Originally published on GroundReport.com, the global citizen journalism platform.
Recent events in Somalia have passed under the radar of headlines in the international news. In case you haven't been paying close attention, here is a quick review:
Somalia's new President
On January 31st, Somalia's ineffective and powerless federal government met in Djibouti to elect a new President. They chose the moderate Islamist former leader of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) and current leader of the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS) Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. The ICU held power in Somalia for several months during 2006 before it was knocked out by a US bombing campaign and the occupation of Ethiopian "peacekeeping" forces propping up the federal transitional government. The past 2 years have seen resurgence in Islamist groups in the country, especially al-Shabaab - a more radical group than the ICU. In January al-Shabaab took control of Baidoa - the seat of the government.
Lawless and chaotic Somalia will prove to be a huge challenge for President Ahmed. Not only has al-Shabaab sworn to fight him, the country is splintered into many regional tribal factions, pirates rule the coasts, and refugee and hunger crises abound. Ahmed has taken some important steps that work in his favor, however. They include:
* Visiting the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia directly after his election. There, he showed willingness to work with his former Ethiopian enemies, and announced that he feels the US has a constructive role to play in the Horn of Africa.
* Pledging to hold talks with al-Shabaab and other opposition militias
* Promising to secure Somalia so that the African Union (AU) peacekeeping forces stationed there can leave
In the meantime, Ahmed has a lot of work cut out for him. He has said he will name a Prime Minister and form a government in the coming days. As he shuttles between Djibouti and Mogadishu, it will be fascinating to see if this insurgent leader-turned-poster boy of moderate leadership can actually create some stability in Somalia while catering to the demands of Ethiopia, the US and the UN.
And that's not all for Somalia...
On Wednesday, in Indian submarine and 2 Chinese warships were involved in a half-hour standoff in the Gulf of Aden while on a pirate patrol mission. The vessels were engaged in maneuvers that tested the others' sonar systems for weaknesses. Eventually, the Indian submarine allegedly surfaced and the tension diffused.
This incident in and of itself is alarming because China and India, engaged in military standoffs in the past over a common border, have never been involved in a naval altercation. But what is even more significant is that the incident highlights hidden agendas behind the presence of many different navies in the Gulf of Aden under the banner of fighting pirates. China, India, Japan, Iran, Russia, the EU and the US all have a naval presence off the coast of Somalia. Yes. They're there to fight pirates and save the global shipping industry from being held captive. But each is there with a hidden agenda: to reestablish a presence in Africa to underscore economic and political influence. It is anyone's guess to see what happens with this piracy episode, but what will be telling is how many other naval standoffs take place as the navies of the world sit off the coast of the Somalia.