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Rift Emerges between Sharif Ahmed and
Dr. Abdiwali on Kenyan Incursion

By Faisal A. Roble
November 10, 2011

“Ruqo Ninkii lahaa  ku fadhiyaa ma kacdo.”
“A sick camel whose owner poised to kill does not stand up.”
A Somali Proverb

ollowing the Kenyan incursion into Somalia on October 16, 2011, cracks have appeared in the leadership of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG). In a number of interviews, Prime Minister Abdiwali Mohamed Ali and his closest ally, the Defense Minister Hussein Arab Isse, justified Kenya’s incursion as a legitimate “hot pursuit” against Al-Shabab.  That position was contradicted in subsequent stormy press releases by President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed who censured Kenya, thus revealing a hitherto suppressed rift within the TFG leadership.

Pres. Ahrif Ahmed and PM Abdiweli Ali

Similar rifts had in the past plagued previous Transitional Governments, including the Arte formed government of Abdi Qasim (President) and Dr. Ali Khalif Glalaydh (Prime Minister) and the subsequent Embagathi-established government of Colonel Abdullahi Yusuf (President) and Ali Ghedi and Nur Ade (Prime Ministers). And now, so far Shiekh Sharif Ahmed had conflicted with two former Prime Ministers in the span of his soon-to-end three years term.  As such, the conflict over the Kenyan incursion is the latest of a long chain of discordant relationship between the offices of the President and that of the Prime Minister.

Persistent conflicts between the two offices are rooted in salient and not so-salient clan rivalries exacerbated by the country’s power sharing which is based on the 4.5 quota system.  The 4.5 formula allocates 550 parliamentary seats and over 30 cabinet positions to mostly four major competing clans, in effect ensuring clan members to protect what they perceive as their share of the political pie as opposed to what is good for the country.  Such an entitlement in the body polity of the country ultimately makes governance unattainable.

The most devastating consequences of this quota system is it undermines accountability and individual merit in favor of group identity, leading to the country’s highest offices under the stewardship of individuals, who may not be better suited for legislative and executive responsibilities.  Consequently, it inadvertently promotes clan loyalty at the expense of good governance.

As a result, the country has been reduced to a zest-pool of religious radicalism, civic decay, inept government institutions and political corruption that rendered Somalia the most dysfunctional and disarticulated nation state on the globe. That is partly why governance in Somalia is untenable, or even a thing in the past.  

The rift between the President and the Prime Minister over the October 16, 2011 incursion of Kenyan troops into Southern Somalia - an incursion planned several months ago with the full knowledge of authorities in Mogadishu - is only an indication of a deeper mistrust between the two that is about to heat up as we approach the sizzling summer temperature of the coming July, which marks the end of the term of this TFG.

Explaining the Rift

Whatever the intensions of the Kenyan authorities are, and there are many ways to read these intensions, its military adventure in Somalia could prove harder to sustain.  In the short term, this self-inflicted adventure could disrupt Kenya’s $750 million annual tourist economy.  In the long run, however, it could drag the untested and inexperienced Kenyan military establishment into a quagmire. Suffice here to say that larger invasions in scope by the USA (1992) and Ethiopia (2006) did not produce the intended results. 

Why did the President and his Prime Minister publicly disagree with each other on such a weighty national matter?  Equally important is the question of why did the President flip flop on what otherwise appears to be a project that he privately endorsed?  Even if there was a disagreement, the President’s unfettered populist media blitz was unsettling, which at minimum revealed the inherent weakness and lack of cohesion within the TFG.

It is this kind of behavior on the part of the government leaders that often prompts one to say that the TFG is not a real government, but a collection of disparate individuals with no greater good as their overarching objective. Worse, it is not accountable to the Somali populace but to the UN office in Nairobi.

Mohamed Abdi Ghandi
Former Defence Minister Mohamed Abdi Gandhi who recently declared Azania regional administration of Somalia at a function held in a hotel outside Kenya's capital, Nairobi, on Sunday, April 3, 2011.

Commentators on the Somalia affairs speculate that the President retracted his support to the incursion due to pressures coming from his radical religious affiliates.  Others still maintain that the President suspects that Kenya is empowering his rival enemy and his former Defense Minister, Professor Mohamed Abdi Mohamed (Gandhi), a French trained Anthropologist, who recently declared in Nairobi the establishment of a new autonomous state called Azania for Jubbaland.

In his wavering positions on the Kenyan incursion, the President is reportedly saying to his followers that he is fighting for Kismayo; In other words, “it is about Kismayo, stupid!”

