By: Yusuf M Hasan
Somalilandsun-The late Ethiopian Prime Minister Ato Meles Zenawi has been defended against accusations that the notorious Somalia based Al-Shabaab terrorist organization was his brainchild.
Ambassador David Shinn made the Zenawi defence during an interview with the Horn newspaper’s Mahmoud Walaleye, in which he also said that the differences between Somalia and Somaliland would be resolved once a broad based government is established in Mogadishu.
A renowned pundit on Horn Africa issues, who is currently an adjunct professor of international affairs at The George Washington University, Amb. Shinn, who received his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. from GW, is a former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia (1996-99) and to Burkina Faso (1987-90).
In reaction to comments by Kenya’s deputy speaker of parliament to the effect that Al-Shabaab was a creation of the late Meles Zenawi, the ambassador termed the sentiments as mistake that he was not sure if it reflected the views of the Kenyan government.
Read below the full verbatim excerpts of the interview
Q: How do you perceive Farah Maalim’s comments regarding Meles purported creation of Al-shabaab as well as possible repercussions of bi-lateral relations between Kenya and Ethiopia?
A: I leave to the Kenyan government to determine if the deputy speaker’s comments reflect the view of the Kenyan government and I leave to both governments whether they will influence bilateral relations. I would point out that al-Shabaab existed before Meles Zenawi sent troops into Somalia at the end of 2006. On the other hand, the presence of large numbers of Ethiopian troops in Somalia, especially in the capital of Mogadishu, was a major recruiting tool for al-Shabaab. I argued from the beginning that Ethiopian intervention in Somalia in late 2006 was a mistake, but to put all the blame on Meles Zenawi for the rise of al-Shabaab is also a mistake.
Q: Will the Farah Ma’alim sentiments impinge on joint Ethio-Kenya military incursion towards Kismayo, last strong hold of Shabaab, especially as related to the support of opposing tribes given by the two countries?
A: The capturing of Kismayo and, more importantly, returning it to proper Somali authority other than al-Shabaab is an important objective. I am not in a position to judge the likelihood of this happening in the coming months. It was an early Kenyan objective last year but did not happen. I doubt that Kismayo will be taken easily; it is equally important to identify appropriate Somali forces who can then keep al-Shabaab from retaking it. Long-term occupation of Kismayo by foreign forces is a bad idea.
Q: how do you discern future dialogue between Somaliland and Somalia in relation to the Mogadishu approved draft constitution that lays claim to Somaliland as the northern region of Somalia?
Once there is a broad based Somali government acceptable to most Somalis, it is important that dialogue begin between Somalia and Somaliland concerning the future of both entities. That is the only way to resolve differences between both governments.
Q: whom do you think is in charge Somalia considering that International community end time of transition time has expired, and new government yet established?
A: Different groups are in charge of different parts of Somalia. AMISOM and Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces now control the greater Mogadishu area. Ethiopian and TFG militia control several key cities near the border with Ethiopia. Kenyan troops control a significant part of the lower Juba. Puntland controls much of Puntland. Al-Shabaab still controls much of the rest of Somalia. The future of Somalia is still an open question and much now depends on the Somali political process and the creation of a widely accepted Somali government that turns it back on corruption. At this point, I am not particularly optimistic about the political process or the immediate future.