Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Al-Shabaab's entry into Baidoa following the departure of Ethiopian forces

I was interviewed yesterday by both BBC World Service TV and Radio about Somalia. Both the TV and Radio stations were primarily interested in the implications of the entry into Baidoa, the former Transitional Federal Government (TFG) headquarters in south central Somalia, of the Islamic militia known as al-Shabaab following the departure of Ethiopian forces. I argued this was no surprise, except that it happened faster than I anticipated. Baidoa has periodically witnessed fighting among different factions for many years. In one sense, this is a return to the past except one of the factions is different. Al-Shabaab is the best financed and best-armed group in Somalia today, but this does not assure that it will receive the support of most Somalis. A Shabaab spokesman took credit for the suicide bombing in Mogadishu three days ago that killed many innocent Somalis. Al-Shabaab also continues to carry out political assassinations. These radical tactics will not win over most Somalis. The problem is that the TFG and its moderate Islamist allies are in disarray. They are currently meeting in Djibouti where they agreed yesterday to double the size of parliament, primarily to add 200 moderate Islamists to the organization. The parliament has not yet elected a new president. At this point, it is not clear how much support the moderate Islamists will bring to this new government. The next several weeks in Somalia will favor Shabaab, but it is still possible for a moderate group of Somalis to assert control, especially if Shabaab continues to exercise extreme and unpopular tactics.

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