Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Somalia: The Political Structure of the T.F.G.'s and the Puntland State's Disaccord

24 Nov 24, 2009 - 1:48:32 PM

By: Dr. Michael A. Weinstein

On November 21, Garowe Online posted Omar Farah's insightful analysis: "Somalia: Why Somali Government and Puntland State of Somalia fail to agree?" Farah's answers provide the foundation for a structural analysis of the state of present relations between Somalia's internationally recognized Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.) and Puntland. The following analysis builds on and shifts the emaphasis of Farah's, while remaining within the parameters defined by his fundamentals.


Farah's analysis addresses the results of the November 12 meeting in Nairobi between Puntland's president, Abdirahman Mohamed Farole, and the T.F.G.'s president, Sh. Sharif Sh. Ahmad, at which the latter refused to sign the August 23 Galkayo agreement between Farole and the T.F.G.'s prime minister, Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke.

The Galkayo agreement marked the high point for Puntland in its relations with Sh. Sharif's administration; it affirmed Puntland's federal vision of Somalia, provided for the T.F.G. to share international aid with Puntland equitably, allowed Puntland to control foreign investment within its territory, and awarded Puntland with the sites for a proposed anti-piracy center and the convention that would draft a permanent constitution for Somalia. The T.F.G. seemed to have paid Farole's price for his support of the T.F.G.

Since the Galkayo agreement was signed by Farole and Sharmarke, relations between Puntland and the T.F.G. have been strained to the point of the November 12 rupture. In the interim, dissent to the agreement gained momentum within the T.F.G. Somali media reported that a clique led by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Sharif Hassan Sh. Adan had become dominant over Sh. Sharif and had turned him against the agreement. Members of the transitional parliament echoed those reports. The failure of Sh. Sharif to endorse the agreement led to a reported split between the president and the prime minister, awakening calls for one or the other to resign or be removed. Early on the T.F.G.'s deputy prime minister and fisheries minister, Abdirahim Ibbi, enginereed an agreement with Djibouti for the establishment of an anti-piracy training base there, throwing into question Puntland's claim to the anti-piracy center, which would be funded by donor powers. Sharmarke insisted that the agreement was still in force and would be implemented shortly.

Somali media reported that the split within the T.F.G. was occasioned by resistance to the agreement from political leaders from the Hawiye clan family who perceived that Puntland's strengthened position would benefit the Darod clan family at their expense. Whether or not that is true, it is clear that the Galkayo agreement gave Puntland a bigger share of the political and financial pie, which would impact established interests in the T.F.G., whether political, business or clan, negatively, and would move those interests to try to block the agreement.

As the T.F.G. fell into disarray over the Galkayo agreement, Farole bided his time impatiently, progressively losing confidence in the T.F.G. as a negotiating partner and becoming disillusioned with the process. At the November 12 meeting, Farole, who had decided not to compromise on the Galkayo agreement as signed, confronted Sh. Sharif, who refused to initial the document. The promise of the Galkayo agreement for Puntland had vanished.

Farah's Explanation

Farah's explanation of the rupture in Nairobi is presented in three interconnected points: Sh. Sharif's "mentors" argued that any recognition of regional authorities, such as Puntland, would degrade the legitimacy of the T.F.G. in the eyes of the international community; the mentors favor a centralized state that would preserve their positions and forestall the threat to their power from self-determination in the regions; and the imbalance of power between Puntland and the T.F.G. is so great that the latter is too weak to negotiate credibly. As Farah puts it, Puntland's interest in economic and social development contrasts starkly with the T.F.G.'s daily fight to survive in a restricted area of Mogadishu.

Farah hits the mark in identifying the structural cause of the rupture in Nairobi as an imbalance of power in favor of Puntland that causes it to be unwilling to compromise on its conceptions of its vital interests when it is engaged with a weak partner that has nothing to offer but access to the coffers of donor powers, which the weaker partner is all the more jealous to guard, because that is its only asset. For the T.F.G. factions, the alternatives were to keep what they had or to bring Puntland onboard a political process - at Puntland's price. For Puntland, the alternatives were to insist on the favorable Galkayo agreement or to surrender their perceived vital interests.

Where Farah's explanation needs a change of emphasis is in its focus on Puntland's interest in equitable sharing of donor funds and programs. If the gap between Puntland's interest in econnomic and social development, and the T.F.G.'s interest in sheer survival was actually the structural divide, then Farole might have made concessions to get his place at the trough. That he refused to do so indicates a more paramount interest in maintaining Puntland's status as a "state in Somalia," with a generous degree of self-determination; it is self-governance that Farole would not sacrifice.

