The First Failed “Manifesto” Government (January 1991):
The rift between the two groups started when President Barre’s coup succeeded to topple the then existing democratic civilian government, and long before tiny, winy sister Djibouti was an independent Republic. During the reign of the strongman—Barre —of Somalia, which lasted 21 years, since his coup on 21 October 1969, many clan-based military fronts were formed and took base in next door Ethiopia , with the objective of liberating the country from the grip of Barre’s dictatorship. But they failed to organize themselves around a common leadership or political platform. However, in late 1989, a group of officials from the former civilian governments, civil servants and allied businessmen produced a document they called “Manifesto”, charging President Barre for everything wrong in the country and accusing the armed fronts for disorganization and failure, calling them for unity and action within the country. Hence, they were coined “Manifesto” because of their authorship of the said document. Despite the pressure, President Barre undermined their efforts by playing his usual games of divide and rule, as well as other methods, from his bag of tricks of clan politics.
When Barre’s regime finally crumpled, a few months later—in January, 1991, to be exact—Mr. Ali Mahdi, a hotelier , a signatory of the “Manifesto” and a former member of the last civilian Parliament, was declared as the President by the “Manifesto” legion of political clan elite. He quickly formed the government which came to be known as” USC 91”—the appellation “USC” stood for the Hawiye Clan. But the USC was, prior to this, known to be an armed front led by General Aideed. Here we witnessed the first, open political confrontation between the political elite groups—the “Manifesto” and the “Militarists”—albeit that both protagonists hailed from the same clan. Aideed and his militia vehemently opposed to the government and started harassing and intimidating the members of the new Cabinet, dismantling the effort. However both wings of the USC were united on chasing out Barre and his clansmen, while both sides, in addition to seeking the control of Mogadishu, kept vigil so that the other side could not form an effective government. At this point the Djibouti Government intervened.
At least, six of them were commissioned by the Italian Government immediately after the collapse of Barre’s regime, according to the Late Omer Moallin who told me, in February or March, 1991, that the group was assembled under his advisement, which means months before the Djibouti Conference. However, the “Militarists” would not allow the government to function in that political context, especially in Mogadishu, where General Aideed remained an active political actor. Worse even, in November of that same year General Aideed waged a war on Ali Mahdi’s camp. Because both the “Militarists’ and the “Manifesto” elite coalitions use the clans for military manpower and political support, it has come to be known as the war of Habar Gidir and Abgaal—the sub-clans of the two main protagonists who both hail from the same lineage. Since this Essay is merely confined to highlighting the historical relationship of the Djibouti Government to the contending two elite camps—the “Militarists” and the “Manifesto”—I will escape the details of other peace talks held, after that, in Ethiopia and Egypt, all of which had failed, despite agreements between the leaders in the venue. It was noteworthy that this first Djibouti sponsored government was initially recognized by the UN, but that recognition was later withdrawn when the war in Mogadishu remained protracted.
In the end, the Djibouti Government produced a “Manifesto” Government and named it the Transitional National Government (TNG), led by Abdiqasim Salad Hassan and Ali Galaydh. No sooner than the new President was elected, President Ghelle whisked him to New York to participate in the General Assembly, and to meet secretly with the Security Council, alienating the other countries, as discussed in the first paragraph of the essay. But, as usual, the “Manifesto”, as is common to the Somali political elite, severed all relations with the traditional leadership and the civil society whose role is not unlike the intellectual class in the West. The Conference held in Djibouti in 2000 and its outcome—the TNG-- had a number of pitfalls (1) The ”Militarists” were still in control of all the regions in the south and Puntland. Of course “Somaliland”, as always, had declined to attend the Conferences, probably doubting Djibouti’s fairness and sincerity, a priori. (2) One should note that these “Militarists” had initially fought Barre’s regime. So, a government comprising Barre’s technocrats in addition to the civilians of old and the Islamists was a disaster in their thinking. (3) Because of the Islamists’ influence, Ethiopia and the West, led by the US government of the day, were naturally averted to support the new arrangement. (4) Perhaps most drastic among the impediments was the fact that the government of Djibouti alienated all the governments of the region (the IGAD countries), under whose mandate it held the Conference. The Government of Djibouti had not even spared its old allies, in this case—Egypt and Italy—by not allowing them to even help fund the Conference, let alone contribute in any other substantive way. Even, some high officials of the UN Political Department, in New York, were complaining that Djibouti was keeping them in dark. That position of the government of Djibouti might have heightened the suspicions of many and propelled the rampant rumors of those days that Al-Qaeda could have been helping the fledgling and poor government of tiny Djibouti to single-handedly shoulder the exorbitant expenses of a 5-month-long Conference.
