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Somali President’s Departure Marks Next Step for Transitional Government

BY Admin  December 29, 2008 at 4:25 PM EDT

Muhammad Abdi Yusuf; File photo

Yusuf’s departure, which comes as Ethiopian forces are scheduled to withdraw at the end of the year, opens a door for a new administration. As president, Yusuf faced internal divisions that pushed the government to the brink of collapse.

“As I promised when you elected me on Oct. 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, according to Reuters.

Earlier this month, Yusuf fired Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein, creating a further rift between the Parliament and the international community that backed the prime minister. Hussein supports the inclusion of moderate Islamists in the government in order to marginalize more extreme groups.

Yusuf’s departure marks a positive step for Somalia, said Karin von Hippel, co-director of the Post-Conflict Reconstruction project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“He was deeply unpopular. He never managed in four years to spread control,” she said. “They need to be thinking about government mechanisms for power sharing, not who is prime minister, who is president.”

According to von Hippel, a more successful government would be decentralized and organized by the Somalis. It would include as many of the members of the Islamic Courts Union as possible, as well as women, clan leaders and religious figures.

“They need to encourage a much more inclusive conversation about the new leadership,” she said.

Since the overthrow of President Muhammad Siad Barre in 1991, Somalia has lacked a stable government, creating an environment where different groups continually vie for power. The current government is the country’s 14th attempt at setting up permanent governance.

Yusuf was blamed by Washington, Europe and Somalia’s African neighbors for stalling the U.N.-backed peace process.

The African Union also has encouraged the parliament to include more hard-line elements of opposition groups when assembling a new administration.

Yusuf said he will return to his homeland in the Puntland region, a semi-autonomous area in the north where he served as president before becoming Somalia’s leader.

In his absence, parliament speaker Sheikh Aden Madobe will become president for 30 days while elections are held.

Yusuf, a longtime ally of Ethiopia, was elected by the country’s newly formed parliament in 2004. The Transitional Federal Government formed earlier that year with the support of the United Nations and operated out of Baidoa instead of the Somali capital of Mogadishu where warlords and factions ruled.

As Yusuf struggled to set up a working and cohesive government, an insurgent group, the Union of Islamic Courts, gained broad support from the country’s Muslims and took over power in southern Somalia in 2006.

In December 2006, U.S. forces helped Ethiopian troops drive the Islamic Courts out of Mogadishu and Yusuf’s government was able to operate in Mogadishu for the first time. U.S. involvement — the first military involvement since 1994 — was an attempt to root out suspected supporters of al-Qaida and prevent the country from becoming a further haven for terrorists.

Now, Islamic groups control most of the southern and central regions, but the groups remain at odds over dealing with the government. Al Shabaab is the most militant and is calling for jihad, or holy war, while the Islamic Courts Union signaled they are willing to talk.

Another group, the Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca, wants to drive al Shabaab from Somalia, saying they carry out acts against Islamic teachings, including killing religious leaders and desecrating graves. As Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca and al Shabaab clash regularly, support for al Shabaab appears to be waning because of their violence, according to the African Union.

In the past three days, 48 people have died in clashes between insurgent groups.

The weak transitional government has led to increased pirate activity off the coast of Somalia, according to some officials.

“This problem emanates not at sea. I mean, it starts from onshore. And clearly the Somali government needs help. This transitional federal government has acknowledged it does not have the capacity to deal with this problem. And so it needs additional help from the U.N., from the African Union, from the world to try to deal with some of the economic and governance problems that lead to the pirates,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said at a Nov. 19 press briefing.