Wikileaks on Somalia - Public Reluctance, Private Insistence
Wikileaks cables concerning Somalia's civil war give an insight into the
political players involved in this conflict.
Article | 6 January 2012 - 11:54am | By
> Chiara Francavilla
Wikileaks cables on Somalia document important and previously undisclosed
sentiments expressed by members of the international community on a range of
issues. Unearthing uninhibited discussions about the 2006 Ethiopian
intervention, the reputation of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG),
the sanctions on Eritrea, and the World Food Programme's activity in the
country, these once confidential communications reveal the more private
beliefs and interesting dynamics behind the statements and positions taken
The 2006 Ethiopian intervention in Somalia
In December 2006, the Ethiopian army entered Somalia to fight alongside the
TFG against the Union of the Islamic Courts (UIC). At this point, the UIC
had control over large sections of Southern Somalia.
In public, USA's Bush administration consistently denied that it encouraged
Ethiopia to cross the Somali border. In an
> interview with Al Jazeera,
Frazer, the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, said: "I
have said many times that we counselled Ethiopia not to go into Somalia, but
Ethiopia went in for its own security interest, which we understand. They
also went in on the invitation of the Transitional Federal Government."
However, the wikileaks
> cable dated June 2006 appears to contradict these statements. In the
cable, a member of the United Nations Mission for Ethiopia and Eritrea
> reports a meeting
between Frazer and another US official. Frazer is reported to have said that
a victory for the UIC would represent the "worst scenario" for the US. He
"This scenario would pull in Ethiopia which, through a rapid in and out
intervention, would strike before UIC could get to Baidoa (headquarters of
the TFG). While the US fears this type of reaction, it would rally with
Ethiopia if the 'jihadist' took over."
This comment suggests that although in the past the US and Ethiopia
disagreed on how the Somalia conflict should be resolved, at this particular
moment, the unprecedented military successes of the UIC had led the US into
a change of policy whereby "any Ethiopian action in Somalia would have
Washington's blessing". Concerned about potential threats to their own
security under a jihadist and ungoverned Somalia, the US appears happier for
Somalia's neighbours to interfere in Somali sovereign affairs than they
publicly let on.
The TFG reputation
In official UN reports, open criticisms of the TFG are rare. The emphasis is
on empathy, stressing the difficulties that the government has to face while
operating in Somalia's challenging environment. By contrast, the wikileaks
cables contain many instances of countries complaining about the TFG's
In a cable leaked from the London embassy, dated
N.html> December 2008, a British government representative expresses
> doubts about the
Djibouti Peace Process, the agreement which led to the TFG replacing the
former Transitional National Government. Britain is reported to have said
that there is a "more than 50% chance that the Djibouti Peace Process will
fail". Even if the initial peace process were successful, the British
government doubted the new government would be able to build state
institutions. "A more likely outcome, HMG (Her Majesty's Government)
assesses, is a situation similar to medieval Italy, where different actors
control and secure small pockets around the country," the cables report.
Another cable, recording an experts meeting in Berlin in November 2009,
acknowledged that "the participants expressed frustration with the TFG".
Sweden, in particular, commented that the ministers "were not performing and
the TFG has no strategy whatsoever".
The TFG was also criticised by neighbouring Djibouti and Uganda. In a
meeting between the US Deputy Assistant Secretary and the Djibouti Foreign
Minister in December 2009, the latter is reported to have
l> said that the government is weak and that Djibouti is privatively
pressuring the TFG to be more proactive and deliver basic services in order
to gain more credibility amongst the population. Similarly, the Uganda
representative affirmed that the TFG should be more concerned with obtaining
the support of its population than the international community: "The TFG
should focus on fostering patriotism not seeking helicopters."
In a cable detailing a January 2010
meeting between Condoleeza Rice and the former UN Special Representative for
Somalia (2007-2010) Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah , the latter questioned the
government's efficiency after it failed to ratify a constitution after more
than 5 years. The constitution draft was finally
PORT%2020th%20May%20English.pdf> completed on June 10, 2010. However, this
is considered only a draft to "stimulate public debate", and not the final
version which the population could vote on.
It is perhaps not surprising that international governments have been
reluctant to be outwardly critical of the weak and troubled TFG, but the
cables point to a high level of frustration and discontent the extent of its
inefficiency and failures to build effective institutions.
World Food Programme operations in Somalia
In the cable on the January 2010
meeting, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah accused the World Food Program (WFP) of
choosing to suspend its operations in Somalia because it had become too
reliant on payoffs from Al Shaabab, the rebel militia group with links to
Al-Qaeda. Ould-Abdallah is reported to have said, "The WFP was being
manipulated after becoming 'too close' to Al Shaabab, so it used the
convenient option of withdrawing to escape from US legislation so as not to
Upon being questioned on the matter, the WFP told Think Africa Press:
"Our policy was, and remains, that the WFP does not make any payments to
armed groups in Somalia, including Al Shabaab. In fact, at the time of our
suspension in the south of the country in early January 2010, we had to pull
our staff out because we refused the repeated demands from Al Shabaab for
payments for security. Therefore our staff were being harassed. From 2008 to
2010, the lives of 14 relief workers were lost."
Another issue emerging from the cables is the dispute on the sanctions
imposed on Eritrea for its alleged support of Al Shabaab. In general, the US
and UK appear in favour of sanctions. Eritrea is
l> considered "extremely malignant" or a "spoiler" in the region. However,
other European countries, by contrast, seem more reluctant to implement
sanctions. In a meeting
html> held during November 2009, an Italian representative said that Italy
did not want to create "another Afghanistan", according to the wikileaks
cables. A Swedish representative argued that the pressure for sanctions
would be more effective than the sanctions themselves.
However, in December 2009, the UN imposed
> sanctions on
Eritrea, with all the permanent members of the Security Council voting in
favour, apart from China who abstained. The sanctions were justified by
"findings that Eritrea had provided support to armed groups, undermining
peace and reconciliation in Somalia and that it had not withdrawn its forces
following clashes with Djibouti in June 2008". It was decided that an arms
embargo, travel restrictions and a freeze on the assets of political and
military leaders should be put in place.
On December 5 2011, the UN
re-enforced the sanction against Eritrea, accusing the country of supporting
armed opposition groups, including Al Shabaab, and undermining the
reconciliation process in Somalia and the region.
Somalia has been a black hole in the international diplomacy chessboard for
long time. However, after 9/11 the country has increasingly acquired
importance in the US-led War on Terror because of Al Shabaab's proximity to
al-Qaeda. Now that neighbouring countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia have
made a step into the Somali territory it would be no surprise to see a
release of noisier cables in the near future.
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Received on Fri Jan 06 2012 - 07:11:25 EST