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Rift Divides Somalia's Top Leaders

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Rift Divides Somalia's Top Leaders

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Rift Divides Somalia's Top Leaders

Rift Divides Somalia's Top Leaders

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The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African affairs is expected to meet in Nairobi, Kenya, Monday with top leaders of Somalia's transitional government. Somalia's capital is under siege from an Islamist insurgency. The meeting will likely be tense because the president fired the prime minister but the prime minister says he isn't going anywhere.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

A top American diplomat tried to bolster Somalia's shaky transitional government at a meeting today with its leaders. And because Somalia's capital is currently under siege from an Islamist insurgency, those talks were held in neighboring Kenya. The meeting was further complicated by the fact that Somalia's president isn't getting along with its prime minister. NPR's Gwen Tompkins has more.

GWEN TOMPKINS: Abdullahi Yusuf is the president of Somalia's transition government, and he has always been a formidable opponent. He has survived assassination attempts, countless military campaigns, a liver transplant. He's been a military colonel and a war lord. Earlier this month, Yusuf said he fired his prime minister, Nur Hassan Hussein. A long-time humanitarian worker and former head of Somalia's Red Crescent Society. Yusuf said Nur is responsible for losing most of the territory that the transitional government controlled at the beginning of this year. What's more, nearly half of the government's army has reportedly deserted. Here, in the lobby of a fancy Nairobi hotel, a nervous bunch of government ministers has collected. Mohamod Ali works in the transitional government's foreign ministry as a director of international cooperation. He says, Nur had to go.

Mr. MOHAMOD ALI (Director, International Cooperation, Somalian Foreign Ministry): The prime minister and his cabinet do not have much to show, in terms of results. There's not much of a performance. On the contrary, what we see is a loss of the gains in the three years prior to the arrival of the prime minister.

TOMPKINS: But as it turns out, Nur is pretty formidable, too. It's true that the government has ceded important ground to an Islamist insurgency, but during his time in office, Nur has been widely seen as leading the government's effort to reach out to the Islamists. He has signed an agreement with moderate Islamists to create a government of national unity in Somalia. That agreement also calls for the withdrawal of unpopular Ethiopian forces that are currently protecting the government. Nur says he's not going anywhere. He says the transitional government's charter does allow for the president to fire him. And Nur appears to have parliamentary support in Somalia, as well as the backing of many in civil society, who are party to the peace deal with the moderate Islamists.

(Soundbite of cars hooting)

TOMPKINS: Here, at a much more modest hotel in a Somali-dominated area of Nairobi, Islamists and moderates pass the day and night listing Yusuf's shortcomings. Mohamed Amin participated in the peace talks. He says Yusuf doesn't talk, he barks.

Mr. MOHAMED AMIN (Participant, Peace Talks, Somalia): He's a military man. He's a dictator. Some people for someone, when they have experience of military, only military rule, but when you come on the government, you have to change. But he is still in the military command, so that is the problem.

TOMPKINS: The deadlock between the president and the prime minister has had a demoralizing affect on government. Ahmed Omarga Ghali(ph) is a member of parliament from central Somalia. He says he's just come from a meeting with Yusuf.

Mr. AHMED OMEGA GHALI (Member of Parliament, Central Somalia): I never felt like the way I'm feeling now, because of the situation, I'm kind of really discouraged. Very, really, discouraged.

TOMPKINS: Ghali graduated from the University of Wisconsin more than 20 years ago. He says, he's been living in his hometown in central Somalia since 1994. But now, he says, the transitional government has an unsolvable problem on its hands. He's thinking about Wisconsin, again.

Mr. GHALI: So that why I'm going back to Milwaukee.

TOMPKINS: Milwaukee.

Mr. GHALI: My second home.

(Soundbite of laughter)

TOMPKINS: Washington sees further instability in Somalia as an invitation for terrorist groups to set up shop there. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said that the U.S. recognizes Nur as Somalia's prime minister, despite the recent dust up with Yusuf. But the rift between Somalia's top leaders is more than a rift between two individuals. In Somalia, clans play an important role in deciding who holds power. And Yusuf and Nur represent two of the nation's four major clans. Any change in either man's circumstances could further destabilize the current government and the planned unity government, as well. In the meantime, the Ethiopian forces who helped install the government say they will leave Somalia soon. And an Islamist insurgency is lying in wait, but word is, the Islamists are divided too. Gwen Tompkins. NPR News, Nairobi.

MONTAGNE: You're listening to Morning Edition from NPR News.

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