By Daniela Kroslak, Deputy Africa Program Director, and Andrew Stroehlein, Communications Director, of the International Crisis Group, Any views expressed are their own.
Pirates, Islamists, refugees, anarchy, civil war — not much good news has come out of Somalia in the last couple of decades. With warlord replacing warlord over the years and transitional governments constantly hovering between extremely weak and non-existent on the ground, the temptation will be to view this week’s election of a new Somali president with an eye-rolling, “so what?”
Yet there is a chance, albeit a slim one, that this moment will mark the start of some small progress for the shattered country. That is, if the international community plays the next few months very carefully and does not let ideology trump pragmatism.
The first reason to feel any hint of optimism is that Ethiopian troops, who invaded Somalia in December 2006, are now leaving. Ethiopia’s occupation was an unprecedented disaster. The last two years have been among the worst since Somalia descended into anarchy in 1991, with huge displacement of civilians, a massive humanitarian crisis and grave violations of human rights.
The Ethiopian military campaign, combined with US bombings of suspected militant hide-outs, also set in motion a chain of events that in mid-2008 culminated in the recapture of much of the country’s south by the hard-line Islamist insurgent group, Al-Shabaab. They used the Ethiopian presence to rally support from and recruit amongst those marginalised by the transitional government, and they radicalised the Islamist movement.