by Abdi Ismail Samatar
University of Minnesota
April 1, 2007
The European Union (EU) and the United States have “urged” Somalia’s weak and illegitimate Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to negotiate with ‘moderate’ elements of the Islamic Courts and other stakeholders in order to form a broad-based and inclusive transitional authority which can advance reconciliation and secure the peace. Such a push by the USA and EU is a tacit recognition that the TFG is illegitimate. The EU, unlike the United States which has supported Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia and which has endorsed the TFG, informed the latter that it was not prepared to release funds to help the country unless the latter committed itself to the creation of an inclusive government. In response to the EU’s demand several TFG ministers traveled to Brussels and reported to the EU that the regime was ready to organize the reconciliation conference in Mogadishu. Although all the details are not known it is clear from the regime’s proposal that it will invite 3000 delegates and manage the convention.[ii] The EU appears to have accepted the proposal and the ministers returned to Nairobi/Baidoa in a cheery mood. Since then, the TFG leader has declared that the invitees will be solely clan elders and representatives, and a sprinkling of others. These developments have generated some excitement among the TFG and donors, however, if the reconciliation project proceeds along the lines imagined by the TFG and the funders it is highly unlikely that the affair will bear fruitful peace and garner legitimacy for the regime. This dim prospect for reconciliation has been destroyed by the indiscriminate mass murder of Somalis by the Ethiopian forces in and around Mogadishu The Ethiopian offensive has completely shattered any possibility for the TFG gaining any acceptance from the Somali people. In other words, the TFG is dead but Somalis must move forward with positive reconciliation.
Such grim prognosis is now vindicated by the brutality visited on Mogadishu by Ethiopian troops with the consent of the West. Thoughtful observers who were familiar with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) led Kenya-based Somali peace process in 2002/4 will recognize the un-mistakable congruence between the proposed congress, the formula put forward for selecting delegates, the attitude of the donors, and the modalities of the previous convention which produced the TFG. The original argument for holding the Kenya conference in the first place was the assumption that the Arta caucus, 1999-2000, that established the former Transitional National Government (TNG) was not inclusive as the warlords who were invited chose not to participate. IGAD and its international partners claimed then that the 2002/4 conference was inclusive since all the merchants of violence were present. Despite ample evidence to the contrary, the donors refused to heed the warning that they were courting disaster by endorsing a fraudulent process that excluded genuine representatives of the major stakeholders, such as civic groups and religious leaders.
The IGAD led convention lasted slightly over two years and had a price tag of millions of dollars. Despite its cost in time, money, and the misery of people waiting for peace the conference produced neither peace nor reconciliation among Somalis. Instead, it sanctioned the warlords to concoct a deeply contradictory transitional charter which the international community endorsed as Somalia’s transitional constitution. A second consequence of the affair was the selection of the overwhelming majority of parliamentarians by warlords, who then chose a president and cabinet beholden to Ethiopia. The Kenyan host, IGAD, and the so-called international partners who managed and funded the conference hailed these developments as a major breakthrough. Unfortunately, before the ink dried on the documents of the agreement the warlords rekindled their conflicts and broke into two camps: those Ethiopia supported, led my Abdillahi Yusuf and Ali Geedi, moved to Jowhar, and their opponents returned to their Mogadishu base. Divisiveness among warlords and the incompetence of the key TFG leaders disabled the new regime from making any progress towards restoring peace and re-establishing public order. Consequently, Nairobi and Addis Ababa remain to be the hub of Somali politics as the former was the preferred destination of the TFG leaders as well as the headquarters of those elements of the international community involved in Somalia, while the latter city was transformed from the supplier of ammunition to some of the warlords to the virtual capital of the TFG .
