Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sheikh Sharif's Weakness Will Be His Ultimate Demise


Somalia Editorial: Sheikh Sharif's weakness will be his ultimate demise

Sep 29, 2009 - 11:20:42 PM

Sheikh Sharif's character weakness poses a grave threat to the international community's financial and political backing, which could backfire with disastrous effect.

The number one issue surrounding the Somali conflict is a matter of how genuine the parties directly or indirectly involved are. Often, the officials of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) are accused of lacking legitimacy among the Somali public, in part due to the fact that most TFG officials are well-known crooks with ties to the Somali civil war.

Internationally, Western powers with the U.S. government at the forefront are accused of neglecting the root causes of the Somali conflict and aggressively dealing with the effects of war, as demonstrated by the targeted killing of an Al Qaeda terror suspect by American commandos on September 14, 2009.

Somalia's neighbors are accused of abusing the chaotic situation and supporting different sides of an enduring civil war, for national advantages that are often detrimental to the restoration of a peaceful and stable Somalia.

Among all these actors, the most important role is played by the TFG officials.

Today, the TFG enjoys more support than any other "interim government" in Somalia since the violent collapse of Gen. Barre's 21-year military dictatorship in 1991. Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, who led the rise of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) in 2006, then considered a Taliban-type movement by U.S. officials, became Somali president in Jan. 2009 at the conclusion of UN-brokered peace talks in the neighboring Republic of Djibouti.

The international community hoped that Sheikh Sharif, who was a prominent figure among Somali Islamists, could marshal support among the Islamists' grassroots networks that provide manpower and funding support to advance the Islamist insurgency against the Western-backed TFG in Mogadishu, Somalia's war-battered traditional capital city.

Further, it was hoped that Sheikh Sharif as Somali president could inspire young Islamist fighters to join his cause much as they did in 2006, when thousands of Islamist fighters joined the ICU's popular war to overthrow Mogadishu's hated warlords.

To put it mildly, Sheikh Sharif has failed catastrophically in his capacity to lead Somalia from the ruins of war. The UN's Special Envoy to Somalia, Amb. Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, campaigned for President Sheikh Sharif's interim government as the "best hope" to restore national order in Somalia.

However, eight months into his administration, President Sheikh Sharif's interim government is looking identical to the interim government of Col. Abdullahi Yusuf, who expelled ICU fighters from Mogadishu with the backing of Ethiopian troops in early 2007, thereafter igniting the ongoing Islamist insurgency. Most recently, addressing the UN General Assembly, President Sheikh Sharif called on the UN to remove the 1993 arms embargo on Somalia following, it seems, the exact footsteps of President Yusuf who had asked the UN for the same thing.

Sheikh Sharif has the characteristics of a weak leader. If the TFG is a weak institution in and of itself, then Sheikh Sharif's character weakness poses a grave threat to the international community's financial and political backing, which could backfire with disastrous effect. The TFG, under Sheikh Sharif's stewardship, has been unable to combine all the security forces under a single command to fight the insurgents; naturally, this disorder on the ground in Mogadishu has led to frequent deadly clashes among Somali government forces.

Further, he has been unable to reign in support from Islamist guerrillas, whom have labeled him a "puppet" of the West, and he has lost control of towns and regions dominated by members of his own clan, thereby making him a leader without a constituency. Important towns like Jowhar “ seized by Al Shabaab insurgents “ come to mind.

A more pressing example of President Sheikh Sharif's character weakness is his inability to control some Cabinet ministers, especially Finance Minister Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden, a shady character with intimate ties with Mogadishu's hated warlords. In a recent trip to Saudi Arabia, President Sheikh Sharif was "questioned intensely" about the Finance Minister's powerful role in the Somali government.

According to informed sources, Saudi government officials expressed serious concern with a recent statement issued by a number of Somali lawmakers, who accused Finance Minister Sharif Hassan of corruption and urged Arab countries not to give him donor funds.

The Finance Minister, the sources added, suggested that a rival group of Somali MPs be "bribed" to issue a press statement to counter allegations of corruption against him. So far, such a press statement has not been issued publicly by the rival lawmakers, however, but in a bloated Somali Parliament with 550 MPs, expect anything.

Leadership requires intellect, courage, charisma and resolve. Especially in a country torn apart by endless wars, the characteristics of leadership play a pivotal role in the survivability of the leader. What damages Sheikh Sharif's ability to lead is his dramatic 360-turn from ICU chief in 2006 who actively campaign against foreign troops “ the single most divisive issue in Somali national politics “ to blatant and unashamed support for foreign troops currently in Mogadishu under the auspices of the African Union.

Most important of all, a genuine leader must truly care about his own people. Judging by the evident weakness of character and the influence of shady officials close to him, Sheikh Sharif's demise will come by his own doing.

Garowe Online Editorial,

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