17 February 2009 | Garoweonline
President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad's chances of success in holding together Somalia's Transitional Federal Institutions took a hit on February 13 when he appointed Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke as his prime minister.
The weak protagonist in a fragmented conflict, Sh. Sharif is most immediately hobbled by a tug of war for his political will between the "international community," upon which he depends for diplomatic and financial support, and his base of clerical support represented in his Djibouti faction of the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (A.R.S.-D), which controls 200 seats in the expanded 550 seat transitional parliament. The donors want Sh. Sharif to be "inclusive;" his clerical base wants him to implement Shari'a law. By selecting Sharmarke, Sh. Sharif caved in to the donors and chose their replacement for Nur Adde Hassan Hussein - a humanitarian bureaucrat without a political base, who mentioned nothing about implementing Shari'a when he addressed the press after his nomination. Simultaneously, Sh. Sharif announced that he would implement Shari'a law, attempting to mollify his clerical base.
Sh. Sharif's selection of Sharmarke sets up a formally identical relation to the one that characterized the Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.) in the preceding administration under Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed and Nur Adde, with Sharmarke playing Nur Adde's role of handmaiden to the donors and Sharif trying to grab control of the transitional mechanisms and make his base the core of a machine that might spread out (in the best-case scenario) to form a governing coalition. The tension set up between what Sh. Sharif and Sharmarke represent weakens Sh. Sharif's potential hold on the T.F.G.,requiring him either to compromise with the donors or to fight Sharmarke as Yusuf fought Nur Adde. Sh.Sharif also has to contend with parliamentary speaker, Sheikh Adan Madobe, who represents the old clan-based and warlord-riven transitional legislature, the majority of which voted against Sharif in the presidential election. The T.F.G. is now structured as it was before: an Islamist replaces a clanist; a humanitarian bureaucrat replaces a humanitarian bureaucrat - new wine in old bottles, old wine in old bottles.
The response to the selection of Sharmarke was predictable. The donors crowed about how the new prime minister would be a "bridge" between the Islamists and the wider world. The Islamic scholars expressed support for Sh. Sharif's announcement that Shari'a would be implemented, adding that they would be watching him closely and would tell him if he got out of line. Sh. Sharif's Hawiye Abgal sub-clan and some of the wider Hawiye clan family remained supportive. He kept his A.R.S.-D bloc together in the parliamentary vote confirming Sharmarke. He won the open support of the Islamic Courts Union's military wing on the ground in Mogadishu, which was already linked to his faction. By selecting Sharmarke, a member of the Northern Darod clan family, Sh. Sharif won the qualified support of the Puntland sub-state, which said it would work with him as long as he followed a policy of "Federalism" that would insure Puntland's autonomy. In reaction, the Southern Darod withdrew support from Sh. Sharif, because he had not chosen a member of the Marehan sub-clan as prime
minister. Despite rumors of a softening position, the self-declared Republic of Somaliland ruled out renouncing its full independence. The armed opposition to
the T.F.G.- al-Shabaab and the newly formed Islamic Party (Hisbul Islam) - kept up their rejection of Sh. Sharif's administration, despite reports that they had met with him. Ethiopia's prime minister, Meles Zenawi, expressed satisfaction, saying that Addis Ababa had succeeded, through its intervention in Somalia, in splitting the Courts Movement and isolating al-Shabaab so that Islamist irredentism was no longer a threat.
The responses to the selection of Sharmarke show that the structure of the political situation in Somalia has not changed appreciably from what it was before Sh. Sharif assumed the T.F.G.'s presidency. The same forces have the same interests and have merely repositioned themselves in response to a new T.F.G. presidency representing different sectoral interests than the old one. On the ground micro-politics dominates with each local sub-clan retreating to protect itself and calculating which political force will gain momentum in its region so that it can go with the flow until another force becomes dominant.
A closed source in the Gulf states reports that the Somali business community there has been hit hard by the global financial crisis and attendant recession, and is wary of financing Sh. Sharif because of his perceived inexperience and lack of political skills. The money they have will be primarily directed to their sub-clans and the political forces that they believe best represent them.
Expect Sheikh Sharif to attempt to gain control of the T.F.G., which will be a full-time job with a diminished probability of success. Torn between the donors and his base, with groups on the outside or on the margins holding his feet to the fire, Sh. Sharif will find it very difficult to advance. A misguided policy of "inclusion" forced on Sh. Sharif by the donors points in the direction of his failure.
Sh. Sharif is unlikely to be able to break out of the T.F.G.'s mechanism to make significant gains. Somaliland and Puntland are off the table. The southern regions of Somalia are in the hands of the armed opposition, which is likely to gain greater support from the Marehan. The south-central regions are disputed, with support growing for the armed opposition. The situation in Lower Shabelle is confused, but dominated by the armed opposition. The central regions of Middle Shabelle and Hiraan are supportive of Sh. Sharif; Galgadud - the base of the Hawiye-Ayr sub-clan is disputed; and southern Mudug remains relatively autonomous. Sh. Sharif is unlikely gain the political momentum necessary to change this power configuration, which - if it holds - prefigures de facto, if not de jure, cantonization of southern and central Somalia, which would work most of all for Addis Ababa's interests.
Dr. Michael A. Weinstein, Professor of Political Science, Purdue University