By, <strong>James Turitto</strong> <em>IAR Staff Writer</em> December 8, 2008

By, James Turitto
IAR Staff Writer
December 8, 2008

By, James Turitto
IAR Staff Writer
December 8, 2008

The future of Somalia hangs by a thread. Ethiopia, which failed to bring stability to the country, recently announced a withdraw of it’s military by the end of the year. And one scholar on Somalia, Ken Menkhaus, predicts a continuation of violence for years to come.

In a discussion last week at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, DC, Menkhaus outlined three possible scenarios for Somalia’s future. Unfortunately, for the country’s citizens, none of these scenarios is without continued fighting, he said.

The first scenario, deemed the “best case scenario” by Menkhaus, would be a successful implementation of the Djibouti Agreement. The agreement was forged in the summer of 2008 between the opposition Islamist faction, the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS), and the Ethiopian-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which has struggled to control the country since it was formed in 2004.

This agreement marked the first time in Somalia’s history where two warring parties were able to negotiate a common path forward.

An additional accord to the Djibouti Agreement was reached last month. The two opposing factions negotiated the formation of a unity government by expanding the size of Parliament to 550 members, from 275.

This agreement, however, does not look like it will succeed. Menkhaus blames the possible failure on two spoilers: Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf and the Somali Al-Shabaab movement – a radical, Islamic youth group with close ties to Al-Qaeda. The President “refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Djibouti Accord signed by the Prime Minister. He says it does apply to him,” Menkhaus added.

The second scenario, which is “the most likely case”, would be a continuation of the current state of affairs. Or better yet, a return to pre-2006 Somalia when fighting was limited and there was relative stability. Although the TFG did not have control outside the capital of Mogadishu, most of the cities and villages were run by clan-based fiefdoms, with village elders as the acting authority.

Finally, in the third, or “worst case scenario”, Somalia would fall under the control of Al-Shabaab. This group seeks to establish a state based on Sharia law, and administer the country similar to the Taliban’s style in Afghanistan. While the Al-Shabaab has not proven to be extremely strong, it has recently been filling a power vacuum left by the weakened TFG, claimed Menkhaus.

The Al-Shabaab is not like its predecessor, the Union of Islamic Courts, which controlled Somalia briefly in early 2007. It has gained control of the port city Kismayo and instituted strict Islamic law. Last week, the organization beheaded six members of civil society. There have also been reports of women being stoned.

In early 2008 the US State Department declared Al-Shabaab a terrorist organization, and in May a US airstrike killed the group’s leader, Adan Hashi Ayro. Since the airstrike Al-Shabaab has begun targeting all westerners, all UN affiliates, and all Somalis in the region who work with the US, Menkhaus said.

Because of these new developments, civil society and humanitarian workers are leaving the country in droves, fleeing to Kenya for their safety. “The country is being gutted of the very group of people that it most needs if it’s going to see a solution,” Menkhaus continued.

Instability in Somalia is not new. The country has been in a state of anarchy since 1991 when Ethiopian-backed insurgents overthrew the government of Siad Barre. Fighting has continued to this day, and the country has been without a strong central government for nearly 20 years.

To put this in perspective, Menkhaus said, no Somali below the age of 25 has lived under control of a central government, nor do they understand the concept of statehood.

The situation has become a “perfect storm” of humanitarian disasters. Somalia is experiencing a severe drought, and food prices continue to soar due to insecurity in the country and a global food shortage. One million people living in southern Somalia are internally displaced and three million more need emergency aid. In an area with only six million people, these numbers are frightening.