African business, politics and lifestyle
Which way will Somalia go?
The withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Somalia has left a nation beset by conflict for nearly two decades at a crossroads.
Ethiopia invaded to oust Islamists from the capital, but insurgents still control much of southern Somalia and more hardline groups that worry Washington have flourished during the two-year intervention.
The United Nations is unlikely to send peacekeepers to replace the Ethiopians. Africa is struggling to send more troops to help the 3,500 soldiers from Uganda and Burundi protecting key sites in the capital.
Some analysts say sending an international force would be counterproductive anyway as it would simply replace the Ethiopians as the hated foreign invader and maintain support for the most militant insurgents.
But without more African peacekeepers deploying soon, it seems unlikely the small and largely ineffectual existing force will remain with a weak mandate to face attacks from insurgents.
While a power vacuum may result in even more violence, some Western diplomats in the region hope it will spur the feuding Islamist opposition groups to settle their differences and work towards forming a broad-based, inclusive government.
They also hope the departure of the Ethiopians will deflate the insurgency and marginalise hardline groups imposing a strict version of Islamic law traditionally shunned by many Somalis.
African diplomats pushing hard for some sort of political reconciliation say there are more and more signs of “war fatigue” among the various camps and clans.
They are consistently upbeat about Somalia’s prospects, even more so since President Abdullahi Yusuf resigned, and are reaching out to some of the hardline Islamist groups.
Western opposition to some hue of Islamist administration in Somalia — precisely what Ethiopia invaded to quash — seems to be waning as diplomats take a more pragmatic approach to the political and military reality on the ground.
Is there any reason for optimism after 17 years of violence?
(Picture: Somali al-Shabaab insurgents arrive in capital Mogadishu, Decemcer 27, 2008. REUTERS/Omar Faruk)