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The Most Influential Players
in Somali Politics
March 22, 2011

London conference on Somalia
Somalia has been in turmoil for the past 20 years, though Somalis are, first and foremost, to blame, however, there are other key figures that have vested interests in influencing Somalia. Some have brought much needed positivity in the looming chaos which has turned things around drastically. Others keep turning the wheels of mayhem while the average person in Somalia subsists in a life of nonexistence. The world is growing worrisome of the ongoing anarchy, and change is a must whether or not those at the helm are ready.

The recent London Conference, organized by David Cameron, the Prime Minster of the United Kingdom, brought together 50 countries to find a lasting solution to the Somali problem. However, judging from the seating arrangements of the delegates, the Somali leaders were seated at the periphery, thus telling their lack of importance.   

WardheerNews.com has compiled a short list of these key players and ranked them in this editorial.
Meles Zenawi

1. Meles Zenawi

No country has had bigger influence in the politics of Somalia, for the last two decades,   more than neighboring Ethiopia. Meles Zenawi, the prime minister of Ethiopia, is widely considered by many Somalis as the man who perpetuates the anarchy and mayhem in South and Central Somalia. Zenawi’s most defining intervention in Somalia took place in 2006 when Ethiopia’s National Defense Forces (ENDF) attacked the Union of Islamic Courts and took control of Mogadishu. Despite Zenawi’s claim that the war was necessary to stop marauding jihadists from destabilizing Somalia, many analysts believe the move was primarily designed to deflect attention from internal political problems which stemmed mainly from Meles’ crackdown on dissidents during and after the 2005 Ethiopian elections. In essence, Meles wanted to burnish up his democratic credentials for holding the sham elections.  Meles’s decision to arm Somali warlords against the Somalia Government established at Arta was also critical, because it led to the sustenance of warlord politics, which further contributed to the destabilization of the country.

Prime Minister Zenawi, actively promotes the establishment of small and weak States inside Somalia. Zenawi has also played the role of a kingmaker in the Transitional Federal Government, with Somali politicians scrambling to get his endorsement if they intend to stay in power. Ethiopian armed forces control and arm several Somali militias in different parts of the country, and this poses a major challenge to the creation of a strong and unified Somali State. In general, if there were ever a list of personalities that have tirelessly worked against Somalia’s interest in the last 20 years, Meles Zenawi would sit at the top.

Ahmed Godane

2- Al Shabab

It is well known that members of the Al- Shabab group are radicals, ruthless, and have ties to foreign Jihadists and are now members of Al Qaeda. The Al- Shabab militants have only one goal in mind: to impose their misguided brand of Islamic rule in Somalia. Al Shabab, under the leadership of Godane, kill and maim in order to accomplish their goal. They have lost credibility for their popular use of suicide bombings targeting innocent students and other civilians. The militants, henceforth, are not running for a popularity contest. Having said that, al- Shabab has succeeded, for the last several years, where the Somali Transitional Federal Government miserably failed. In the areas they control, the militants are able to maintain law and order and eliminate corruption. In a country that has been reeling under civil war for over 20 years, Al Shabab, though brutal, have been opposite of everything that the TFG represents—corruption, embezzlement of the treasury, and chronic infighting. It is ironic that Mogadishu, after being liberated from al-Shabab, has been showing signs of unrest, assassinations, and widespread fear.

Al-Shabab militants have also succeeded in projecting themselves as the only organized group that has persistently resisted foreign occupation of Somalia. Al-Shabab came into prominence when they fought against the Ethiopian who invaded Somalia in 2006 and they are currently fighting against the Kenyan occupation. The militant group can boast its nationalist credentials in a world where TFG officials always call for more foreign occupation of Somalia.

