Catching up on Somalia and Somaliland

Kenya’s military objectives in Somalia remain unclear, with the idea now floated that Kenya is satisfied with whatever has been done to date and has no need to seek to capture Kismayu after all.  As far as Kenya itself is concerned, Somalia just isn’t legitimately the most important priority, and I agree with the perspective offered by Wycliffe Muga in Nairobi’s Star in his column a month ago:  “Kismayu is the Least of our Problems”.

Here is a new article by Nairobi-based Muhyadin Amed Roble from the Jamestown Foundation’s “Terrorism Monitor”: “Will the Return of Ethiopia’s Military to Somalia Destroy al-Shabaab or Revive It?”

Just 40 days after Kenya’s military intervention against the militant al-Shabaab group began in Somalia there are indications that the Kenyan effort may become part of a joint operation with African Union and Ethiopian military forces to eradicate terrorist elements in the Horn of Africa. The African Union has backed the Kenyan invasion of southern Somalia and has also invited the Ethiopian army to join the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), currently consisting of military contingents from Uganda and Burundi.

.  .  .  .

Knowing the results of Ethiopia’s bloody invasion of Somalia in 2006, the AU’s invitation to dispatch Ethiopia troops to Somalia will be another counterproductive and undiplomatic move according to Abdihakim Aynte, a Somali political analyst in Nairobi. “The African Union seems to ignore the last experience of Ethiopian’s business with Somalia,” Aynte told the Jamestown Foundation. [1] The U.S.  State Department also seems wary of the outcome of another Ethiopian invasion. Johnnie Carson, the State Department’s top Africa policymaker, said: “Ethiopia went into Somalia some four and a half years ago and stayed for approximately two and a half to three years. That effort was not universally successful and led in fact to the rise of Shabaab after they pulled out” (McClatchy Newspapers, November 22; The Standard [Nairobi], November 22).

Ethiopia’s military intervention in Somalia will not please the current Transitional Federal Government (TFG) president Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmad, a former leader of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), ousted by the Ethiopians in 2006.  Abdihakim Aynte says President Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmad and the TFG do not have a choice in the matter. Somali Defense Minister Hussein Arab Isse welcomed the entrance of Ethiopian forces to eradicate al-Shabaab but warned Ethiopia against having any other objectives that damage the reputation of the country: “We welcome Ethiopian troops…and any other country that contributes forces to fight against the Shabaab militants, as long as they do not violate our sovereignty” (AFP, November 21).

.  .  .  .

With troops from four African nations now operating on Somali soil backed by the military power of the United States, al-Shabaab is certain to try to capitalize on traditional Somali xenophobia and nationalism to preserve and even expand the radical Islamist movement.

In the meantime, it is reported that up to 6,000 Somalis have recrossed the Red Sea into Somaliland  since the beginning of October, leaving Yemen due to conditions there. Somaliland’s exports of livestock to Yeman have dropped dramatically.  In Somaliland, IRIN reports that the newly formed National Development Program has determined that “the weighted average national employment rate is 52.6 percent” and unemployment is higher among youth, encouraging risky attempts to migrate to Europe via Ethiopia and Sudan.  The article also quotes a youth organization leader that there are approximately 104 NGOs and UN agencies working in Somaliland, but complaining of low local versus expat hiring.

Somaliland has certainly become one of best known ” little known” places in the last couple of years.  At this point I do have concern that with movement toward international recognition still seeming to be stalemated by the instability and uncertainty about the nature of government in the rest of Somalia, Somaliland could deteriorate if economic progress is too slow.  We shouldn’t take the status quo for granted.

Congratulations to the International Republican Institute for publishing a first-of-its-kind public opinion survey covering Hargeisa.  On balance the results suggest a generalized optimism about the state of the country in Hargeisa.  An interesting discussion of how to understand the results is here from the blog of Watershed Legal Services.

Chatham House has issued a report by Sally Healy entitled “Hostage to Conflict:  Prospects for Building Regional Economic Cooperation in the Horn of Africa” (h/t to Ambassador David Shinn’s blog).  She sees significant potential for the “close but distrustful neighbors” of the IGAD to cooperate in areas such as “transport corridors to sea ports, the management of shared water resources, common management of pastoral rangelands and improved energy security.”

On Tuesday, December the 6 the Institute for Security Studies will conduct a Pretoria seminar on “Kenya’s Military Incursion into Somalia and its Implications”.

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