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The Rise and Fall of Somali Warlords: It is Time to Move Beyond The 4.5 Formula and Nurture a Sense of Citizenship and Create Civic Government

By Daud Ed
Thursday, September 27, 2007


“society in every state is a blessing, but Government, even in its best state, is a but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one: for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a Government, which we might expect in a country without Government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.”  -- Thomas Paine “Common Sense”--


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The Somali civil war – or what political scientists call Hobbesian state – started in 1991 when the Siad Barre’s regime collapsed and with it the Somali state. Clan militias embarked on a major offensive to eliminate rival clans for the control of the capital city. However, these unrealistic ambitions did not advance any clan’s interest; rather, it resulted in an “all out war” or what Thomas Hobbes called “State of Nature”. The thrust of the civil war ended in 1990. However, in the 1990’s Somalia’s political crisis entered a new phase that could be characterized as: the disintegration of clan unity, and the proliferation of warlords and their gang militia within each sub-clan, and which, in turn, turned Mogadishu into a warlord controlled fiefdoms.


These warlords acted as a containment for each other – in other words there was a balance of power – and if a fight broke up between two or more warlords, they were most likely of the same sub-clan and, as such, the fight would not last long, because they didn’t have the full support of their clan members for reasons that are very obvious. Warlords controlled the area in the city where their clan members lived, and the relationship between the warlords and their sub-clan was peculiar.  On the one hand clan members needed their warlord to contain the warlords from other clans. On the other hand warlords became parasites on their clans, by financing their gang militias through checkpoints that were not that far apart, and which exacted higher fees on the economic activity of the people under their dominion, and which, in turn, increased unemployment and the use of khat. By their actions the warlords turned Mogadishu into ghettoes, and necessary services such charity run schools, private hospitals, and even garbage collection became either nonexistent, or disrupted by the warlords.


This led business groups to find ways to protect their investment from the warlords by creating a well armed, well fed, disciplined, and relatively well paid private security that were superior to the malnourished, undisciplined, and less motivated gang militias of the warlords, who only worked for the prize of wad of khat.


The boom of private security reduced the pool of gang militia who were willing to work for the warlords. Therefore, the warlords were unable to interrupt business activity, because business groups created a safe passage for their investment that connected the seaport, and airport to the business district. This led the warlords to confine their militia in the poor neighborhoods, and turn them selves fulltime politicians, with small militia mostly drawn from his sub-sub clan, and armed, and financed by foreign autocratic regimes who believe stability in Somalia was not in their best interest and by others who engaged and wanted to prolong a vicious proxy war in Somalia. 


The late 1990’s and early 2000 relative stability resulted economic boom driven mainly by remittance, and telecommunications companies, and to a lesser extent, private hospitals, and schools partially or wholly funded by Islamic charities and other international NGO’s which provided employment for the middle class. As a result, this boom had substantially reduced the relevance of the warlords as major political players, instead they became spoilers, and Ethiopian proxy to sabotage inclusive national reconsolidation conference such as the one held in Arta, Djibouti in 2000 which created a Transitional National Government (TNG). This national reconciliation conference was convened while the warlords were in decline and business groups, and civil society organizations were making head ways. However, Arta conference presented a rare opportunity for business groups, civil society, Islamists, women’s groups, intellectuals, academics, and expatriates. For Somalis Arta conference was a missed opportunity and direction towards democratization, good governance, respect for human rights and civil liberties, free press, and the rule of law.


Ethiopia’s autocratic ruler Melles Zenawi and his Neoconservative/Evangelical advisors concluded that stability in Somalia is threat to the long term survival of his regime, and also bad for Ethiopia’s national unity and began arming warlords and held conference in Sodere, Ethiopia, which created united front for the warlord, which is known as the “Sodere group.” It included the current president of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), the current mayor of Mogadishu, and other warlords in the parliament.


The Eldoret conference in Kenya that created the current Transitional Federal Government (TFG) was the anti-thesis of the Arta conference that preceded it, and which has relatively been more inclusive, less controversial, and relied on public support. The Eldoret conference was less inclusive, more controversial and Trojan horse for Melles Zenawi and his master plan to save the Ethiopian National Unity that demands a weak and balkanized in its eastern neighbor.


The TFG was created through power sharing mechanism of 4.5 which means four main clans, and others who are composed of minority clans. However, this process was premised on the false notion that Somalia’s political conflict is a clan conflict, and can only be solved through clan reconciliation led by the warlords, with a minimal consultation with the traditional clan leaders, who lost their charisma and prestige as an institution in the last sixteen years by becoming underdogs, because the political culture that sustained their importance in society had changed after the creation of modern state. The warlords were allowed to selected members from their sub-clans, and the clan leader provided signature for the final approval.