With a shift from economic to political emphasis, the structural imbalance is between Puntland's functioning government (although it is currently under domestic and foreign pressures) and the T.F.G.'s notional government, which is a figment of international recognition guarded by African Union tanks. Farole is a president; Sh. Sharif is a captive. Farole feels that receiving aid vouchers from the T.F.G. is not worth sacrificing self-determination; Sh. Sharif does not want to share power in a federation of regional states, which is Farole's demand. Farah recognizes this scenario in the first point of his explanation, when he says that Sh. Sharif's "mentors" were concerned that recognition of regional authorities would degrade the legitimacy of the T.F.G. in the eyes of the international community. The mentors, indeed, were correct; it was a power struggle and the T.F.G. was fighting above its weight. If the T.F.G. has only external powers to thank for its existence, Puntland has only its political organization to count on, and that is currently under stress as external pressures and threats trigger reactions against Farole's administration domestically. Protecting the status of the Puntland state trumps economic and social development.

The Rupture in Nairobi

Evidence that the structural gap is political is provided by Somali media sources reporting on the Nairobi talks.

On November 11, the two sides agreed to form a committee to "harmonize" the Galkayo agreement, but, on November 12, the talks collapsed when Farole demanded that Puntland be recognized as a state, not a semi-autonomous region, and accused the T.F.G. of failing to abide by the Transitional Federal Constitution on the matter of federalism.

According to a November 15 report on the AllPuntland webite, which provides a dramatic narrative, Sh. Sharif was accompanied at the November 12 meeting by Hassan who was supposed to have worked on implementing the agreement, but had not done so, and who said that certain issues pertaining to the agreement were not up for discussion, notably the sovereignty of the T.F.G. over all post-independence Somalia. Hassan was reported to have said that Puntland is a regional administration that cannot negotiate with the T.F.G. as an equal, and that the T.F.G. does not need Puntland's help in implementing a federal system. Sh. Sharif is reported to have said that the T.F.G. is a legitimate government and would not negotiate with anyone on the restoration of security in Somalia. Farole reportedly responded that Puntland would not negotiate on the development of the state's administration. The meeting ended when the Puntland delegation walked out. It is worth noting that the two sides reportedly agreed on Puntland's access to donor powers and Puntland's right to enter development and security agreements with external powers and companies independent of the T.F.G.

The deeper structural explanation for the failure of the Puntland State and the T.F.G. to agree is the power struggle over the nature of the state, the most fundamental political conflict that carries along with it all the interests that would be advantaged or disadvantaged according to its results.


On November 19, having returned to Puntland's capital, Garowe, Farole held a press conference in which he said that his meeting with Sh. Sharif had been "very nice indeed," but that they had "misunderstandings" about the Galkayo agreement, which Farole said, had not been implemented by the T.F.G. and was not a good agreement anyway. On November 20, Sh. Sharif held a press conference in Nairobi, at which he expressed regret at "misunderstandings" and confirmed that his meeting with Farole had yielded "no results."

On November 20, the effects of the Nairobi rupture on Puntland's grand strategy began to surface when Farole gave an interview to the BBC in which he announced that Puntland intended to host leaders from the southern and central regions of Somalia who wanted to form regional authorities, faulting Sh. Sharif for failing to initiate that process. Farole made it clear that his disagreement with Sh. Sharif centered on the formation of regional governments, leaving "the door open for consultation" in the future. Farole's plan for regional authorities that would be formed independently of the T.F.G. has, for the moment, made the rupture in Nairobi complete.

The rupture in Nairobi leaves the T.F.G. weaker than ever, having lost potential support, and Puntland more isolated internationally. Farole, who had placed hope in the West and had thought that he could win a favorable deal from the T.F.G., now knows that he is on his own, which is why he has proposed by-passing the T.F.G. in the creation of a federal state that would change the present T.F.G. beyond recognition and short-circuit the donor powers' strategy of backing the T.F.G.

It is too early to tell how serious Farole is about his plan - whether it is a warning or a commitment - and whether he will have any takers for it in the southern and central regions. What it does indicate is that Farole reached the end of the rope tying him to the T.F.G. and that he has undone the knot. He has decided that the T.F.G. is not for the time being a negotiating partner and that the preservation of the state structure of Puntland is the vital interst above all others. Whether Farole is sacrificing other interests to the degree that he will subvert the vital interest through relative international isolation remains to be seen.

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