3-Augustine P. Mahiga

Widely regarded as a jovial man at a personal level, Mr. Augustine Mahiga did not succeed in translating this personal charm into a political charisma. Many Somalis despise him for the Godfather-role he plays in Somalia’s current politics. Mahiga is seen as a career diplomat with no real emotional attachment to the cause of rebuilding Somalia. He has overseen two important processes: the drafting of the constitution and the Garowe Conference, which lays down the political structure for the post-August Somali State. Mahiga encouraged the formation of clan-based regional states, an issue that divides most Somalis today. Some see it as the only pragmatic option available as it creates building blocks that can be used to craft a federal Somalia. Others see it as a reckless proliferation of tribalism, which will sow the seeds of fragmentation. Moreover, his capacity as the major source of funding (ATM Machine) has led him to assume powerful role in the field of Somali politics where money is a key ingredient of survival.

4- Yoweri Kaguta Museveni

Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, the current president of Uganda, led the National Resistance Army (NRA) that toppled the military dictatorship of Idi Amin in 1979 and the subsequent rebellion that deposed President Milton Apollo Obote in 1986. Museveni has been in the vanguard of fomenting the civil war that has been raging in Somalia since 1990 when a ragtag militia headed by the deceased warlord General Mohamed Farah Aideed overthrew the military dictatorship that was in control. While many political analysts perceive president Museveni as a dictator who is lacking political ideals, what is worth noting is that he is a man with vested interests in volatile and beleaguered Somalia. Apart from being a power broker, Museveni has millions of dollars to gain. The deaths of Ugandan troops in Mogadishu remain shrouded in mystery as little information is released to the media and the Ugandan public.


In July 2010, double-suicide bombings rocked the city of Kampala, capital of the land-locked East African nation. The simultaneous bombings targeted Kyadondo Rugby Club and the Ethiopian Village Restaurant killing an estimated 79 people. Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the bombings. President Museveni, seeing the threats posed by al-Shabab, intensified Somalia operations by doubling the number of his troops in Mogadishu through the African Union (AU) mandate. To date, Uganda has the largest number of troops in the name of AMISOM in Mogadishu followed by Burundi and Djibouti. Before Ugandan troops moved into Somalia, president Museveni knew that his country had no urgent security threats coming from Somalia. His unprecedented intervention in Somalia forced al-Shabab to retaliate against Uganda and any other outside intervening power.

The factors that drive Museveni to be embroiled in the Somali mayhem include ease of hard currency dished out by Western governments that have vested interests in the region, prolongation of his presidency, the need to act as an alternative power, and finally the belief that Ugandan army will be a force to reckon with should his schemes succeed. Another looming reason is to divert attention from himself by sending Ugandan army forces to engage in Somalia. It doesn’t hurt that the Somali saga occupies his generals who are aware of the longevity of his rule. He may buy time but sooner or later the time will come when his generals realize that they have no business in Somalia, and that 26 years under the same dictator need to be dealt with.

Museveni is playing cat and mouse game with the opposition in his tiny country. His refusal to relinquish power has resulted in Ugandans questioning whether he wants to remain president-for-life. One wonders why Museveni is engaged in Somalia while the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) headed by warlord Joseph Kony is wreaking havoc in various regions of Uganda killing with impunity and abducting children since 1986.

Clinton with Sh. Sharif

5- Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton, the American Secretary of State, does not mince words. In the London Conference that was held on February 23, 2012 to discuss Somalia, Clinton was adamant in letting the TFG leaders know about the impending deadline of August as the end of their term. The Secretary of State basically threatened to impose sanctions, travel bans, and freeze assets on any Somali leader attempting to derail the Roadmap. The good thing is that the key stakeholders of the Somali government were attentively listening to Clinton’s admonition. The message was loud and clear: do not think of extending your terms.

Ever since Hillary Clinton shook hands with Sheikh Sharif, the former Chairman of the Islamic Courts Union- turned president; she became someone to contend with. She has provided aid to the government, supported AMISOM, and even occasionally lectured Somali government officials of what they ought to do. Last month when PM Abdiweli M. Ali called for more American air strikes against al-Shabab radicals, Clinton shot down the idea as ineffective and counter-productive. It was obvious that when Clinton talked, TFG leaders listened.