The “Manifesto” side was supported by Djibouti, Egypt and Eritrea. The “Militarists” were also openly supported by Ethiopia among others from the region and the wider world. As we know now that the “Militarists” turned out to be the victors after two years of intense deliberations contrived only by the patience of the international community. In the process, the “Manifesto”, with the support of Djibouti and Egypt, fought to the teeth against Ethiopia and its client, the “Militarists”. However, After Abdullahi Yusuf was elected President and the Cabinet was nominated, even endorsed by the Parliament, the opposition within declared the arrangement unacceptable. All called for the impeachment of PresidentYusuf. The threat was made by no less than the person of the Speaker to the Parliament, Sherif Hassan Adan, himself. Before the government moved back into Somalia, the Mogadishu warlords, allies of Yusuf until then, one would expect, perhaps afraid to lose their feudal spoils in Mogadishu and partly for clannish reasons in their agenda, gave a political fulcrum to the opposition in Mogadishu, denying the new government to take seat in the Capital.
The Fourth Djibouti Peace Conference (2009):
It must be noted that since President Yusuf’s election, the faces and personalities of both coalitions have changed. Indeed, the new Islamic insurgency of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) surprised the world, when it took over Mogadishu’s control in June 2006. But it was a surprise to both coalitions too. However, the Islamic coalition comprised the other side of the coin of political contention between the “Manifesto” and the “Militarists”. Only they did not recognize themselves as such, because this was obscured by the fact that they have a common enemy—the TFG, Ethiopia and the West. They started with eliminating the control of the warlords of Mogadishu. Then they quickly moved all sides from Mogadishu to control most of the South, down from Dhusamareeb to Kismayo, and finished with an attack on Baidoa to eliminate the ‘Militarists” government—the TFG. If it was not for Ethiopia that saved its “Militarists” friends, it would be the end of the “Militarists” as we knew them. Meanwhile, we saw that from the moment the UIC took over the control of Mogadishu, there was jubilation for the event in many quarters. Dignitaries and educated individuals visited Mogadishu. Others were giving advice through conference calls and E-mails. I do not want to mention names here, but I was flabbergasted at the time as to what is the hubbub! We also saw that many MPs from the TFG visiting Mogadishu. Chief among them was the Speaker, Sherif Hassan Adan, on the grounds that he was arranging talks between the UIC and the TFG. In any case, when the UIC was kicked out of Mogadishu, the UIC together with the so-called Free Parliament took seat in Asmara, Eritrea. Again, there was a lot of support for the Asmara Meeting.
On the other hand, the international community started classifying the Islamists into moderates and radicals. Many failed to recognize the signs that the Italians found their friends, the “Manifesto”, within the UIC and around it. The cry for reconciliation also started early. With the Italians, inconspicuously, in the lead, the European Union brought a lot of pressure on the TFG. . But President Yusuf made an unforgetable mistake when he accepted a new Prime Minister, Nur Hassan Hussein., a “Manifesto” agent sold to him by “Manifesto” kinsmen of his own clan, coached by the Italians, as I got from the vine yard. Hardly did President Yusuf know that the opposition took over his government until it was too late. Meanwhile the talks that took place between the “Manifesto” TFG wing and the “Manifesto” ARS wing in Djibouti—mother of all “Manifesto" operations—gave the venue for the negotiations.
We don’t know where the Ethiopians were, while all this was happening! The Djibouti talks were easy for the two wings of the “Manifesto”. The plot was more than just reconciliation; it was about planning a coup to remove the most senior “Militarist from power, and replace him with Sherif Ahmed—a ‘Manifesto”. With all the negotiators on the same side they added an equal number of seats from the “Manifesto” camp to the TFG Parliament to elect their new President. They persuaded the House Speaker, and the “Manifesto side of the old Parliament endorsed the plan, with a so-called majority. The Election took place in Djibouti. The additional two hundred members of Parliament, plus Manifesto members from the old Parliament, elected Sherif Sheikh Ahmed as the new President. The coup succeeded without a hitch! The Djibouti Government installed a “Manifesto” Government for Somalia for the third time, since 1991, but that is not the end of the story. Or is it?
If the “Manifesto” believes that they have gotten rid of the “Militarists”, they are wrong!
The radical Islamists have also been there from the beginning, but only covertly. These radicals including the remnants of Al-Itihad Al-Islamy, the Ras Camboni force and Al-Shabab, as we know them, and others, seem to have a common, spiritual, self-styled leader—Hassan Dahir Aweys—a former commander of Al-Itihad when they attacked parts of what is now known as Puntland, in 1991-92. He is also a former Colonel of the army, where he got a departmental transfer to it, from the custodial corps. The “Manifesto” wing of the ARS is now part of the TFG. Hassan Dahir Aweys, the spiritual leader of the radical Islamists and the Asmara wing of the ARS have refused to talk to any one, and, especially, Sherif Ahmed.
Al-Shabab is now in control of the area between the two rivers. According to analysts from the South, people are comfortable, with them, in power. They have given back the villagers their land, when they removed the bullies that intimidated them during most of the last two decades. It is safe to assume that they are the new “Militarists”, but with a very different ideology—the strict application of the Islamic Shari'ah. That is why they may not ever succeed to form the national government, but they will remain spoilers for a long time. Somalia may, therefore, remain without a government for a long, long time.Abdalla Ahmed Hirad
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