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PRECIS: OBSTACLES TO PEACE IN SOMALIA
Analysts in the West have tended to interpret the current crisis in Somalia primarily as a conflict between Islamist extremists and the Ethiopian supported Transitional Federal Government (TFG.). However, it is important to realize that the Somali crisis is fundamentally rooted in clan rivalries and sub-clan conflicts, and this is the main reason why a functioning government has proven so elusive.
It is virtually impossible to create a viable government when there are no functioning institutions to carry out its objectives. If that wasn’t tough enough, Somalia is also saddled with the compounding problem of the sheer numbers of participants included in its fledgling government. This phenomenon is necessitated by the belief that the right formula for a Somali government should have every tribe, clan, and sub-clan represented, preferably by its own warlords or those aspiring to emulate them.
Then again, these “representatives”, in turn, need to be “palatable” to those who make it possible from time to time for these institutional gatherings to take place, namely IGAD (the Intergovernmental Authority for Development), the Arab League, and the European Union (EU). Over-representation has been the recurring theme for the last 16 years, it failed time and again, and nothing fundamental has changed to make this latest attempt to establish a lasting government fare any better than previous efforts.
It is completely unrealistic to expect a relatively modest contingent of African troops to legitimize the TFG and bring peace and stability back to Mogadishu. Warlord violence and terror bombings are likely to dominate in the long run unless the international community pursues creative, pragmatic long-term solutions to bring back this troubled nation and its’ people from the downward spiral of destruction and despair.
While there is a lively debate over the morality and rationale behind the intrusion of Ethiopian forces in Somalia, it is a fact. Furthermore, the United States and others have pledged support for the placement of transitional African Union peace keeping forces. Consequently, the United States, European Union, United Nations and others should begin the often lengthy bureaucratic process of allocating funds and designing development/reconstruction/education training and exchange programs and competitively determining effective and accountable partnerships to achieve these goals.
Time is a critical factor in trying to implement any plan to rescue Somalia including the following one:
A PROPOSAL: REMOVING OBSTACLES TO PEACE IN SOMALIA
I. A Nationwide Somali Tribal Elder Meeting
Grass-roots clan reconciliation is a must if Somalia is to see any lasting peace. IGAD, which convened the Nairobi conference in 2005, should not organize the next reconciliation process. Nor should any other foreign capital serve as a viable alternative for this meeting. Foreign interests tend to color the outcome of such meetings when held abroad, and there is a tendency of the hosts to inject particular points of view or their solutions.
This meeting should take place in an environment conducive to the Somali way of doing things, which is to say in a traditional manner under the proverbial tree. Traditional tribal leaders should represent their respective tribes and local interests, whenever possible. “warlords” and “outsiders” should not participate in these deliberations, if at all avoidable.
- Local governance and a “bottom up approach”
The struggle in Somalia is ultimately about the competition for resources and opportunities for the individual as well as society to get ahead in life. Somalis believe this goal necessitates having power, and power requires weapons. For things to get better, this equation must change!
The best approach to reverse the current condition is to change the established paradigm of rewarding violence and replace it with rewards incentive for those ideas and actions that promote peace, stability, law, order and accountability. While seemingly a lofty goal, this fundamental goal is very achievable with the right kind of support and incentives from the international community.
Instead of expecting foreign troops to bring normalcy back to Mogadishu, a more likely scenario is the one described by Dr. Michael Weinstein (PINR) as he accurately points out the current motivation of most outside interests:
“Although it is too early to tell whether or not reconciliation talks will occur or whether or not a stabilization mission will be deployed, it is clear that support for those goals in terms of willingness to sacrifice is no better than half-hearted for reasons that are intelligible in terms of each actor's perceived interests: Somalia is not high enough on the agendas of international organizations and Western powers to supersede other concerns; Somalia's regional neighbors have their own conflicting strategic interests in the country that lead them to take sides in its conflicts; and African states outside the Horn and its environs have no direct interest in Somalia at all, and will follow the lead of interested actors only to gain financial and diplomatic support from them. In light of those considerations, it is reasonable to expect that external actors are unlikely to be able to stem Somalia's slide into the devolutionary cycle.”
