Somalia's prime minister goes
A country still dangerously adrift
THE prime minister of Somalia, Ali Mohamed Gedi, has bowed out after a year of rivalry with the country's president, Abdullahi Yusuf—in the interest, he says, of national unity. In his resignation speech, Mr Gedi said he had survived five assassination attempts in three years at the helm. A veterinarian, he has seen his share of bone-crunching. His father was a colonel in Somalia's intelligence service during its steadier Soviet-backed years, a trade Mr Gedi may also have dabbled in.
It was probably the prime minister of next-door Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, who advised Mr Gedi to go. The pair are close. In his days as a rebel fighter, Mr Zenawi was protected by Mr Gedi's father. Mr Gedi belongs to the Hawiye clan, the most powerful in Mogadishu, Somalia's ravaged capital. He has been unpopular with Hawiye elders, some of whom have Islamist sympathies so are hostile to Somalia's feeble, Ethiopia-backed government. It is unclear whether or not his exit will make it easier for Mr Yusuf, now squarely in charge, to strike a deal with the Hawiye to deprive jihadist fighters of clan support and shelter.
Mr Gedi flew straight out of Somalia to Kenya, the speed of his departure showing how even the toughest patriots are loth to build a life in Mogadishu. Most educated emigrés return without their children, as life for them is getting worse. The UN says school attendance has collapsed; malnutrition and cholera are common.
The all-out fighting that ripped through Mogadishu in the spring has not resumed, but the seaside city remains violent. Jihadist rebels pin down Ethiopian troops and peacekeepers from Uganda, the only country willing to send troops under the aegis of the African Union. The failure of moderate Islamists to create a plausible negotiating position at a recent meeting in Eritrea may have strengthened the armed radicals, who hope to foment a holy war with “Christian” Ethiopia. The threat is not restricted to the Horn of Africa. British intelligence says that Somali jihadists may be involved in future terrorist attacks on Britain and elsewhere, as they have been already.
The recent killing of yet another Somali journalist illustrates the chaos. Bashir Nur Gedi (no close relation) was the eighth journalist to be murdered in Mogadishu this year. Other Somali reporters have gone into hiding or left the country; both the government and Islamists have targeted them for trying to report freely.
A sharp increase in piracy is also telling. During their time in power last year, Islamists managed to curb attacks on foreign vessels. Now they are back up to record numbers. The Americans pursued two ships hijacked by pirates this week, one of them a North Korean freighter whose crew managed to kill two of the pirates before the Americans arrived. There is no sign yet of a French naval escort promised by France's new president, Nicolas Sarkozy.