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Starting Over In Somalia: How To Break The Cycle Of Failure
By: AFRICA INSIGHT - The Transitional Federal Government is on the verge of failure. Reconvening parliament next week may be the last chance to save it, writes MATT BRYDEN
The formation of Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in October 2004 at Mbagathi, Kenya, was supposed to arrest Somalia 's vicious cycle of statelessness, insecurity and humanitarian crisis.
Somalia 's fractious leaders take an oath: They bear direct responsibility for their country's plight
Instead, nearly one and a half years later, the country has rarely been in worse shape: the UN says some 1.4 million people are threatened by drought and hunger; a recent surge in maritime piracy has made Somali waters among the most dangerous in the world; and a new jihadi organization based in Mogadishu represents a growing terrorist threat to Somalia and the region. Meanwhile, the TFG has been limping along the path to collapse or - worse - to war with itself.
Somalia's fractious political leaders bear direct responsibility for their country's plight: their inability to unite behind a functioning central government means there is no hope for the rule of law, no way to provide assistance to those most in need, and no means to counter extremist ideologies and the terrorist acts they give rise to. Unless Somali leaders act soon to rescue their transitional government, it may prove impossible to reverse their country's agonizing decline.
A gunman keeps guard during a visit to Mogadishu by members of Somalia 's parliament in February last year.
They will have an opportunity do so next week when Somalia 's transitional parliament is due to convene in Baidoa, a hot, shabby town in the drought stricken southwest part of the country. The last full session of the legislature took place nearly one year ago in March 2005 at the Grand Regency Hotel in Nairobi, where a vote on foreign peacekeepers degenerated into a brawl.
Split into two armed camps
The government subsequently split into two evenly matched armed camps: one, led by the Speaker of Parliament, Sharif Hassan, and a number of faction-leaderscum-Ministers, returned to Mogadishu; the other, led by President Abdillahi Yusuf Ahmed and Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi, settled in the town of Jowhar, some 90km north of the capital. Until just two months ago it seemed as though the peace process had stalled and that the TFG would go the same way as other forgotten governments declared in Somalia since the collapse of Mohamed Siyad Barre's dictatorship in 1991.
But a political breakthrough in early January may have given the TFG a new lease of life: during talks at Aden (Yemen), the President and Speaker met and agreed on reconvening parliament as the way to resolve their differences.
Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi
The future of the peace process now hinges on the parliamentary session planned for Baidoa next week. In the worst case scenario, the assembly would fall apart, much as it did in Nairobi last year; but even the best case scenario would effectively mean starting from scratch: the TFG could at last get down to work rebuilding the country, but with only three and a half years remaining in its five year mandate.
The past year and a half has not been entirely wasted: the TFG's serial errors - most of which could have easily been avoided - provide emphatic object lessons from which it now has the opportunity to learn. If Somali leaders are not to waste this fleeting opportunity to rescue their country, they must reflect upon what has gone wrong and approach the remainder of the transition from an entirely fresh perspective.
Breaking the cycle of failure
The TFG is not the first transitional government in post-Barre Somalia - although it will hopefully be the last.
There have been no less than five internationally-sponsored authorities declared since 1991 and a larger number of self-declared 'presidents'.
Somalia's cycle of failure has become depressingly predictable: a foreign power hosts a "peace conference" punctuated by declarations of repentance, fraternity and nationalistic fervor. A transitional national authority, encumbered by dozens of fictitious ministries, eventually emerges. With the connivance of the host country, a narrow political clique - usually identified with specific clan interests - manages to monopolize power and advance its own agenda. Bands of motley militia from friendly clans are assembled and proclaimed a "national army".
Meanwhile, a loose, opportunistic opposition alliance coalesces and launches a political and military campaign to discredit the new government. The government angrily denounces the opposition as "spoilers", "criminals" and "terrorists" determined to prevent the restoration of legitimate government.
Foreign governments pick sides and provide limited financial and military support to their proxies: violence escalates and the lucky recipients make money by selling the surplus arms and ammunition in local markets.
The Speaker of Parliament, Sharif Hassan, who leads a rival camp.