A better approach is for the international community to make a credible offer of substantial aid and reconstruction funding for any city, or region (or national entity) that takes the initiative to create through consensus and a democratic process security and order for its population. UN supervised elections would ultimately become part of this process.
While it is difficult to produce instant honest and good leaders, it is quite possible to create the conditions that allow these qualities to flourish by empowering the people to choose their leaders through universal democratic or indigenous consensus selection processes.
Even if these new leaders are initially elected more on a tribal basis then on complete enfranchisement, they are far more likely to have legitimacy than those who have assumed power at the point of a gun. Fair and accountable leadership selection is at the crux of African political development and central to the peaceful transfer of power.
Given the long absence of a Somali national identity, it is not possible to divorce tribalism from the Somali culture today. Tribalism, by nature, is a defensive mechanism; it is the only form of social security for the individual when all else fails. We need to recognize this phenomenon given its proper weight. A different perspective is needed that does not equate the rise or fall of an individual leader with the overall fortunes of a particular tribe or clan.
The current established conditions can change as personal security is enhanced and elected/selected governments at the local and national level become realities. Only then will the tribal choke-hold on individuals lessen to the degree necessary to re-establish a national identity.
- Somaliland to host the meeting
There is a regional model worth emulating! The former British protectorate, Somaliland (to the north) has all but mastered the grassroots, bottom up approach of Somali political representation and transition. There, power is defused among elders (Guurti), and elected representatives to parliament, follow the social contract, support overlapping but separate powers, and insure the peaceful transfer of power. Three successful elections and peaceful transfers of power prove this point, perhaps unique among recent political activities on the entire African continent.
Somaliland , as a location, also offers many advantages as the preferred place to launch this new paradigm for all Somalis. Thus, we propose an all inclusive meeting where the international community can facilitate this approach and explore how best to implement it with the representative leaders of the Somali tribes, the TFG ,members of the UIC, members of the Diaspora, as well as local and international NGO’s.
Having undergone a similar process (without help from the international community), Somaliland’s leaders can share their experiences with other Somalis. It is also critical that these Somalis are seen by all as neutral in the ongoing struggle for power in Mogadishu. Hargeisa, Somaliland, also can provide a secure environment for such a meeting to take place. A simple corollary is that it is in the best interest for the future of Somaliland to have a legitimate government in the South so that it can help resolve the thorny issue of convergence, semi-autonomy, or full independence for Somaliland.
- Resources and Conditional Aid
International assistance programs, the United States, United Nations, the European Union and even the Arab League have not placed Somalia high on their list of nations and peoples needing assistance. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), for example, has allocated only $2.5 million in basic assistance. Then again, USAID has vast resources with over $2.0 billion allocated to Africa. Similarly the U.S. State Department has funds (some $157 million) for educational and cultural affairs, and an allocation of $48.6 million for “Transition Institution” projects. Perhaps the potential for a non-violent, non-terrorist Somalia is worthy of the re-allocation of some of these funds for this purpose. Similarly, the “front-end” pro-active approach to peace keeping, long term institutional development and culturally attuned democratic institution building is far more likely to serve as an effective use of funds – than the occasional deployment of foreign troops and potential for enhanced terrorist activities launched from a former nation in domestic turmoil.
Similarly, the European Development Fund has allocated 1.5 percent of its resources to peace keeping and to the European “Peace Facility.” The African Union, in turn, has established the “East Africa Community,” and the “Intergovernmental Authority on Development (sited above). The EU and AU have joined to support peace keeping efforts. However, the key for these and other actions (including United Nations deployments) is to engage in post-conflict reconstruction and development in an integrated and holistic manner in order to bridge the divide between peace keeping and development!
The UN should establish a strong presence and assist in laying the groundwork necessary to hold future elections. It also has expertise in a wide variety of functional areas, but qualified Somalis should be employed at all levels whenever possible.This perspective will also encourage the Diaspora community to contribute to the reconstruction of the nation and reverse its endemic brain drain.
