Since its formation in 2004, the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia has struggled to overcome rifts within its ranks and win support from a public that has witnessed 15 years of violence and failed governments.
volatile capital, Mogadishu, was off-limits to the transitional
government until Dec. 29, 2006, when the prime minister made a
symbolic visit reclaiming the city.
Just days before, government forces heavily backed by Ethiopian troops drove out Islamists that controlled the city and much of southern Somalia in a quick offensive, quashing the Islamist movement's bid for power over the country.
The victory marked the return of an internationally recognized government to the city after more than a decade of rule by warlords and factions. The struggling U.N.-supported Somali transitional government, whose power was limited to the city of Baidoa before the unexpectedly easy victory, hoped it would bring new legitimacy.
"The Somalia government was born for the first time when we cleared militants from the city," said Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi, after arriving in Mogadishu. "Today is the beginning of a new life, new stabilization and a new future for Somalia."
The defeat of the popular Islamist movement left Somalis with fewer options, but did not convince the public of the transitional government's competence or good intentions.
Many Somalis view the government as being under the power of neighboring Ethiopia, a country with a large Christian population and a long history of conflict with Somalia.
"[Ethiopia's] support of the transitional government greatly tarnishes the image that the transitional government has at a popular level," Stephen Morrison, director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the NewsHour in January 2007.
Somalia has been without a stable government since 1991, when tribal militias overthrew the country's dictator. For more than a decade, the country was ruled by competing warlords, and 13 governments were unsuccessfully attempted.
The country's current government was formed as the result of the Somalia National Reconciliation Conference, which began in 2002. The conference was held in Kenya and included involvement from Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea and Uganda.
Unlike earlier attempts at forming a government, all the major warlords, political leaders and clan leaders of Somalia participated in the conference. But nearly two years of controversy and disagreement between factions threatened to derail the conference.
In 2004, the U.N. Security Council ramped up efforts in the country to assist the government's creation. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on all Somali parties to agree on a way to end the bloodshed in the country.
In August 2004, the 275-member parliament was formed, but the internal conflicts continued.
The parliament elected Abdullahi Yusuf, who had close ties to Ethiopia, as Transitional Federal President in October. Yusuf then appointed Ali Mohamed Gedi as prime minister, without going through the proper parliamentary procedures for approval.
"Though it looked on paper as a government of national unity, it actually
concentrated power heavily in the hands of clans close to Ethiopia,"
said Ken Menkhaus, a political science professor at Davidson College
and a former special adviser to the U.N. operation in Somalia.
From the beginning, the new parliament split over the issues of foreign troops in Somalia and where to locate the new government.
President Yusuf called for African Union peace keeping troops to enter Somalia to help restore order and disarm militants. One of the five countries that offered to send troops in was Ethiopia, sparking protests by thousands of people in Mogadishu.
In March 2005, a parliamentary vote on the matter ended in violence. More than half of the parliament voted against the intervention, but disagreeing factions began to fight and beat each other with chairs.
A rift continued to grow between supporters of the president and prime minister and those in the Mogadishu group led by Parliament Speaker Sharif Hassan Sheik Aden. The division paralyzed the administration, said Menkhaus, and it continues to be the fault line in the government.
The debate over where the government should be located became so heated that some members of the parliament refused to meet for months. The Mogadishu faction wanted the government based in the capital, while President Yusuf thought it was too dangerous and moved to the provincial city of Jowhar.
The two sides finally agreed to compromise and met in Somalia for the first time in February 2006 in Badioa, where the parliament remained.
As the fractured government struggled to extend its power, the Islamic Courts seized power of southern Somalia from warlords in June 2006.
The Islamists met with the transitional government for peace talks in Khartoum, Sudan, the same month, and signed an agreement saying the government was legitimate. But further efforts at peace talks met with resistance from both sides and were repeatedly delayed.
The prime minister became so outspoken against talks with the Islamists that 40 ministers and assistant ministers quit the parliament by August in protest.
The government and Islamic Courts did meet again in September for talks in Khartoum that "failed spectacularly," according to Mohamad Mukhtar, a Somali professor of African history at Savannah State University.
"The Islamists felt like they could get by on their own and wouldn't gain from cooperation," Mukhtar said. "They thought they were the people who could really govern the region, everyone was welcoming them."
As the Islamists' popularity and militia grew, Somalia renewed efforts to get the United Nations to lift a 1992 arms embargo on the country to allow the government to build defensive forces or get foreign intervention, to no avail.
In October the Islamists declared holy war, or jihad, against Ethiopia, which had begun sending troops into Somalia. The transitional government and the Islamic Courts then failed to meet for a scheduled round of peace talks in November and hostilities seemed eminent.
In December, Ethiopia officially entered into war with the Islamists and quickly drove out the Islamist forces within a week. Mogadishu was surrendered on Dec. 28, 2006.
The transitional government, still without forces of its own, called on the international community to deploy peace keepers into the country in January 2007. Ethiopia planned to keep troops in the country for several weeks and then withdraw.
A plan by Prime Minister Gedi to forcibly disarm Somalia militias to increase security was postponed indefinitely after protests, creating more concern over whether the government would be able to convert its victory into a stable, legitimate rule.
"When you have people who are fighting and killing each other, without settling those issues you can not have a real body of government," Mukhtar said.