Unable to exercise authority at home, the leadership dons glossy suits and embarks on extended junkets to foreign capitals and international conferences, intended to garner international legitimacy and solicit foreign aid. Of the little aid that actually arrives, most goes unaccounted for. Ultimately, having achieved next to nothing, the whole enterprise unravels or the mandate expires, a fact of which only the leaders seem unaware as they cling to their honorifics. Post mortem analyses reveal that the root cause of failure is insufficient support from the 'international community'. A friendly country steps in and the cycle repeats itself.
Close observers of the current transitional government will recognize the pattern repeating itself. If the TFG wants to escape the fate of its predecessors, it must do three simple things: form a government of national unity; respect the transitional charter; and get started on the transitional programme.
A Government of National Unity
A government of national unity was the stated purpose of the Somali National Reconciliation Conference (SNRC) that took place between October 2002 and October 2004 at first in Eldoret, then Mbagathi ( Kenya ) under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). The aim was to reconcile the ineffectual Transitional National Government (TNG, 2000-2003) led by Abdiqasim Salad Hassan with its opponents - an Ethiopian-backed alliance of faction leaders known as the Somali Restoration and Reconciliation Council (SRRC).
During the late 1990s, international hopes for reconstruction of the Somali state had been pinned to the "building blocks" approach, which recognized and supported the emergence of effective regional administrations in parts of the country. When the TNG was formed in 2000, however, it excluded the leadership of these "blocks" and offered instead a platform for their political rivals. Popular support waned and the government became increasingly aligned with the interests of the president's clan. At the same time, the TNG stood accused by Ethiopia - not without justification - of links to Islamist groups, including members of the jihadi organization al-Itihaad al-Islaami. The stage was set for conflict and the year after the TNG was formed turned out to be the most violent year on record in Somalia since the withdrawal of foreign troops in 1995.
Partly through the greed and incompetence of its leaders, partly through the efforts of the SRRC "spoilers" and their Ethiopian patrons, the TNG's authority remained confined to parts of south Mogadishu and a narrow band of coastline south towards Kismayo. As its mandate expired in late 2003, IGAD organized peace talks in Kenya to reconcile the two sides and establish a new Somali government untainted by Islamist linkages.
What emerged, after two years of shambolic negotiations, bore a promising resemblance to a government of national unity (with the notable exception of the Somaliland government, which had declared independence from Somalia in May 1991). Conference delegates had agreed on a Transitional Federal Charter, a 275-member parliament with seats assigned by clan, and a largely theoretical 'cabinet' in which roughly one third of MPs found posts. Critically, from a clan perspective, the three top posts - President, Speaker and Prime Minister - were intended to balance the aspirations of the three largest clan groupings in southern Somalia : the Hawiye, Darod and Digil-Mirifle.
Unfortunately, that was where the pretext of national unity ended. From the outset, real power within the TFG was concentrated within a trusted kitchen cabinet that consisted mainly of SRRC figures and trusted clan allies of the President and Prime Minister. Decisionmaking was highly centralized, and those who objected were branded dissidents or spoilers. This rapid polarization was replicated in the legislative assembly and ultimately paralyzed the transitional institutions altogether.
The Transitional Charter
Reversing this process means that the TFG must become a collective exercise of its constituent parts, not the political project of a given faction. That may not make for efficient government and crisp decision-making, but it is probably the only way to ensure that legitimate political differences do not sharpen to the point of rupture. It also means that power will have to be more equitably shared. For a start, the post of Prime Minister should be awarded to a key figure from the Mogadishu wing of the TFG, in order to seal the partnership between the two camps. Cabinet should also be streamlined to eliminate redundancies and ensure that decision-making is as formal and transparent as possible.
The authority of the TFG flows neither from a popular mandate, nor from the superiority earned by military victory: it derives from the Transitional Charter and, to a lesser extent, from the parliament in its role as electoral college. By straying from the Charter, the TFG leadership has needlessly divided its own house and legitimized disparate opposition forces.
Though far from perfect, the Charter sets out the ground rules for the transition, including the character, duties and powers of national institutions. From a Somali perspective it is analogous to a xeer - a form of contract in Somali customary law - that is binding upon the clans and sub-clans whose representatives signed it.
The current crisis of the TFG is in part a failure to respect three of the fundamental principles enshrined in the Charter:
Supremacy of the rule of law
Application of the Charter in a way that promotes national reconciliation, unity and democratic values; and
No individual, including the president, may arrogate to himself any state authority that does not directly emanate from the Charter.
