Saturday, January 10, 2009

Somali president quits

Amid growing international pressure, Somalia's president resigns

Widely considered an obstacle to peace, Abdullahi Yusuf announced his resignation on Monday.

Jonathan Adams
Christian Science Monitor
Terrorism and Security Update
December 29, 2008

The president of Somalia resigned Monday, in a move that analysts say could help bring stability to the war-ravaged, failed state.

Abdullahi Yusuf, a former warlord, took office amid high hopes in 2004 as the first president of a United Nations-backed transitional government. But during his term he was unable to extend the government's writ much farther than the capital.

Somalia has been without a strong central government since former dictator President Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991, and the area near the capital of Mogadishu has seen fierce fighting between US-backed Ethiopian and Somali government troops, and Islamist fighters.

Mr. Yusuf's weakness was further highlighted this year by the shocking surge in pirate attacks off the Somali coast, which has stirred international outrage.

Reuters reported that Yusuf's departure could help break a "deadlock" at the top of Somalia's government.

"As I promised when you elected me on October 14, 2004, I would stand down if I failed to fulfill my duty, I have decided to return the responsibility you gave me," Yusuf said....

Yusuf had become increasingly unpopular at home and abroad and was blamed by Washington, Europe and African neighbors for stalling a U.N.-hosted peace process. He had come under intense pressure to step aside.

Reuters cited analysts as saying Yusuf's departure, combined with the scheduled withdrawal of Ethiopian troops, could help stabilize the country. Yusuf had clashed with his prime minister on several issues, including whether to include moderate Islamists in peace talks (Yusuf opposed doing so).

According to Bloomberg, Yusuf made the announcement of his resignation to the Somali parliament.

Sheikh Aden Mohamed Nor, the speaker of parliament, will assume the presidency under the country's transitional federal charter, Yusuf told lawmakers in the nation's parliament in Baidoa, 155 miles northwest of the capital, Mogadishu. The address was broadcast on Capital Voice, a closely held broadcaster.

Garowe Online, the sister site of Radio Garowe, a community radio station based in northern Somalia, reported that security was "extra tight" in Baidoa. It said the president's resignation was no surprise.

Yusuf's resignation was expected, after being labeled an obstacle to peace and pressured by the U.S. and regional powers to resign....

Yusuf's resignation ends a months-long feud with interim Prime Minister Nur "Adde" Hassan Hussein, who enjoys the backing of the international community.

The power struggle between the two men peaked a couple weeks ago, when the president fired his prime minister, according to a Xinhua report.

Yusuf sacked his Prime Minister Hussein on Dec. 14, accusing him of incompetence, embezzlement and mismanagement.

The Somali Parliament, one day after the sacking of the prime minister, voted to endorse Hussein and his government, overturning Yuruf's decision.

Agence France-Presse described the next steps for replacing Yusuf.

Somalia's parliament now has 30 days to elect a new president by secret ballot.

The winner must win a two-thirds majority of the votes. If not, a second and third round of voting is called. In the last round, the winner would only need a simple majority.

Somalia has been a failed state since 1991, when Mr. Barre was ousted. Warlords carved up the country, but Islamists seized control of southern and central Somalia, and took the capital in 2006. A US-backed Ethiopian offensive drove them out of Mogadishu in late 2006 and Yusuf arrived in the capital several days later.

The government controls only a "few city blocks in a country almost as big as Texas," according to The New York Times. But the Times reported that fighting has now broken out between rival Islamist militias, further complicating the picture.

On Sunday, a powerful, newly militarized Islamist group declared a "holy war" against other Islamist factions, and it seems to have the muscle to back up its intentions. Over the weekend, the group, the Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama, killed more than 10 fighters from the Shabab, a rival Islamist faction known as one of Somalia's toughest.

The group issued a statement calling on its followers to "prepare themselves for jihad against these heretic groups," referring to some of the other, more hard-line Islamist factions, and "to restore stability and harmony in Somalia and achieve a genuine government of national unity."

The US says some Shabab leaders have ties to Al Qaeda, and fears Somalia could become a haven for foreign jihadis, notes the USA Today.

In a background report on Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which Yusuf headed, the Council on Foreign Relations noted that despite widespread instability, elections are due in Somalia next year.

Because TFG members earned their posts through protracted negotiations, rather than elections, Somalia is not a democracy. That is set to change in 2009, when Somalis are scheduled to vote in the first elections in more than twenty years. Few analysts, however, anticipate the government will last until the vote. In an April 2008 report on Somalia, Africa expert John Prendergast called the TFG "feeble, faction-ridden, corrupt, and incompetent."

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