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Connecting the dots in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya

Just as the temperature of ‘security threat’ slowly declines in Somalia, it rises in other parts of East Africa

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The Horn of Africa
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Abukar Arman
On 7 January 2013 15:20

Just as the temperature of ‘security threat’ slowly declines in Somalia, it rises in other parts of East Africa. Elements of mainly political, religious, and clan/ethnic nature continue to shift and create new volatile conditions. Though not entirely interdependent these conditions could create a ripple effect across different borders. 

Depending on one’s purview, it is high anxiety period in the region – especially the area that I would refer to as the triangle of threat: Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya. These three countries are bound by a complex web of history, geopolitics, and kinship which became the foundation of transnational fault lines snaking through them.

Though the same could be argued in relation to Djibouti, the absence of certain clan dynamics and any flammable residual mistrust (active or dormant) makes it an anomaly.

Positive Momentum after vicious Anarchy

For the past sixteen months, there has been a momentum of positive developments in Somalia following two decades of senseless violence, political turmoil, and famine. Several months ago the seemingly unfathomable task of reducing the parliament to 275 from 550 during the transitional period and the Council of Ministers to 10 from 18 during that same period came to pass. This, of course, would never have happened without improved security emanating from the ousting of al-Shabaab from Mogadishu and other major cities.  

Al-Shabaab has been suffering successive defeats, though some may say the last chapter of that saga is not yet written.

In the meantime, as they leopard-crawl on the quicksand of history, we are reminded that the natural fate of violent extremists is nothing but short lifespan and a bloody end. Throughout history, various religious and secular extremist groups have emerged and established one brutal system propelled by draconian laws or another only to watch them self-destruct by falling on their own swords. Their myopic vision takes for granted the innate human tendency to rise against and resist despotism, tyranny, and all other form of oppression. 

And although Somalia seems to have crossed the Rubicon and all proverbial bridges leading back to anarchy are burned down, it still faces two major menaces that could, at the very least, discredit and undermine the new administration as previous governments.

Peace and stability would remain fragile so long as Ethiopia and Kenya remain knee-deep in Somalia’s internal political affairs and exert proxy influence through their respective client militia groups and special interest projects. Likewise, peace and stability would remain fragile so long as the international community continues its AMISOM-focused approach and treats the government as a spectator on the sideline; or worse, as a stranger in its own homeland. 

Even as the new government continues to improve its institutions with competent technocrats and systems of checks and balances, the international community continues to apply its benevolent deprivation (for lack of a better description) that has kept the new government running on empty since its inception.

As the new government realizes that it cannot provide any services to its people with the current revenues, frustration is a thinly veiled secret. The government would have no choice but to reach out beyond its current circle of friends and explore other alternatives such as the BRICS economic block. 

Going back to the “AMISOM-focused” approach: Indeed this African peace-keeping force has done a commendable job in helping stabilize Somalia. However, prudence dictates the need to set up a specific date for ending the peace-keeping mission and turn focus to rebuilding the Somali national security apparatus. This would require an effort far beyond the current makeup; an effort that makes lifting of the UN Arms Embargo a priority.

These steps are crucial before the tide of public opinion turns against AMISOM and ruins its well-earned golden page in history. This is an opportune time as the UN Security Council is set to discuss renewing AMISOM’s mandate in March.          

Rising Tension in the Old Empire

Over the past couple of years, like in much of the world, Ethiopia’s 91 million multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and multi-lingual population has been on a fast-track in terms of political consciousness.

Various groups have been actively asserting their communal identities and expressing various political grievances; some, of course, more emphatically than others. The writing is on the wall; the masses are no longer politically passive and are no longer willing to remain submissive in maintaining status quo. 

A case in point: the manifest discontent of the Ethiopian Muslim community that led to a yearlong protestation against “government interference in religious affairs”. Among other things these protesters demanded that the alleged government hand-picked Islamic Affairs Supreme Council (Majlis) be replaced by elected representatives through a community-based transparent process.

Read more on: somalia's new constitution, African Union Mission to Somalia, somalia, ethiopia, Kenya, Al Qaeda bombings in Kenya, Kenyan political process, al qaeda, horn of africa, and Abukar Arman
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