The stalemate between the two warlord factions was foreseen by honest observers of the conference but IGAD managers and their international supporters refused to come to terms with the odious establishment they have fostered. Their contempt for the Somali people was so deep that they thought even the worst of dispensations – a warlord authority that is a lackey- was good enough for Somalis. Paradoxically, they were eager to get credit for “restoring peace” to Somalia although they were disinclined to do the heavy lifting necessary to ensure that the people’s wishes were respected. The creation of a dysfunctional regime incapable of doing anything right was due to not only mismanagement of the conference in which the mediators, Kenya and Ethiopia, were blatantly partisan, but also because the entire design of the gathering was anchored on a deeply flawed assumption. Key IGAD states such as Kenya accepted the scenario that clans are the natural political building blocs in Somalia, although Kenya has always shied away from politically Balkanizing its population into tribes. In contrast, Ethiopia, whose political structure has been constitutionally entrenched in tribal ethos since 1991, did everything possible to deepen the tribalization of Somali politics as that dovetailed with its own agenda. Further experts who advised the EU funders confounded the consequence of Somalia’s dictatorial rule with the causes of social fragmentation. That is, they felt that mismanagement of public affairs and the ruthless regime aided by corrupt elite competition was not the cause of recent social fragmentation but the neglect of genealogy as the principal base of governance. This understanding of Somalia’s political problem is identical to that of the warlords. Hence, the funders missed to appreciate that political genealogy is a product of dictatorship rather than Somali tradition and therefore they were unable to distinguish between the appearances of genealogy from its instrumentalist use by the elite who were eager to raid public resources and monopolize power.
Funders have not been keen to know other feasible explanation of Somalia’s catastrophe and they have been most skeptical about any Somali civic project. In essence, they do not want to be bothered with more complex analysis of the problem despite the fact that they have spent significant amount of money and energy on the matter. The author came across the prevailing attitude of the funders and their advisors. In one instance a group of European and American staff gathered for dinner in a fancy club in Eldoret and laid out what they considered to be the road map for the conference as well as the key items to be negotiated. The most critical decision of the funders was the conviction that the conference will produce a clan-based federal system. Two Somali scholars present were not even asked what they thought about the idea as the hosts assumed general agreement. Such a belief in federalism logically followed an earlier decision they made which dealt with the identity of the delegates invited to the conference. Although IGAD and the funders agreed that clan identity was the principal yardstick used to select delegates, this instrument was adjusted to reflect political loyalty to the dominant warlords. Consequently, delegates were ultimately selected by the warlords and the TNG from loyalists who ostensibly represented their clansmen. This meant that warlords and other members of the political elite used clan identity as a Trojan horse in selecting their supporters by creating the illusion of representational inclusivity of clans. Unfortunately, the so-called international democrats who funded the operation failed to recognize this contradiction and its social implications. Most Somalis who watched the process realized the farcical show the operation was, but hoped those entrusted with national responsibility will somehow miraculously give up their sectarian agenda and metamorphosize into conscientious leaders. This wishful thinking soon withered away and the reconciliation hoax fell apart.
In the midst of this stalemate, an unexpected Somali force came to the fore and changed the political landscape of the country for a while. The Union of Islamic Courts took control of most parts of Southern Somalia in 2006 until they were defeated by the American sanctioned invading Ethiopian forces in December. Despite their setback, the Courts left behind a legacy of legitimacy that is in sharp contrast to the illegitimacy of the Ethiopian backed TFG. Those members of the international community who either endorsed the Ethiopian invasion or supported the TFG have been scrambling to find a way to fabricate legitimacy for the regime and continue to down-play the Ethiopian occupation of Somalia. The United States and the European Union, despite their differential stances on the Ethiopian intervention, share the idea that a government of national unity can be an instrument for reconciliation and legitimacy for the TFG. neither the EU nor the USA has articulated how a genuine reconciliation process could be possible in the presence of the Ethiopian occupation force and sectarian TFG militias in Mogadishu.
The idea of reconciliation and a coalition government sounds appealing on its face value but a closer examination of the proposed process almost guarantees that it will replicate the enterprise that created the TFG which lacked popular support. First, the TFG reconciliation proposal is an ill-drafted document that is at best vague on many of the key issues. Second, the selection of delegates to the reconciliation conference will be done by the leadership of the TFG. Such a scheme will be a mirror image of what transpired in the Kenya-based conference where the warlords selected their clients to create the TFG. It also appears doubtful, just as was the case in Kenya, that any of the major donors is prepared to demand that non-TFG stakeholders freely choose their representatives to the reconciliation conference.[iii] Third, the TFG leader announced that delegates to the conference will number 3000 individuals. This unwieldy congregation is inspired by the TFG and donor idea that the Somali conflict is clan based and therefore the widest representation of all genealogical groups is necessary. Fourth, the TFG’s reconciliation document does not directly state what the nature of the Somali conflict is and who exactly the combatants are that need to be reconciled. It fleetingly refers to its military victory without specifying who it defeated and who might need to be brought into the reconciliation process. It also completely avoids the fact that the TFG needs to be reconciled with the majority of the Somali people who have consistently reject it. Fifth, the TFG’s tribalist reconciliation strategy contradicts its claim that important lessons can be learned from reconciliation processes in Rwanda and South Africa. Ironically, Rwanda and South Africa have rejected the ethnic explanation of their conflict and the TFG does not seem to understand this. Finally, in addition to all of the above problems, the horrors on the population by the Ethiopian forces in the last few weeks have turned the entire proposition into a grotesque parody. It is no longer a viable option.
