Friday, February 13, 2009

15th Time Lucky In Somalia?

Somalia's new president has chosen the son of a former president to be the next prime minister of the troubled African country. Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke will take the key post in a new unity government that it's hoped will end almost two decades of lawlessness and war in Somalia. It's at least the 15th attempt since 1991 to solve the conflict with a new civilian administration. The previous 14 have failed.

A brief bit of history. The assorted governments have usually been split apart by differences between Somalia's powerful clans. In recent years, some members of the largest of the clans, the Hawiye, have sided with thousands of Islamist fighters, who used to be part of a group which briefly controlled much of the country during 2006. That group was forced back by Ethiopian troops, called in to help by Somalia's civilian leaders. Since then, those Islamists, Hawiye members and others who wanted to continue the fight have been engaged in a violent insurgency against the still very weak government.

This is the situation which Sharmarke finds himself in. If it sounds like a desperate job to have to do, that's because it is, but there are a couple of reasons to be positive. Many Somalis have fond memories of his father, who was a relatively successful (by Somali standards) leader until his assassination in 1969. The other is the fact that he is from the Darod clan, which means each of the three major Somali clans, including the Hawiye, are represented in senior positions in the government. Perhaps the new administration's diversity will help it succeed where the others have failed. But given the deep, bitter and long-standing divisions that continue to exist in Somalia, don't bet on it.

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