The rifts within the TFG and parliament were ostensibly triggered by three controversial issues: the president's appeal for a regional intervention force, the related request that the UN arms embargo be lifted in order to permit deployment of such a force and to allow the TFG to arm itself, and relocation of the government to Jowhar instead of Mogadishu .
Attempting to hijack the transition
But the manner in which these proposals were presented was even more contentious than the issues themselves: opaque, unilateral and autocratic decision-making created the impression that the President and his allies were attempting to hijack the transition - by force if necessary. None of these proposals had been put forward during two full years of negotiations at the Mbagathi peace talks, and nothing in the Charter empowered the executive branch to exercise such powers. On the contrary, the Charter clearly designates Mogadishu as the capital and - in contrast with the charter of the previous TNG - makes no provision for a temporary seat of government. It also requires that parliament ratify any international agreements or treaties, including - presumably - the decision by IGAD (of which Somalia is a member state) to deploy a multinational peace support operation.
When the full parliament failed to endorse the President's proposals, a group of his parliamentary allies convened an unlawful session of their own but failed to achieve the necessary quorum.
Exasperated, the President exercised another power not provided for in the Charter and declared the Parliament 'prorogued' - an act apparently intended to remove an inconveniently democratic impediment to his agenda, rather than to advance the peace process.
In just a few short months, the TFG leadership had managed to violate all three of the Charter's most fundamental principles: it had played fast and loose with the rule of law, arrogated to itself powers it did not legally possess, and - arguably the gravest error - willfully failed to apply the Charter in a way that promoted unity, reconciliation or democratic values. These are the self-inflicted wounds from which it is now struggling to recover.
The Charter describes not only the principles the TFG must observe, but also the transitional tasks it must complete.
The most important of these are to be overseen by independent commissions, including reconciliation, disarmament and demobilization, preparation of a new constitution, designation of federal regions, and elections. A total of eleven national commissions are provided for by the Charter, although the government is at liberty to propose others.
The structures and functions of national commissions must be approved by parliament - a requirement the president apparently overlooked when he 'prorogued' the body almost one year ago. As a result, none of the national commissions has been duly constituted and started work. This is especially problematic where the Constitutional and Federal Affairs Commission is concerned, since the Charter requires that it be appointed within 90 days of the Council of Ministers taking office and that the process of federating Somalia shall be complete within a period of two and a half years. Half of this period has already elapsed.
Another urgent priority is a national security plan to guide the cantonment of militia forces and their eventual disarmament or integration into a new national security establishment. Since coercive disarmament is not a viable option, the national security plan will require the endorsement and voluntary participation of all major armed groups. Only an inclusive and politically balanced national commission will be able to achieve this.
It is probably unavoidable that the vexatious issues of foreign peacekeepers and a temporary seat of government will also be on the agenda when Parliament reconvenes. This need not prove disruptive as long as the government seeks to build consensus around its proposals, and is prepared to modify them in the process, instead of trying to bulldoze them through the assembly.
Baidoa and Beyond
The road ahead will not be smooth. It remains to be seen whether the Baidoa session will indeed take place and, if so, whether any major groups opt to stay away. Parliament must not only convene and agree on an agenda, but continue to meet until the foundations for fulfillment of the transitional charter have been put in place.
The conduct of the session presents a major challenge. The President must set the tone by persuading the assembly that he is prepared to govern on behalf of all Somalis, not just his political and clan constituencies. The Speaker must likewise demonstrate that he is indeed a neutral, consensus figure, not beholden to factional interests in Mogadishu . And the Prime Minister must put forward an agenda that transcends parliamentary divisions and unites the House behind a common programme. If he fails to do so, then the first order of business is likely to be a vote of no confidence in him and his government.
A success at Baidoa would represent a salvage operation, not forward progress. The peace process would effectively return to where it stood in October 2004, with a newly minted set of transitional institutions and a war-torn country to reinvent and rebuild - but with only three and a half years remaining in which to complete the job. Somali leaders must now prove that they are equal to the challenge: their people cannot afford another cycle of failure.
Matt Bryden is Director, Horn of Africa Project, International Crisis Group
Africa Insight is an initiative of the Nation Media Group's Africa Media Network
Source: Daily Nation, February 24, 2006