The key to success is the introduction of direct contact and interaction between the international community and the local population without having to go through the less than reliable filters of warlords or the current “paper government”. This approach will reduce the “need” for everyone to see the government as the only source of economic or personal security.
Coordinated development, educational and institution building efforts are far more likely to establish the minimum economic standard, enhanced employment opportunities, and a sense of hope for young and old alike. This future is possible in contrast to the current scenario of youngsters, without any hope of advancement, standing on the back of pick-up truck with Kalashnikovs as their only answer.
Over the long run, infrastructure projects, such as roads, wells, restoring electrical grids, farming, fisheries, reforestation programs, as well as jump starting small industries will create the right momentum and conditions for the creation of a cohesive stable community. Over the short run, opening communication, seeking the guidance of elders, and finding ways to build hope and create lasting institutions, is the way to proceed.
We have seen far too often when the international community disengages from Somalia it is forced to come back and face much more dire and unpredictable situations that with some foresight and a minimum investment did not have to occur.
This sentiment was echoed by Senator Feingold when he pointed out in his opening statement in a recent hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on African Affairs when he said:
“I chaired a hearing of this Subcommittee exactly five years ago, on February 6, 2002 on this exact topic. During that hearing we discussed policy options. We discussed terrorism and al-Qaeda. We discussed the absence of a transitional government. We discussed the need for a more far-sighted, comprehensive U.S. government policy. Most importantly and most troubling to me now, in today’s context, we also discussed how important Somalia was to our national security in a post-9/11 context and how we needed to do more. Walter Kansteiner, then Assistant Secretary of State for Africa at that time, began his opening statement by pointing out, and I quote, “that it is far easier to prevent failure than to cope with its consequences.” He then admitted, and I quote again: “ Somalia has not been on the U.S. Government’s radar screen since really about 1994.”
- Recommended Actions
A coordinated effort is required within the U.S. Federal and Congressional communities, the EU, AU and UN. Each institution should use this analysis as a launching point for the establishment of an international workshop in Somaliland to review and achieve a long-lasting resolution of conflict for Somalia.
Similarly, support is needed in the private sector to establish a coordinated effort among members of the Somali Diaspora, and nonprofit institutions and think tanks in the United States, Europe, the Middle East, Somalia and Somaliland to address these problems and create functional, culturally attuned programs that are critical for this plans success.
One first step, as an act of good faith, is for the international community to demonstrate its willingness and resolve to assist the Somali people by immediately undertaking such projects in Somaliland and Puntland where self-governance has been established, and using these initial models of excellence as a primer for the rest of the nation’s development.
More concretely, the US should use its influence on Addis to signal its desire to withdraw Ethiopian troops from Somali soil, assist in the reconstruction of the nation, and reduce the probability of a nationalistic or religious insurgency taking root.
International troop deployment, as recently supported by Assistant Secretary of State Frazer, is needed in peaceful areas to maintain the status quo or enhance conditions, while providing time for the communication and reconstruction tracks presented here to work
As an incentive for Somaliland to host these meetings, the international community should also consider economic and security guarantees to overcome initial resistance from some political corners not too keen for involvement in the affairs of Mogadishu.
Alternating between humanitarian intervention and preemptive action in Somalia is not going to produce favorable results. Rather a long term, coordinated, engagement is required, one that has the vision to win the hearts and minds of the people. It is much easier to convince Somalis that one is on their side at ground level, as the Peace Corps did in the 60’s, than from combat aircraft at 20,000 feet.
Demonstrable, positive and beneficial actions anywhere in Somalia from the international community are a pre-requisite to combat the negative image of the West. One has to demonstrate the willingness to invest in the people before one can win their hearts and minds. The question is whether the United States, the EU, and others are willing take on this challenge.
The best way to make a friend is to be one!
Mahdi A. Abdi
East Africa Policy Institute
March 15th 2007