Genuine Route to Reconciliation
The only alternative that had the potential of bringing desperately needed legitimacy to the TFG institutions and peace to the country was the expulsion of Ethiopia’s illegal occupation of the country, and by bringing onboard genuine representative of the country’s most legitimate stakeholders: the Islamic courts and their followers, and members of civil society groups. Mogadishu’s “killing fields” has blown asunder the chances that the TFG will gain legitimacy through reconciliation. Ethiopia’s heinous assault on the Somali capital has literally killed the TFG. Despite the demise of the TFG Somalis must come together and reconcile to restore their dignity and independence. Such a gathering must be held soon and should involve 30 delegates whose integrity and love for the Somali people are beyond the shadow of doubt. These individuals must produce a national charter based on the 1960 constitution and nominate a small cabinet that will be a caretaker government for two years. The delegates who nominate the caretaker cabinet will not be able to appoint themselves nor will the cabinet be able to extend its mandate or be eligible for the first post-caretaker dispensation. The only way this will succeed is if the Somali people who have moved by the horrors visited on them by the Ethiopian regime and their Somali suppliants enthusiastically support this effort.
Members of the international community who have been implicated in the events of the past four years, particularly those of the last eight months, and who have been shamelessly silent about Ethiopian atrocities must drop their disingenuous practice and earnestly support genuine reconciliation via this new departure.
The principal task of the caretaker administration is to organize a genuine political reconciliation focused on the creation of just system and responsible government. Second, they will organize an independent constitutional commission that will produce a genuine Somali charter to be voted on by the people before the two years term is over. For this strategy to work and to secure the peace and common citizenship, a program of institution building should commence immediately.
This will require an honest international community serious about democracy taking the lead in re-building the administrative institutions of the government. The international community which is bound to pay for a significant amount of the cost of building this establishment could do the following in tandem with the Somali driven political reconciliation process. Given that an effective public service is essential for good governance and justice, a select group of old retired but skilled Somalis and relatively younger professionals who are employed in international institutions, overseas universities, and local institutions can be paired with a small number of expatriate technicians to work on this project. None of the Somalis deployed in this manner will be eligible for political office in the period immediately after the transition. The purpose of this constraint on the professionals is to ensure that they do not use this responsibility as a political platform for their own ends. Establishing a functioning public management system that will be handed over to the post-caretaker government must operate with a high degree of professional autonomy as that is an essential prerequisite for accountable government. Without such a development, the reconciliation process is unlikely to be sustainable beyond this period. Will members of the international community who have sanctioned the warlords, the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia and the carnage in Mogadishu have the moral courage to undertake this effort? All the signals point in the wrong direction! Therefore, Somali patriots with skills and means must put their resources together to jumpstart this venture.
In nut-shell, the TFG has died with the carnage in Mogadishu. It is now or never for Somali patriots to stand-up.
Abdi Ismail Samatar, Professor of Geography
University of Minnesota
E-mail: [email protected]
[i] The Essay was written four weeks ago and the last section has been significantly rethought. The earlier version is forthcoming.
[ii] TFG, RoadMap to Governance, National Dialogue and Reconciliation in Somalia (Unpublished Document).
[iii] Corruption in the Kenya-based conference did not only alter the composition of delegates, but also wasted a lot of money without producing peace. The TFG’s proposed budget for the conference in the amount of $32,680,000 indicates that the conference will a booty for the victors and baksheesh for their handpicked clients.