Erdogan in Mogadishu

6. Recep Erdogan, Prime Minister of Turkey

PM Recap Erdogan has done for Somalia, in less than a year, what many powerful Western countries have not done in decades. Last Ramadan (August, 2011), Erdogan visited war-torn Mogadishu, along with his family, and has since provided aid, scholarships to Somali students, and rallied Muslim countries to do the same.

The Turkish charities go to areas in Somalia where major relief agencies would never set foot. Erdogan revolutionized the way the world ought to lend a helping hand to struggling Somalia. The first major commercial flights to Somalia are being spearheaded by Turkish Airlines. The Turks want to rebuild Mogadishu’s landmarks and even proposed to help stabilize Somalia. All of this aid is being provided out of goodwill. You can juxtapose Turkey’s aid to the annual $1 billion Somalia is supposed to get from the UN which is, according to PM Abdiweli, is wasted in Nairobi and does not trickle down to Mogadishu.  The Somali people have seen what Erdogan and Turkey have done in such a short time. Turkey, in essence, succeeded where the rest of the world has failed. Turkey simply defies the conventional wisdom of foreign aid; an aid that always has strings attached and ends up in the pockets of corrupt officials.

Turkey, as the 15th largest global economy and a member of the G-20, has become, since Mr. Erdogan assumed power, a force to reckon with in world politics. Its geopolitical location and having close ties to both Western countries and Muslim states, not to mention its membership of NATO, enables it to play an important role in world affairs particularly in Muslim countries.

President Kibaki

7- Mwai Kibaki, President of Kenya

President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya is a man who is familiar with the problems of Somalia. Kibaki was a minister in the government of Jomo Kenyatta who was president since Kenya’s attainment of independence from England in 1963 until his sudden death in 1978. Kenyatta was succeeded by his vice-president Daniel Toritich Arap Moi who ruled from 1978 to 2002. It was when Kenya proclaimed a multi-party system that brought Mwai Kibaki to power. Both Kibaki and Kenyatta hail from the majority Kikuyu tribe.  President Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe got embroiled in a bitter inter-tribal war with Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s Luo clan after the former was accused of practicing presidential election irregularities that claimed the lives of thousands of innocent civilians in 2007. The intertribal war between the Kikuyu on one side and the Luo and Kalenjin on the other resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Kenyans. Upon taking the reins of power through dubious means, president Kibaki became a partner in the war on terror with the U.S. Kenya has been tremendously impacted by terrorist strikes.  The recent bombings in Nairobi, the simultaneous bombings of U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi in 1998 and the Kikambala Hotel bombing of 2002 still create unease in many minds.

President Kibaki has a lot to gain from Somalia’s instability as well as its volatility. Kenya is the economic powerhouse of East Africa and as well possesses a booming tourism sustained by its well-kept national parks, game reserves, and air and hotel industry that are a major sustainer of its economy.

The Kenya government has been working hard in the last few years to create a buffer zone around Somalia’s lower Juba region. Despite Kenya claiming the reason it sent its troops into Somalia is to counter threats from al-Shabab that has been abducting tourists and disrupting its economy, political analysts and opponents of Jubaland initiative see things differently. Analysts point to the Lamu port project and the oil under the sea as the reasons Kenya intervened in Somalia. Pacifying Jubaland means that the French and Norwegian governments will have a big stake in the oil of Jubaland and the sense of stability for its tourism industry. 

Shariif Hassan

8- Shariif Hassan

Sharif Hassan, a qat trader by profession with not much education or powerful tribal militia behind him had managed to climb the ladder of power and influence.

