, MOGADISHU, Aug 19 – Somalia’s prime minister reshuffled his cabinet Tuesday, replacing his foreign and defence ministers as his embattled administration struggles to fend off a bloody Islamist insurgency.
The reshuffle saw one minister sacked, two new portfolios created and appeared to mark an attempt by the transitional federal administration to defuse clan tensions and be more inclusive of some key regions.
"After lengthy discussions between the president and the prime minister, a decision was made to reshuffle the cabinet in order to help improve the situation in the country," Abdulkader Mohamoud Walayo, a spokesman for the transitional federal government (TFG), told AFP.
"I hope this cabinet will be able to perform better and restore stability in Somalia," he added.
Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke reshuffle comes three and half months into a bruising military offensive by a coalition of hardline Islamist insurgents groups aimed at toppling internationally-backed President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.
One of the most notable changes was Mohamed Abdi Gandi’s removal from the defence ministry. He was replaced Abdallah Boss Ahmed, a politician from the self-proclaimed northern region of Somaliland.
Gandi was criticised for failing to significantly beef up the TFG’s military capacity and not taking the fight to the Shebab — an Al Qaeda-inspired rebel group — and their allies from the more political Hezb al-Islam.
Significantly, Sheikh Yusuf Indahhade — a powerful Islamist warlord who recently joined forces with Sharif — was appointed deputy defence minister.
Sharmarke also appointed Ali Jama Ahmed Jengeli as foreign minister, in place of Mohamed Abdullahi Omar, who was given the water and mining portfolio.
Jengeli is from the semi-autonomous northern region of Puntland and was already a foreign minister under Sharif’s predecessor, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, who resigned last year.
Dahir Mohamud Gele was named the new minister of information, replacing Ali Mohamed, who will now be in charge of militia rehabilitation.
A new post of treasury minister was also created to work alongside the existing finance minister and handed to Abdirahman Omar Osman.
The changes in the cabinet bring to 39 the total number of ministers and appear to address the grievances of some key Somali clans.
"There are two new Abgal ministers. They had been unhappy with the previous distribution of portfolios and this reshuffle looks like an attempt to prevent any internal destabilisation," one official said on condition of anonymity.
With or without changes to the cabinet, observers remained sceptical as to the administration’s ability to make any impact on the situation in Somalia, which continues to be ravaged by an 18-year-old civil conflict.
Sharif, a young radical cleric who spearheaded the 2006 struggle against Ethiopia’s invasion, was elected as the country’s president in January.
He has since failed to assert his administration’s and remained largely boxed into his presidential compound in Mogadishu, owing his survival mainly to the presence of African Union peacekeepers.