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New Somali govt: change of name, same old game
Friday, August 17, 2012

Somalia's transitional government ends its mandate next week after eight years of infighting, little progress and rampant corruption, but the process to replace it is "deeply flawed", analysts warn.

Set up in 2004, the Western-funded Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has already extended its mandate twice, and international backers have been determined it ends by an August 20 deadline.

But analysts are gloomy that a United Nations-backed selection process will usher in nothing more than a reshuffle of leaders already fingered for graft, risking an even further fragmentation of power into the hands of local warlords.

"This is not a process: it is a power-grab by any means," said Afyare Elmi, a Somali academic at Qatar University, adding he did not see "a substantive change taking place."

"It is deeply flawed. The process is being manipulated... (parliamentary) seats are going to the highest bidders," Elmi added. "My fear is that this might lead to a new cycle of communal violence."

The UN Special Representative for Somalia Augustine Mahiga holds optimistically that after August, the Horn of Africa nation will be "more peaceful, more stable and more established in terms of democratic governance."

But the process is much criticised: the UN, African Union and East Africa's main diplomatic body IGAD warned last week that political leaders were using "bribery, intimidation (and) violence" to rig the selection of lawmakers.

"No mechanisms for accountability have been put in place to try to minimize spoilers' involvement," said Laura Hammond of Britain's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).

"The process has become entirely corrupted - the Constituent Assembly was chosen under dubious conditions, the new constitution was rubber-stamped, and the parliamentary seats are being distributed to the highest bidders," she said.

Delays to the Monday deadline are almost certain, said Roland Marchal of the Paris-based National Centre for Scientific Research.

But while a delay of a few days may be "nothing scandalous", Marchal notes far deeper problems in the process, criticising international efforts as having focused on deadlines rather than content.

"The international community should have fought for the process and values, but in the end fought only to get a constitution" on time, Marchal said.

Experts say the selection of a new government -- the latest only in a string of peace efforts in the Horn of Africa nation, at war ever since dictator Siad Barre was toppled in 1991 -- will change little on the ground.

"Unless something dramatic happens in the next week, I do not expect the new government to look much different than the old one," said Hammond.

"It may be called a Provisional Government rather than a Transitional one, but it is likely to be led by the same individuals and perhaps more importantly, by the same interests.

"If this happens, there is not much hope for tackling problems like the widely reported corruption or the holding of power by a few key individuals."

Massive steps forward have been made in Somalia, with greatly improved security in the capital and members of the diaspora returning to invest in their war-ravaged homeland.

Until Al-Qaeda linked Shebab insurgents fled fixed positions in the capital last year -- switching to guerrilla tactics including suicide bomb attacks -- the divided government controlled only a few city blocks of Mogadishu.

Today, some 17,000 African Union troops, Ethiopian soldiers and government forces -- the vast majority a ragtag coalition of militia forces, unified only in opposition to the Shebab -- have made significant territorial gains.

But extending control of the future government over the areas where the Shebab have been forced out will be a key challenge for the new government.

"The question of whether or not people in the so-called 'liberated areas' will want to accept the new government, if it is not seen as having been legitimately formed, is crucial," Hammond added.

"They may choose to continue supporting Al-Shebab clandestinely, or to try to forge their own form of local government. This could result in fragmentation of parts of southern Somalia and ultimately could mean further fighting."

And while people are desperate for peace after two decades of conflict, many leaders "have done well out of the country's flourishing war economy," notes Mary Harper, a BBC reporter and author of a recent book on Somalia.

"Until they decide there is more to gain from peace than war, it is probable that some parts of the country will continue to be affected by violence and instability for some time to come," Harper wrote in a recent paper.


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