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Somalia Part.2: What the expert had to say

24/09/2009

Echoing to my brief article on the situation in Somalia, I interviewed Roland Marchal, an expert on the politics of Africa. Hoping he could clear up some questions for us.

ICSR: Why do you think Al-Shabaab wanted to publicise its allegiance to Al-Qaeda despite its previous denials of any ties with the organisation?

Roland Marchal: Websites affiliated to al Shabaab have already sworn allegiance once or twice to Al-Qaeda and have received a positive response from Zahawiri.

In the current context, their latest video seems to be more like a distress call: Al-Shabaab is losing in Mogadishu and fears a more offensive behaviour of the AMISOM. This does not mean the latter will win or that the Transitional Federal Government would emerge as a credible alternative but the power struggle would be less visibly favourable to Al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam.

Al-Shabaab could also be weakened by the fight over the port of Kismayu (a very lucrative source of income for Al-Shabaab) against Ras Kamboni (likely to be supported by the CIA).

This umpteenth call to foreigners mostly underlines that the previous ones have been unsuccessful.

ICSR: Many say that the Somali president is the best chance to fight Al-Shabaab because he has a strong legitimacy and he is a religious man. What do you think?

Roland Marchal: Sheikh Sharif was indeed a popular personality especially within the Hawiye and appeared as a moderate figure, a good listener. I myself shared this appreciation but two elements have to be taken into account since February 2009.

On the one hand he has “inherited” the TFG and its illegitimacy and he has appeared much more dependent on “foreigners”: AMISON, European Union, etc … But the population because it hasn’t seen any improvements and hasn’t received any benefits from this connection, is now bitter (especially because some members of the government have helped themselves).

On the other hand, he has appeared much weaker and less political than expected: his political “brain” is his minister of Finance who seems to always agree with the last person he talks to and has missed several opportunities to improve the political climate.

ICSR: The UN food agency has recently published a report saying that Somalia was facing its worst food crisis in 18 years. Can one expect the Somali government to tackle the insurgency and the food crisis? What part can the international community play?

Roland Marchal: The TFG spends all his time focused on its own survival; it is true that this team is different from the former team and much more positive towards humanitarian workers: they do not impose any restriction, but this is also the case because they cannot do anything.

The International community must discuss directly humanitarian aid and the rest with the armed opposition. Without that war will happen. And nobody can win it.

Roland Marchal is a senior research fellow at the National Center of Scientific Research, based at the Center for International Studies and Researches, Paris. He was the chief editor of the French academic quarterly Politique africaine from 2002 to 2006. He has been researching and publishing on the conflicts and politics in Africa.