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Somalia: confidence grows in Mogadishu
The Guardian
Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A rare mood of optimism is in the air but much will depend on how the new government is.

Mogadishu is waking up from a 21-year nightmare. Countless buildings lie pulverised while people squat in tents amid the rubble but, at least for some in the capital, the war appears to have receded. Peace is a relative word, as two suicide bombers recently made clear, but in the past year al-Shabaab has suffered dramatic reverses, losing territory, revenue, and some measure of unity. The foreign armies that roamed Somalia are either putting themselves under the command of the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom), as is the case with the Djiboutian and Kenyan forces, or indicating that they intend to withdraw.

The improvement in security has been enough to encourage Somali expats to return. A rare mood of optimism is in the air, as on Monday members of a new parliament were sworn in, whose first duty will be to choose a new president, prime minister and speaker. The process has been dogged by delays, as members have been nominated by tribal elders, vetted by a committee on the hunt for warlords, and subject to a welter of allegations of intimidation and corruption. But the hope is that, along with a new draft constitution, better governance will result.

Is this optimism misplaced? Much will depend on how new the new government is. A UN report leaked recently showed how much of a problem the outgoing Transitional Federal Government (TFG) had become. As the same cast of characters are all reapplying for their old jobs as president, prime minister and speaker of parliament, the report of the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea was not merely of historical value.

In May this year a World Bank report found that $131m, representing 68% of TFG government revenue, was unaccounted for. The monitoring group went one step further. It found that seven out of every 10 dollars never made it into the state's coffers, and almost one quarter of it was absorbed by the offices of the president, prime minister and speaker of parliament. That's almost as much as the whole government spent on security. If the TFG had a motto, it should be the popular Somali phrase: "What's in it for me?"

Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, who has vowed to step down if he lost the vote of the parliament being sworn in, called the UN report fabricated and a lie. But it is clear that the extent to which people like Ahmed re-emerge in the new transitional arrangements will also be the extent of the challenge the new government faces. This is a country in which no election will be possible for some time to come. It has no working national institutions. The TFG had been on a roll, marketing its own weakness and imminent state of collapse as the lure for more funds from foreign donors. That has to stop, if the security gains are not to be reversed.


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