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Surge in Somali dissent
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 01 - 11 - 2007

Amid intensifying factional infighting, human misery and humanitarian disaster, the Somali prime minister resigns, writes Gamal Nkrumah
A bitter confrontation has erupted between the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia, which is militarily backed by Ethiopian forces, and a coalition of forces opposed to the Ethiopian military presence in Somalia, headed by the Council of Islamic Courts (CIC). The new coalition includes former members of the TFG who have grown disenchanted with Somali President Youssef Abdullah and his Prime Minister Mohamed Ali Gedi. This coalition is strongly supported by Eritrea, Ethiopia's main rival for political hegemony in the Horn of Africa. Some 30 CIC leaders, including its chief ideologue Sheikh Hassan Dhahir Aweis and ex-parliamentarians such as Hussein Aideed are currently based in the Eritrean capital Asmara.
Against a brutish backdrop of growing violence and tension this week, the Somali prime minister "proudly" tendered his resignation, but stated that he will remain an active member of parliament. Nevertheless, the buzz going around is that more fighting will ensue. Somali observers are curious as to the timing of Gedi's resignation.
Somali politicians have been scurrying around Arab capitals to lobby support for their cause. This latest twist of events is viewed with trepidation in Arab and African capitals. Gedi has long voiced his unease with the president's policies. Strong opinions are most combustible if they cannot be put into action. Trouble is brewing among the leaders of the TFG, and factional infighting is beginning to look politically unstoppable.
Somali politicians have never been burdened by excessive feelings of charity towards their rivals. Indeed, violence erupted this week on the streets of the Somali capital Mogadishu between Ethiopian troops and their Somali TFG allies on the one hand, and anti-Ethiopian CIC militias on the other. The two sides have struggled for nine months now to gain control of the war-torn city. An estimated half a million people have fled Mogadishu in the past four months. The Somali people worry, though, is that the country would disintegrate into chaos.
Moreover, the violence has spread to other parts of the country. The northern regions of Somalia are engaged in vicious warfare. Precisely what happened and how many died in the latest of several incidents involving Puntland and Somaliland is unclear. Somaliland, a self-proclaimed independent state which no country recognises, has close trade and economic ties with Ethiopia -- even though the Ethiopians have fallen short of diplomatic recognition. Puntland, home of the Somali president, is an autonomous province and among the most prosperous of Somalia's outlying regions, though it has never sought outright independence. But the ongoing fighting in both regions does not augur well for a united Somalia's future.
Incredibly, tiny, newly independent Eritrea has emerged as one of the region's most powerful power-brokers. Not only has it provided shelter to the anti- Ethiopian forces of Somalia, but it is sponsoring a shadow Somali government ready and waiting in the Eritrean capital Asmara. Gedi's resignation only complicates matters. He was more acceptable to the CIC and the Eritreans, who will no doubt make full capital out of his exit from the TFG.
"I was not forced to resign," Gedi was reported as saying. He stressed that no outside pressures played a part in his resignation and added that it was a personal decision. It is an open secret that political differences between the two men in the past were being hushed up.
Gedi was subjected to several assassination attempts while in office. He was accused of embezzlement of millions of dollars from state coffers. No less than 20 ministers resigned in protest over his incompetence. "The crux of the matter is that Gedi failed to stem the tide of violence and control the economy," Somalia's Ambassador to Egypt Abdullah Hassan Mahmoud told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Moreover, as a Hawiye, he hails from the tribal grouping that predominates within the CIC. The Hawiye are Somalia's largest tribal grouping and are the majority in the capital. He is a secularist who abhors the Islamists, but in the world of Somali politics, tribal affiliation counts more than ideological orientation.
President Abdullah, on the other hand, is of the Darod tribe -- geographically concentrated in the north of the country. He welcomed Gedi's resignation and it was announced that Salim Aliyow Ibrow, Gedi's deputy, was to assume the prime ministerial office until a new prime minister is officially designated.
The last few days have seen a marked deterioration in the security and humanitarian situation in Mogadishu. It is hoped, however, that Gedi's resignation will give a chance for the TFG to iron out some of their differences. The Somali president has not been very successful in quelling the powers of the Islamists. He faces the most trying test since he took office. These are hard times for the Somali president, but if he plays his cards right he might just about hang on to power until his term ends. To whose benefit, though, it is not entirely clear.


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