According to allies close to the Speaker, he is the darling of the International community (IC). Whenever the IC is looking for a policy to push onto Somalia which may be sometimes detrimental to the interest of the country, Mr. Hassan is the man to go through and seek his backing. Sharif Hassan, who is dubbed Sharif Sakiin (Sharif, the blade), will slice you when you least expect it. He has managed to gain political influence in a short period of time. In most Somali circles, he is seen as a corrupt, unpatriotic individual pushing the country over the edge to gain as much political power without much thought to his constituents, the average Somali person who is in daily mode of survival.

There is no doubt that Mr. Hassan’s days in the political corridors of Somalia are not yet over. He has been positioning himself for post-August political structure and Somalia may see him, once again, in a very powerful executive position. That will be a continuation of politics as usual.


9. Issiah Afewerki

Issiah Afewerki became Eritrea’s first and only president in 1993, after leading the rebel movement of Eritrean People's Liberation Front to victory in 1991. Eritrea, a tiny country lying on top of Ethiopia to the north, has endured the longest guerilla war in Africa. Michele Wrong, the author of “I didn’t do it for you”, described Eritrea as “a landscape still too raw for human habitation”.  Reporters Without Borders rank Eritrea as the worst place in the world to be a journalist. The U.N. estimates that as much as two-thirds of the population is malnourished. Eritrea is accused of covertly sending arms to al-Shabab-Somalia’s al-Qaida affiliated insurgency. The report charges Eritrea of sending “huge quantities of arms, possibly including suicide bombs, belts and missiles that can shoot down planes to insurgents in Somalia in an effort to torpedo Somalia’s fledgling government”. This has led sanctions to be placed on the Red Sea state for its alleged support of al-Shabab, a charge Eritrea vehemently denies.

Afewerki and Meles were allies that toppled the military dictatorship of Mengistu; however, seven years after succeeding to overthrow the Mengistu regime, the two rebels-turned-heads of states went to war over a disputed border territory. Afawerki is fighting a proxy war by arming al-Shabab and hosting oppositions of the transitional government in Mogadishu, in which Meles is its chief architect.

Ismail Omar Guelleh

10- Ismail Omar Guelleh

Within the limitations imposed by global and regional geo-politics, the Djiboutian leader has invested to revive the Somali State through a series of initiatives and is widely seen as a friend of Somalia. He hosted and funded at least two key consultative meetings: the April - May, 2000 conference which led to the Arta government; and the Djibouti gathering, Jan. 2009, that brought Sheikh Sharif to power.

These initiatives did not all succeed but the efforts Gheele put in bringing together Somalis from various regions is lauded by Somalis for its authenticity if not for its accomplishment. Djibouti has also recently contributed soldiers to AMISOM, which in many circles is viewed as frontline country wanting to secure its involvement in the Somali context and for craving its piece of the pie. Djibouti has been competing with Nairobi by attracting a plethora of worthless conferences in the name of Somalia, thus, wasting funds that are meant to go to the Somali cause. Mr. Guelleh who has so far been seen a friend of Somalia needs to pay attention in this regard as well.

Sh. Sharif

11- Sharif Ahmed

When Sheikh Sheriff Ahmed was elected the president of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia in Jan. 2009, in Djibouti, there was hope and expectation that his involvement with the Islamic Union Courts (ICU) would lead to reconciliation with radical Islamists. Regrettably, Mr. Sharif proved to be an ineffective individual who utilized his newly acquired political capital for personal dealings, allegedly engaging in corruption, and pushing nepotism to a new height while ignoring al-Shabab’s open presence in the capital and throughout the troubled regions in South and Central Somalia.

President Sheriff diminished the prestige of the Office of the presidency by outsourcing it to IGAD, UN Special Envoy to Somalia and Sherif Hassan. When his term comes to an end in August, 2012, his legacy will not include a hero’s goodbye, but rather a humiliating send-off that is laden of disappointment and resentment by the average Somali whose condition and lot has drastically deteriorated rather than improved.  


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