strong and open leadership, Somalia’s crises may once again reach catastrophic state-collapsing proportions.