The East Africa
By ABDULKADIR KHALIF
Special Correspondent
Thursday, October 04, 2007

The culmination in Asmara, Eritrea of the congress of the Somali groups opposed to the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), on September 16 saw the birth of a movement to liberate Somalia. 

The leaders of the movement have since then been busy putting together its structure. 

Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the soft-spoken clergyman who led the executive branch of the defunct Union of the Islamic Courts in Somalia, was named leader of the movement to liberate Somalia from what the group calls “Ethiopian occupation.” 

The movement has formed a 191- member consultative council that operates like a parliament, to be led by Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan, the former speaker of the Transitional Federal Parliament. He will be assisted by Hussein Mohamed Farah Aideed, who quit as TFG deputy prime minister. 

One of Sheikh Sharif’s deputies is Gen Jama Mohamed Ghalib, a former police officer — who also served in the Said Barre regime as Interior minister in the 1970s and 1980s.

Other key posts in the movement’s executive and consultative council have been filled by prominent TFG opponents from the former UIC; so-called independent parliamentarians who broke ranks with the TFG’s mainstream; politicians from the Somalia diaspora and representatives of the civil society. 

Considering the diverse backgrounds of the people involved, Mohamed Shire Ali, a Mogadishu-based political analyst said, “So diverse is the Asmara group that they are only united by the single purpose of challenging the TFG; so the glue that holds them together may melt very soon.”

He further said, “The issue of whether to wage a full jihad against the TFG or to pursue diplomatic avenues is already a thorny issue.” 

When Sheikh Sharif was declared the group’s leader, he immediately condemned Saudi Arabia for hosting a delegation of TFG officials and clan elders led by President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed. 

The TFG mission to Saudi was not only seeking endorsement of the outcome of the recently concluded national reconciliation conference by King Abdullah bin Saud, but also to appeal to Arab countries to contribute forces to a UN-lead peacekeeping mission in Somalia. 

Despite the formation of a significant opposition group in Asmara, it is business as usual for the TFG. Government squabbles are said to be intensifying with the president and Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Ghedi said to be in disagreement on a number of issues, including how to explore and exploit the country’s natural resources. A constitutional crisis is growing, especially since the High Court Chief Judge Yusuf Ali Haroon, was jailed for corruption on the strength of a warrant from the TFG Attorney-General Abdullahi Dahir Barre. 

The executive, lead by Premier Ghedi, retaliated by proposing the sacking of the Attorney-General for disregarding Judge Haroon’s immunity. Although Eritrea would like to see the Somali liberation movement it has helped midwife succeed, Asmara itself is facing problems of its own. Already considered a rogue state, Eritrea has been told by the United States that it risks being listed as one of the countries that sponsors terrorism. 

To make matters worse, its archenemy Ethiopia is threatening to suspend, at least for a while, the landmark Algiers Agreement that ended the two neighbours’ war of 1999-2000. 

But the Asmara group and its host do not see the writing on the wall. Soon after the formal announcement of the formation of the liberation movement, mortar shells were fired at Villa Somalia, the TFG state house in the Wardhigley district in the heart of Mogadishu, by people believed to be sympathisers of the Asmara group. The shells missed their target but the civilian casualties included a pregnant woman and her three children. 

President Yusuf went about his business, receiving Ahmedou Ould Abdullah, the Mauritanian diplomat who was recently appointed the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Dr Ghanim Al-najjar, the UN human rights’ special envoy to Somalia on September 23. The two diplomats urged the TFG to refrain from harassing the independent media and to secure channels for humanitarian assistance.

Mogadishu is slowly but surely regaining its sanity, with some of the city’s ruined public buildings undergo much needed repair works. The central bank and buildings hosting the ministries of transport, communications, sports and youth are being renovated. “I can sense Mogadishu working like any other capital in the world, in the near future,” said Omar Nuurow, a bus driver plying the ruined districts of Hamarweyne, Bondhere and Shangani.

But Nuurow’s predictions depend on the international community’s pledge to help the stabilisation of Somalia through the deployment of peacekeepers. If not, the duel between Mogadishu and Asmara may continue for a long time.

The visit to Mogadishu by security experts from 17 African countries on September 20 is a step forward. The stopover by other diplomats such as Jendayi Frazer and Seyum Musfin is an added bonus. 


Abdulkadir Khalif
E-mail: khalifos@hotmail.com

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