The struggle over who controls Kismayo is a complex matter which is arguably the Achilles heels of Southern Somalia’s political entanglement.  In view of the President, he rather see Kismayo under Al-Shabab control than a terror free Kismayo under opposition-turned former colleague, Professor Gandhi (Gandhi is held by most scholars as the best Somali ethnic academic in the field of Anthropology). 

If not Al-Shabab, the President is, alternatively, promoting a third option for Kismayo – placing it under the Ugandan dominated AMISOM forces.  But the view of Gandhi and many of the local leaders in Kismayo believe is that AMISOM is corrupt and closely associated with Sheikh Sharif. As such, they all appear to prefer for establishing local governance for Kismayo that is free from the meddling of Mogadishu.

So far, though, President Sheikh Sharif could not disown his earlier endorsement of the security communiqué to which he is part, along with his Prime Minister. As a matter of fact, he has been behaving as if he were fully on board with the latest communiqué that his premier signed in Nairobi on October 31, 2011.

Mending of the fences had begun at least this time in earnest.  The President and the Prime Minister took two separate delegations to Kenya and Uganda, respectively, for consultations. Owing to Mr. Museveni’s sway on Sheikh Sharif, the President and the Prime Minister closed ranks for now in accepting the Kenyan incursion as a legitimate “hot pursuit” against Al-Shabab. 

Somalis around the globe, on the other hand, are sharply divided on this issue along clan lines. Aside from debating, when all is said and done, neither the President nor the Prime Minister can do a zilch about Kenya’s incursion into Somalia.  It is so because Somalia has lost its territorial integrity inch by inch and day by day and as such represents a manna to which its neighbors can invite themselves in at will.

Are the President and the Prime Minister Potential Cat and Mouse?

The two leaders could not have been more different in their religious orientation and in their respective educational background.  The President comes from a radical religious background, and as such believes that Somalia be governed under Sharia rule in spite of a secular draft constitution which the UN and the West funded to the tune of $60 million. 

Moreover, he would like to see a centralized power in Mogadishu, thus viewing particularly the emergent autonomous region of Azania or Jubaland with great suspicion.  The President and his followers are uneasy about the potential, if remote, danger that could be generated by Puntland and Azania (Jubaland) squeezing or challenging Mogadishu as the center of power.

Until 2010, Sharif Ahmed was a leader of the now defunct Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a conglomeration of several radical Islamic groups, which was ejected out of Mogadishu by allied forces of Ethiopia and the United States of America.  After defeat, Sharif Ahmed’s ICU morphed into Al-Shabab, Ala Sheikh - a smaller sect to which Sharif Ahmed himself belongs - Hisbul Islam,, Islaax, and a host of other disparate religious groups that litter the political landscape of Mogadishu and the rest of South-Central regions of the country. 

Unsubstantiated but growing speculations about the President’s relationship with Al-Shabab have been lately gaining momentum.

Dr. AbdiWali on the other hand is educated in the West and is currently on leave from his position as an Associate professor of economics at the Niagara University, NY, USA.  His political orientation is one that views the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in 2006 as part of necessary global effort to pacify Somalia. Similarly, he supports and defends Kenya’s incursion into his country as indispensible step to defeat Al-Shabab. 

More importantly, he welcomes the emergent Azania/Jubaland state and views this development as a larger effort of power devolution into the regions, thus ultimately loosening Mogadishu’s grip on national affairs.  This past summer, the Prime Minister made noticeable effort to broker talks, lip service talks as they were, between the erstwhile leader of Puntland, President Farole, and President Sheikh Sharif.

Prior to his current post, as a founding member of the Puntland Diaspora Forum, an advocacy group, Dr AbdiWali was closely associated with the politics of the autonomous region of Puntland. 

Given President Sharif’s resistance to a decentralized system of governance, observers of Somalia politics loudly wonder whether he is an obstacle to the re-establishment of Somalia’s government from bottom up. 

President Sheikh Sharif’s hardening position against the emergent Azania/Jubaland state coupled with accusations of rampant corruptions in Mogadishu, and ever-increasing suspicions that about 70 percent of the arms shipped to his government end up in Al-Shabab hands worries both Somalis and the rest of the world.  There are also reports that such accusations are equally worrisome to Washington. The President, however, dismissed these accusations as nothing more than baseless innuendos.
If any of these accusations leveled against President Sheikh Sharif holds any water, or even remain persistent rumors, then the Somali adage of ““Ruqo Ninkii lahaa ku fadhiyaa ma kacdo.”Or “a sick camel whose owner is poised to kill does not stand up,” may have already painted who the President could be.  And that does not augur well for Somalia.

Faisal A. Roble


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