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Somalia’s new chance
How times change. Somalia’s new Islamist president has been feted in Ethiopia, whose army drove him from power two years ago – with Washington’s backing – when he headed a sharia courts movement.
Sheikh Sharif Ahmed was greeted with a standing ovation from African Union leaders at a summit in Ethiopia, which pulled the last of its troops out of Somalia last month, leaving the government in control of little beyond parts of Mogadishu. The hardline Islamist al Shabaab militia control much of the rest of southern Somalia.
Somalia was far from being a prominent front in former President George W. Bush’s “War on Terror”, but the reverse Washington suffered there appears to be among its most dramatic. Meanwhile, the past two years have brought at least another 17,400 civilian dead in Somalia and more anarchy that has fuelled a wave of piracy.
Ahmed’s former administration was marked out by both the United States and Ethiopia as being little different to Afghanistan’s Taliban. Hardline members of the group were accused of links to al Qaeda. Now he is widely described by the international community as a “moderate” and he himself has welcomed the new U.S. stance as positive.
“One can say that the U.S. position towards Somalia has become honest,” he told the Egyptian newspaper el-Shorouk. “In the framework of the Djibouti negotiations, America has become a force which supports peace.”
But Somalia’s new president, chosen by parliamentary vote at the weekend, must now face the al Shabaab militia who grew out of the armed wing of the sharia courts
movement but later split with him. Al Shabaab have vowed to fight and highlighted his support from “non-believers”.
To try to bolster Ahmed, Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete, the African Union chairman, called for U.N. troops to join the 3,500-strong AU peacekeeping force in Somalia. Right now, they cannot do much more than to try to defend themselves.
But some analysts and Ahmed’s aides believe that creating a U.N. force would be counterproductive because it could be seen as Western interference and encourage those who fought the invading Ethiopian troops to pursue their struggle.
Getting Somalia’s clans behind the government will be another big task, a challenge previous leaders have failed to meet during 18 years of conflict.
What is the chance that Ahmed’s election as president will be able to bring peace to Somalia? What should Africa and the rest of the world do to try to make sure that happens? What do you think?