The widening rift between Somalia’s leaders could weaken the transitional government and its ability to deal with problems facing the country, ranging from insurgency to humanitarian crises, according to observers and civil society sources.
“This infighting is bad news not only for the TFG [Transitional Federal Government] but also for the people who hoped that it would solve some of their problems,” said Ibrahim Sheikh Hassan, a former law professor. “But it is good news for the insurgents.”
The Islamist Al-Shabab and Hisbul Islam groups have apparently gained control of more areas in recent weeks, a reflection “of the government’s weakness and divisions, not the strength of the insurgents”.
On 16 May, parliamentary speaker Adan Madobe declared that the House had withdrawn confidence in the government of Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid. As a result, he added, the government was no longer legally in office. However, MPs opposed to Madobe said his mandate as speaker had expired, so he could not speak for parliament.
“The government is in no danger of collapse; what is happening has created a bad impression and that is all,” Madobe Nuunow, Minister for Constitutional Affairs and a parliamentarian allied to Abdirashid, told IRIN on 17 May.
The “former” speaker [Adan Madobe], he added, was creating confusion. “His mandate has elapsed and he should abide by the law,” the minister said.
The confusion in parliament happened on a day when at least 30 people were killed and 100 others injured in fighting between insurgents and government forces, according to civil society sources.
A Nairobi-based regional analyst, who requested anonymity, said the crisis in Somalia had brought to a head some of the internal divisions that had paralyzed the TFG over the past year.
“Time is running out on the transition, and unless the Transitional Federal Institutions make genuine progress in the coming months, they will face an even more severe crisis,” he told IRIN.
Conflict, drought and hyperinflation have combined to create a humanitarian crisis in Somalia, with aid workers estimating that more than three million Somalis need assistance. Over a million more are displaced by the continuing clashes between armed groups.
Since January, escalating violence in southern and central Somalia has forced about 200,000 Somalis to leave their homes, according to the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR. But the vast majority remained displaced within the country as it is becoming more dangerous and difficult to flee across the borders.
At the same time, insurgents continue to gain ground and to threaten the internationally recognized government, a civil society source said, noting that Al-Shabab and Hisbul Islam had over the past year taken control of most of south and central Somalia.
“Instead of circling the wagons around a failed administration he [the Prime Minister] should seize the opportunity to constitute a more effective and inclusive administration, jettisoning the dead wood and reaching out to genuine representatives of local communities and political forces from across Somalia,” he added.
Minister Nuunow insisted the split was “in name only and the president and prime minister are reading from the same page”.
However, Suleiman Mohamed Ibrahim, an MP allied to the speaker, disagreed, saying there was a “very serious split and the government ceased to exist yesterday after it lost the vote of confidence”. He said the solution to the current impasse lay with the president. “He should appoint a new prime minister and cabinet and end this nonsense.”