International diplomatic efforts were re-energised in 2000 when the Djibouti government hosted the Somalia National Peace Conference in the town of Arta. The ‘Arta process’ achieved an important political breakthrough in August 2000 by producing a Transitional National Government (TNG) that commanded some national and international support.
This was due, in part, to an innovative peace process that consulted with Somali society beyond the usual faction leaders. It also adopted a system of fixed proportional representation of Somali clans in the conference and in government based on the so-called ‘4.5 formula’: an equal number of places were allotted to each of the four major Somali clan-families, and a ‘half place’ to ‘minorities’ and to women.
The TNG became the first authority since the fall of Siyad Barre to fill Somalia’s seat at the UN and regional bodies. It was supported by the UN and several Arab states but it failed to win the backing of Ethiopia or the confidence of major donor governments. In Somalia the TNG did not follow through on the reconciliation efforts begun in Arta and became associated with the powerful Mogadishu clans and the business class, which included Islamists. The TNG was opposed by a coalition supported by Ethiopia, called the Somali Restoration and Reconciliation Council (SRRC) in which Abdullahi Yusuf had a leadership role.
In the climate of international insecurity that followed the 9/11 attacks on the US, the failed state of Somalia attracted renewed interest as a potential haven and breeding ground for international terrorists. The TNG’s reputation suffered as the growing influence of Islamic Courts and Islamic charities increased suspicions about its links with militant Islamists.
To some Somalis the return of government provided the best opportunity for Somalia for a decade, and they criticised Western governments for failing to adequately support it. The experience of TNG also demonstrated the difficulty of securing a lasting agreement in Somalia that does not address the interests and needs of both internal and external actors.
The IGAD initiative
The mandate of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) was revised in 1996 to include the promotion of peace and security, in addition to fostering regional cooperation and economic development. IGAD had supported past Somali reconciliation efforts by Ethiopia or Djibouti.
In 2002 IGAD took up the challenge of reconciling the TNG and the SRRC, each supported by an IGAD member state. The influence of external actors was apparent during the two-year reconciliation conference facilitated by Kenya. The Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which succeeded the TNG in November 2004, saw Somalia’s leadership shift from the Mogadishu-centred, Hawiye and Islamist dominated coalition to the federalist, Darood and Ethiopian backed coalition, with Abdullahi Yusuf chosen as the transitional president.
Substantial financial support for the TFG was anticipated with the inauguration of a World Bank and UNDP Joint Needs Assessment of the country’s rehabilitation and development requirements. But like its predecessor the TFG fell short of being a government of national unity.
Power was concentrated in a narrow clan coalition and Abdulahi Yusuf was viewed as a client of Ethiopia. His immediate call for a military force from the African Union (AU) to help him establish his authority in the capital alienated his slender support base in Mogadishu. Without dogged international financial and military support the TFG would not have survived either its internal divisions or the rise of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) in 2006.
The Islamic Courts Union
An important feature of the past two decades has been the emergence of a variety of Islamist movements seeking to establish an Islamic state in Somalia. These range from traditionalist sufi orders, to progressive Islamist movements like Al Islah, and Salafi and Wahhabi inspired groups like Al Itihad Al Islamiya pursuing a regional or global agenda. Their significance came to the fore in April 2006 when a coalition of Islamic Courts, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), in alliance with other clan militia, ousted a coalition of warlords (the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter Terrorism) from Mogadishu that had been backed by the US government.
The ICU won public support for creating an unprecedented degree of security in the capital and quickly established a presence across most of south-central Somalia. It seemed to offer an alternative political system that could deliver services and security to the population, in sharp contrast to the failing authority of the TFG.
When mediation efforts by the Arab League failed to forge an agreement between the parties, Ethiopian forces, with implicit backing from Western governments, entered Somalia in December 2006. They forced out the ICU and installed the TFG in Mogadishu. The US air force attacked retreating ICU forces in an unsuccessful effort to kill Al Qaeda operatives allegedly harboured by the ICU. The ICU leadership took refuge in Eritrea where, with other opposition figures, they established the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somali (ARS) that mobilised support against the Ethiopian occupation.
In early 2007 a small contingent of AU peacekeepers (the AU Mission in Somalia – AMISOM) was deployed to Mogadishu to protect the Transitional Federal Institutions (TFIs). But over the next two years efforts by the TFG and Ethiopia to impose a ‘victor’s peace’ provoked violent resistance from a mixture of clan militia and remnants of the militant wing of the ICU – Harakat al Shabaab (‘the youth movement’).
During 2007 alone fighting between the TFG and the insurgency resulted in the displacement of up to 700,000 people from Mogadishu, and the economic base of the Hawiye in the city was weakened. The Ethiopian occupation rallied support to the resistance within Somalia and in the diaspora, helping to radicalise another generation of Somalis.
During his four years in power, Abdullahi Yusuf’s government failed to implement any of the transitional tasks of government. By inviting Ethiopia to intervene militarily against the ICU, it lost all semblance of legitimacy and was unable to establish its authority over the country.
When UN-mediated talks between the ARS and the TFG in Djibouti agreed a timetable for Ethiopian withdrawal in late 2008, Abdullahi Yusuf resigned paving the way for the creation of a new TFG under the presidency of the former Chair of the ICU, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.
The withdrawal of Ethiopian forces and the establishment of a new ‘unitary’ TFG created an opportunity to establish a moderate Islamist government in Somalia that had considerable backing from Somalis and the international community. Nine months later Somalia finds itself in even greater turmoil. Al Shabaab denounced the Djibouti agreement as a betrayal by the ARS. Under the leadership of Ahmed Godane, who is widely held responsible for organising suicide bombs in Hargeisa and Bosasso in October 2008, Al Shabaab has declared its support for al Qaeda. The TFG has to date proved itself incapable of building a coalition to combat Al Shabaab and Hizbul Islamiya forces that control much of south central Somalia. The international community has responded by increasing support for the TFG, including the provision of arms by the US government.
The three years from 2006-08 were catastrophic for Somalis. Military occupation, a violent insurgency, rising jihadism and massive population displacement has reversed the incremental political and economic progress achieved by the late 1990s in south central Somalia. With 1.3 million people displaced by fighting since 2006, 3.6 million people in need of emergency food aid, and 60,000 Somalis a year fleeing the country, the people of south central Somalia face the worst humanitarian crisis since the early 1990s.