SIGNIFICANCE: The region in 2009 will continue to see some of the world's worst humanitarian, political, and security crises, but major political changes are in the air that could yield new opportunities for stability.
ANALYSIS: After a turbulent 2008, the Horn of Africa will continue to face serious challenges into 2009, especially in Somalia.
Food insecurity will be a major factor across the region, contributing to economic pressures from high prices and decreased remittances.
Somalia's TFG and moderate opposition face a steep challenge in implementing the Djibouti Agreement, despite likely Ethiopian withdrawal.
Ethiopia's border stalemate with Eritrea will continue, though the cost of war is probably too high for both sides.
Somalia's Shabaab militants may take their insurgency against Ethiopia out of Mogadishu, and into Ethiopia itself or third countries.
Somalia. Developments in Somalia will reverberate across the region:
1. Djibouti Agreement. The June 2008 Djibouti Agreement represents a hopeful breakthrough between the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and moderate elements of the opposition, the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS). The accord commits both sides to a ceasefire, establishes a joint security committee for eventual integration of forces, envisions power-sharing talks, and calls for a UN mission to bolster African Union peacekeepers in order to permit the orderly withdraw of Ethiopian forces. However, the new moderate coalition formed under the agreement already faces serious resistance from hardliners in the TFG -- including President Abdullahi Yusuf and his supporters, who control all of the TFG security sector -- and the hardline Islamist Shabaab militia.
2. TFG future. The TFG enters the fifth and final year of its mandate completely dysfunctional and divided. There will probably be major leadership changes, and there is a real possibility that the TFG will be driven out of Mogadishu entirely by the insurgents once Ethiopian forces withdraw. The TFG's main preoccupation in 2009 will be to convince foreign governments and the UN to extend its mandate, despite its lack of progress. Donors do not want to see the TFG fail, and may consider other options even worse.
3. Ethiopian policies. Ethiopia has already redeployed much of its occupying force and appears intent on removing itself from Mogadishu later in November. The occupation has proven very costly to Ethiopia financially and diplomatically, and has had a corrosive effect on its military. However, Ethiopia has powerful security interests in shaping politics in post-intervention Somalia. It will thus keep some forces along border areas and will provide support to local allies to ensure, at a minimum, that hardline Islamists cannot consolidate control over Mogadishu.
4. Armed opposition. The insurgents in Somalia have essentially won -- they now control most of south and central Somalia and much of the capital. However, deep existing divisions between groups will certainly become worse once Ethiopian forces withdraw from Mogadishu and the TFG is no longer viable. Sporadic clashes between Islamist and clan militias answering to the ARS and the Shabaab have already occurred, with much more deadly clashes very likely to erupt in 2009 -- fuelled in part by external influences.
5. Humanitarian crisis. Somalia is now the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with 3.2 million people in need of aid, and relief efforts undermined by attacks on aid workers. The longer the crisis continues, the greater the danger that displaced Somalis will face famine conditions. If security improves in the capital, a massive spontaneous relocation of up to 700,000 displaced persons could result, creating its own relief challenges.
6. Somaliland. October terrorist bombings in Somaliland's capital Hargeysa badly shook residents, and reinforced fears that spill-over from the south will engulf the would-be state. Nevertheless, the longer-term impact of the terrorist bombings, for which Shabaab has claimed responsibility, will instead be the discrediting of radical Islamism in Somaliland and a concerted public and government effort to clamp down on hardline Islamists in their community. Somaliland is still likely to hold closely contested but not destabilising general elections sometime after March 2009.
7. Puntland and piracy. Security and governance in the northeast state of Puntland deteriorated badly in 2008, a trend that will worsen in 2009. Unpaid security personnel are the source of a major crime wave and the region is now the epicentre of the worst concentration of piracy in the world. The piracy is likely to face an increasingly heavy-handed international response, including attacks on the mainland lairs of the pirates and on the financial holdings of the powerful patrons behind the piracy. Puntland will also face severe security crises in 2009 if the TFG collapses and the uncontrolled government militiamen recruited from Puntland return home.
Border disputes. The UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea dissolved in 2008, and the stand-off over the disputed border between Ethiopia and Eritrea shows no signs of peaceful resolution. Despite a heavy military build-up on the border, the threat of warfare between the two states has abated somewhat; risks are too high to both sides at this time. Eritrea's inexplicable border skirmish with neighbouring Djibouti is unlikely to be rekindled, as Djibouti enjoys the support of France and the United States, both of which have military bases there. Nevertheless, Ethiopia and Eritrea will continue to engage in proxy wars aimed at destabilising the other.
Ethiopia. In 2009, Addis Ababa's biggest crisis will be economic, with the possibility of serious public unrest if food insecurity worsens:
Food shortages. A combination of factors -- inflation, high food and fuel costs, drought and security operations -- has resulted in 12 million Ethiopians being in need of emergency food aid. This emergency is concentrated in rural areas of eastern and southern Ethiopia, but affects most of the country. Forecasts suggest the crisis will worsen into 2009. Violence limits humanitarian access in eastern Ethiopia.
Economic pressures. Years of impressive economic growth are coming to an end, with the IMF's growth forecast for 2009 cut back to 6.4%. Remittances from the large diaspora are expected to drop. Pressures on urban households are growing and could spark unrest in major cities, where the government enjoys little support.
Political clampdown. In April, the government consolidated control of district level political units in elections that were boycotted by the opposition. The government is passing controversial legislation that would severely curtail the activity of civil society groups to engage in any advocacy or human rights work. This closure of political space is expected to continue through 2009 despite external protests.
Insurgencies and terror threats. Government forces will continue to mount counter-insurgency operations in Somali Regional State against the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). That region will remain very volatile, and military operations will continue to target civilian populations suspected of supporting the ONLF. The expansion of Shabaab suicide bombings into Somaliland and Puntland, which in one case destroyed an Ethiopian government building in Hargeysa, suggests that Shabaab insurgents intend to take its war with Ethiopia beyond southern Somalia. Terrorist attacks against Ethiopian targets inside Ethiopia or in third countries are thus a growing possibility in 2009.
Eritrea. Eritrea will continue to face extreme economic duress, including very worrisome food shortages, but will continue to embrace a policy of isolation and autarky in 2009. Opposition to the government is too weak to pose any threat of regime change, but the threat of a coup is worth watching if the current leadership allows the country to slip much further into economic collapse.
Djibouti. Djibouti's incumbent party, the Union for the Presidential Majority, won all 65 seats of parliament in 2008 elections that were boycotted by the opposition. President Hassan Gouled will face no serious opposition in 2009, but the threat of terrorist attacks in Djibouti is greater in the wake of the expanded campaign by the Shabaab insurgency.
CONCLUSION: Armed conflict will worsen in Somalia in the short term but is likely to subside in an inconclusive stalemate, as a partial Ethiopian withdrawal removes some of the main drivers of the armed insurgency. Threats of terrorist attacks are greater across the region in 2009, especially against Ethiopian targets. Economic woes and food shortages will be the main preoccupation across the region.
- Oxford Analytica
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