Politics and Pessimism in Somalia

Regarding the most recent of Somalia’s tumultuous political twists, Jeffrey Gettleman asks the right question:

Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, the cantankerous president of beleaguered Somalia, resigned Monday. The question now is, will it make a difference?

Could it be the death knell of Somalia’s transitional government, whose zone of control is down to a few city blocks in a country nearly as big as Texas? Or will it be the government’s saving grace?

The answer, as should be expected, is that no one really knows. Everyone seems to be optimistic, though. Yglesias calls it “good news (by Somalia standards),” and the U.S. State Department and UN Special Envoy are both aboard the glass half-full train. And while the fact that a (unpopular and probably corrupt) leader did step down peacefully from a national leadership position in a traditionally, ahem, undemocratic state is certainly to be applauded, the magnetic pessimism in Mogadishu is tough to resist.

One context in which I am surprised not to have seen this latest development analyzed is one with regard to Yusuf’s last attempted initiative before bowing out — his botched effort to (illegally) “fire” his prime minister, Nur Hassan Hussein. It seems pretty clear that this was a last-minute power gamble by Yusuf, and upon its failing, he felt obliged to step down. Whether this makes Yusuf’s resignation equally politically waterlogged is unclear. The quotation, from a former employee of Yusuf, with which Gettleman chooses to end his piece, however, is telling.

“Maybe on the outside, to the international community, the resignation will matter,” he said. “But not on the inside.”

Here’s hoping it will at least matter on land and on sea in Somalia.