Ethiopia has blasted Somalia’s political leaders for getting bogged down in ”internal squabbles” while millions of Somalis live on the brink of a humanitarian disaster in a country that remains violent and ungoverned.
By Barney Jopson in Addis Ababa
Thousands of Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia at the end of 2006 to reinstall an interim government headed by president Abdullahi Yusuf. But it has a tenuous grip on power and its time in office has been marked by growing insurgency, clan warfare, and the mass displacement of civilians.
Seyoum Mesfin, Ethiopia’s foreign minister, told the Financial Times that a rift between the president and prime minister Nur Hassan Hussein, appointed eight months ago after his predecessor fell out with Mr Yusuf, was the biggest obstacle to peace.
Ethiopia’s own security and credibility are at stake in Somalia, which it invaded to oust a coalition of Islamist groups that had taken control. As the interim government’s main international backer, it has closeted the president and prime minister in Addis Ababa for the past week as it seeks to bridge the divide between them.
In Mogadishu, the Somali capital, Ethiopian soldiers and troops from the transitional federal government remain the target of almost daily attacks by Islamist insurgents and clan gunmen opposed to Mr Yusuf’s regime.
“The main challenge now is not what they call the enemy. It’s an intra-government crisis that is preventing them from focusing on the tasks they need to get done,” said Mr Mesfin. “There has been a lack of vigour and, if I may say so, a lack of commitment.”
Since the beginning of last year more than 8,000 Somalis have been killed and 1m forced from their homes by fighting, which has centred on the capital Mogadishu. Humanitarian relief efforts have been undermined by the assassination of aid workers and the United Nations says that, due also to the additional impact of a drought, up to 3.5m Somalis – or nearly half the population – could need food aid later this year.
But Mr Seyoum gave a less bleak account of the security situation today than many independent observers, saying the country was experiencing less daily violence than Iraq and Afghanistan. To create a durable peace, he said the president and the prime minster needed to implement plans to create regional administrations that would give people a greater stake in government and, potentially, help to reconcile Somalia’s warring clans and sub-clans.
The rift between the leaders overshadowed the signing of a peace agreement in Djibouti on Monday between the interim government and one of two factions of the Somali political opposition. The agreement was welcomed on Thursday by the African Union, but it did little to lighten a mood of gloom among western diplomats who follow Somalia, because it had already been rejected by the other faction as well as by the al-Shabaab Islamist extremists leading the insurgency.
Mr Seyoum said that al-Shabaab, which the US says is linked to al-Qaeda, had been critically weakened: “They cannot sustain their own activities, let alone disband the government.” But other analysts say their strength and boldness appears to be increasing.