The TFG was created in Kenya, in 2004 and to substantiate the allegations of political observers that the TFG is a Trojan horse for Meles Zenawi, the president, and prime minister are both close associates of Zenawi, and the first cabinet created while in exile were predominantly pro-Ethiopian. As a result the first cabinet was overwhelmingly rejected by the parliament and even some members of parliament engaged in a fist fight, and chair throwing.


The TFG has made two strategic blunder that put the country a violent trajectory, the first was allowing Ethiopian evasion, and second was their failure to move beyond the myth that the clan’s power sharing mechanism of 4.5 is inclusive – which means that the members of parliament are credible and representative of their clans – and there are no other stakeholders such as business groups, Islamists, civil society, women’s groups, indispensable expatriates, and intellectuals. As President Abdullahi Yusuf said in speech he gave to Buntiland audience in 2000 after the creation of Transitional Nation Government “do you know such thing as civil society? Is there such thing in Somalia?” the president went on by saying “Somalis are clan society and power has to be shared accordingly.” 


Thus, while the TFG leaders propagated this 4.5 myth in their speeches and interviews they turned Melles Zenawi to provide military support (this is before the Islamic Courts Union ascended as a major opposition group) instead of fulfilling its constitutional mandate of continuing national reconciliation, and achieving its objective of creating government of national unity. Because of their incompetence or dishonesty the TFG leaders still think that the political reconciliation ended in Kenya.


After they defeated ICU in late December 2006 with the help of Ethiopian military, and diplomatic and financial support of United Stated, and the United Nations, the TFG lack of legitimacy and their poor policy choices became liability to Somali people. Their reliance of Ethiopian military through invasion, and their ill conceived policy of zero tolerance for dissenting opinions, as well as their continued insistence of crashing the popular resistance through military means, which left more than 2000 dead, and displaced 400,000 Mogadishu residents according to UN estimate. 


An interview with Executive Intelligence Review Professor Ken Menkhaus of Davidson College, one of foremost experts in Somali politics and former advisor to the UN, as well as many US government institutions in developing policy recommendations, made this observation back in May 11, 2007 by saying, “[e]xternal actors have recognized the TFG as the sole legitimate repository of Somali sovereignty. It’s the government that we have to work with. Everyone is pressing the TFG to engage in political dialogue, to make itself more inclusive, so that it’s acceptable to a broader range of Somalis. The problem is most Somalis have already given up on it. They don’t want to legitimize it, they want to end it.”


The independent media, which is one of the corner stones of democracy and good governance, has been its lowest point since the fall of Siad Barre in 1991. The TFG used every means in its disposal to intimidate or threaten major news outlets and journalists. Many times they closed four local news stations and then changed their mind and allowed to reopen. Another time they proposed the government to regulate news and information and demanded media organizations obtain license. Further more, the increasing assassinations of journalist and members of civil society is a new phenomenon in the evolution of Somali conflict and it’s very dangerous and barbaric acts that hinder our capacity to move forward and engage state building, and at the end to reverse our status as failed state, which is long over due.


Since there are no credible public opinion polls in Somalia, the best indicator of the level of public support of existing entity has been the price of weapons and ammunitions. When people are confident of the existing entity the price of weapons and ammunitions goes down, the value of Somali shilling goes up, and the rate of inflation goes down. However, after the TFG came to power all of these indicators show that people have no confidence in this government. The price of weapons and ammunitions skyrocketed, after they dropped sharply during ICU’s brief rule; the value of Somali shilling is all time low; and there is a stagflation (which is a combination of rising inflation and the increasing rate of unemployment).


In conclusion, the renewed conflict in Somalia is not inevitable, and can only be explained on the basis of external interest engaged in zero sum politics. it was created by series of policy choices, carefully crafted and supervised by Meles Zenawi, with financial and diplomatic cover of the United States, and United Nations Security Council and to a lesser degree European Union; and executed and legitimized by the TFG, to achieve multiple objectives of those who invested in it: For Zenawi it is the survival of his regime and access to the see port; for the United States it is the war on terrorism. Thus, Somali people have no stake in this military adventure, which tries to install former warlords through Ethiopian military, which means Ethiopian military will stay as long as warlords are in power, because the warlords are politically bankrupt, and will not be able to survive without Zenawi’s protection. 

Daud Ed

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