Friday, January 5, 2007


So who's running Somalia?

Whenever Somalia is in the news, as it has been a fair bit recently, the media is always quick to inform us that the country "has no central government." Ever since the fall of the longtime dictator Siad Barre in 1991, Somalia has been a mess of war, chaos, and anarchy.

But that doesn't mean the country has no politicians! There was an interesting editorial in the National Post today explaining how the region of Africa our atlases recognize as the single country of "Somalia" is actually governed by three distinct regimes.

They are:

#1- The Transitional Federal Government of the Republic of Somalia is a gang of politicians, mostly western-educated and funded, who, in 2004, created a pluralistic, peaceful government-in-exile with the hope that they may one day assume full control of their country. The TFG has a 275-member parliament with appointed representatives of all of Somalia's major tribes.

In October of 2004 this transitional parliament appointed former warlord Abdullahi Yusuf as their president. He was inaugurated in Kenya, and finally went back to Somalia in June of 2005.

Initially the transitional government was regarded as a bit of a joke. The UN recognized it as the legitimate government of Somalia, but everyone knew they had little influence over the country itself. Very few countries have diplomatic relations with Mr. Yusuf's gang. Most are satisfied to just declare that Somalia "has no government" and leave it at that. Perhaps they are a bit fatigued. According to the CIA, the TFG is the 15th consecutive attempt at establishing an inclusive, interim Somali government since 1991.

Things have changed recently, however. Ethiopia invaded Somalia last month, and drove a gang of Islamist warlords, known as the Islamic Courts Union, out of the capital city. The Ethiopians back the TFG, and on December 30 President Yusuf was escorted into the capital as well. He hopes to stay as long as possible, and start consolidating control, but the historical track record of such endeavors is not good.

#2- Somaliland is not a theme-park, but rather the largest, and most successful independent regime operating within the former Somalia.

Before Somalia became an independent country in 1960, it was two separate colonies, one British, one Italian. The two regions had a tense relationship even after the merger, however, and following the political breakdown in 1991, the former "British Somaliland" declared itself independent.

There have been three presidents of this new "Republic of Somaliland." The current one is Dahir Riyale Kahin. Unlike the rest of the country, Somaliland is actually a fairly peaceful and cohesive place.
Freedom House notes that Mr. Kahim's 2003 election was declared to be "free and fair" by international observers. They also have a multi-party legislature.

But the international community believes Somali unity is what's most important, and as a result Mr. Kahim and his government are ignored by most of the world and have diplomatic relations with no one.

#3- Puntland is the other major centrally-governed territory of Somalia, but in contrast to Somaliland, it's a much more typical example of what you would expect a rebel-run territory to be like. In 1998 members of Somalia's Darod tribe declared their Puntland region to be an "autonomous state" within a unified Somalia, and since then it's successfully been governed more or less independently. Though I often think "independent from what?"

The President of Puntland is General Adde Musse. Their government is not democratic at all, and is controlled entirely by tribal elders and military warlords. General Musse is the second-ever president, the first one was Abdullahi Yusuf, who you may remember is now the leader of the transitional government. Yusuf ran Puntland like a tyrant, refusing to step down after losing an election, and using mercenary forces to stay in power. This is why he is a fairly controversial fellow today, and why some are skeptical as to whether or not he is truly the best guy to lead Somalia into a bright and sunny tomorrow.

State funeral watch

Marais Viljoen, the man who was President of South Africa from 1979 to 1984 died yesterday at age 91. If you've never heard of him before it's because he ruled during a period in which the South African presidency was a powerless, ceremonial office. The position was created in 1961 to replace the office of Governor General when the country separated from the British crown and became a republic. Mr. Viljoen is historically notable because he was the last president of this sort. In 1984 Prime Minister P.W. Botha dramatically overhauled the South African constitution, merging the positions of PM and President into a single, executive presidency which he then assumed himself.

Botha died last year, which means there are now only three living presidents of South Africa left, whom you can see at the right.

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