A Confluence of Interests in the Search for Peace in Somalia


Leandro Oduor, intern – Mifugo Programme, ISS Nairobi Office


Somalia’s increasingly fragile government declared a state of emergency on June 12, 2009 and issued calls for external assistance to stem attacks from insurgents. This happened at the height of the deteriorating situation in Somalia and fighting between the resurgent Islamist alliance and government forces that has left scores dead in clashes across the south and central regions. At least 122 000 civilians have been displaced in Mogadishu alone since fighting escalated in early May, while scores of others have fled to neighbouring states as refugees. 

The call for external assistance seems to be bearing fruit: the African Union (AU) despite protest from the renegade forces and Eritrea, resolved to bolster the African Union Peace-keeping Mission on Somalia force (AMISON) during the AU summit held in Libya, 24th June -3rd July. Also, according to an Amnesty International Media briefing on 11 August 2009, the United States has delivered a consignment of weapons to the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to help sustain its affront on the Al Shaabab Militia. Increasingly, Eritrea has been accused of supporting the Al Shaabab. Meanwhile Eritrea has argued emphatically that the TFG lacks legitimacy and it was imposed by Ethiopia.


The international community, and especially the Inter Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), needs to take on the spoilers more assertively and openly. Diplomacy applied by IGAD should be backed by a strong attempt to end impunity. If this approach of stern measures is not taken collectively by African governments, with the support of the international community, there is real risk not only of escalating violence but the war could also spread across the Somali borders. This stems from AL Shaabab threats of creating a ‘greater Somalia’ and the escalated refugee crisis that could emerge out of a total collapse of the TFG.


According to the Sudan Tribune of 03rd September 2009 Eritrea suspended its membership of IGAD over the AU, United Nations and IGAD stance on Somalia. However, the issues raised by Eritrea, such as the notion that external forces are manipulating IGAD and that Ethiopia’s intervention in Somalia needs a different approach, deserve attention, if sustainable peace is to be achieved in Somalia in the long term.


The geo-political location of Somalia depicts a region whose international significance lies largely in securing the sea routes for merchant and oil ships. The upsurge in piracy has focused international attention on the peace process in Somalia. Previously Somalia might have been ignored since it was of little relevance to the international political economy.


Indeed, the evil hand of piracy has also been a blessing in disguise as it is providing actors keen on peace and security in Somalia with the necessary international focus to bring the instability and direct consequences on innocent civilians into the limelight. The national, regional and international actors must prioritize Somalia’s national interests while a middle ground is sought for other political, social, economic and religious concerns.

In view of effectively addressing the complex Somali political quagmire, it is necessary to understand the economic dimension of the crisis - ‘to follow the money’ as it were. The political impasse and violent confrontation is exceptionally lucrative for the warlords, militia and those is power positions. This category of people, including major government figures and the elite, have been rightly accused of smuggling goods from the ports of Somalia into Kenya and Sudan. Ransoms paid to ocean pirates have also been traced to banks in some of the neighbouring capitals.  There are also increasing allegations that the proceeds from illegal trade have been used for personal enrichment, purchasing weapons, and hiring mercenaries.


Further, members of the Al Shaababhave been accused of monopolising lucrative economic activity, including the import /export trade. Some observers have gone so far as to state that Al Shaabab’sthreat to invade Kenya stems from the high security along the border that is preventing smuggled goods from reaching the country’s lucrative market.


According to a 11th June 2009 report of the Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor, a senior official in the Somali jihad movement Harakat Al-Shabab Al-Islamiyya which has for long controlled large areas in southern Somalia, threatened to invade Kenya if the military activities in the region were not stopped. Suffice to note that only a week into operation; the Kenyan army netted a truckload carrying illegal sugar smuggled from the Somalia ports.

It is not just leading politicians and warlords who are gaining from the current situation of anarchy. Many others benefit through business interests that are frequently protected or expanded by militias of otherwise unemployed youths. It is possible that their ill-gotten gains enable them to recruit and arm sizeable groups of young men and use them for their security operations.


The TFG is a product of political compromise and thus contain elements displeasing to every party. However, calls to dissolve the regime on legitimacy grounds miss an important point. The key issues being addressed in the election of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed are as pressing as ever, i.e. establishing law and order in Somalia. The problem however lies in reconciling various interests, mostly business, and the sophisticated strategies of the two sides that range from the legalistic, pitting the TFG against the Al Shaabab, to the demagogic- nascent issues of sharia law/Islamic State.


Diplomacy built upon the assumption that the political actors aim to address these issues in good faith is doomed to fail. The political ‘ping pong’ will continue even with the triumph of the Al Shaabab. Unfortunately, none of the warring groups have the capacity to establish law and order in Somalia due to the crisis of legitimacy that might haunt the parties involved. Furthermore Ethiopian and Eritrean national interests are threatened by Al Shaabab and TFG hegemony respectively. The US has already branded Al Shaabab a terrorist organisation with links to Al Qaeda.


The viable option out of this political situation would be having a national consensus on who should rightfully govern Somalia or calling on the warring parties to dialogue and establish a coalition government. If this fails, then reviewing the mandate of AMISON so as to engage actively in combat with the rebels will be the only option. Further, revising the laws preventing bordering states from interfering would be needed, although this might lead to another challenge that of disputed territorial integrity. However, what is clear for now is that her neighbouring states, the continent and the international community must prioritize a peaceful Somalia.


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