Warlords, Ethiopian invasion, war crimes, suppression of free press and civil society and the unconventional approach of state reconstruction in Somalia
by Daud Ed
Thursday, February 28, 2008
“One should not pretend that models for a harmonious world order are ready at hand, and it would be equally disingenuous to suppose that ideas of peace and community have much of a chance when power is moved to action by aggressive perceptions of “vital national interests” or unlimited sovereignty”
Edward W Said, Culture and Imperialism, 1993, p. 20
During the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, the United Nations Security Council the western diplomats, and some commentators were discussing the urgency of salvaging the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), as if it is a government of national unity and failing to do so will have negative consequence for Somali populace, and the security of the Greater Horn of Africa.
The UN Security Council passed resolution 1725 which lifted the arms embargo, and made possible the Ethiopian invasion and other African Union (AU) peacekeeping forces to assist Somalia’s TFG. The argument I was making in my articles and spent allot of time discussing with like-minded friends and others who apposed, and irritated to hear my point of view was that, how come the UN Security Council would allow such an act - the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia - and the very idea of giving unpopular, and illegitimate TFG unconditional support without strings attached, which to me, was a blank check for destabilization, and undoing everything that Somalis achieved for the last ten years.
The failure of UN Security Council and other International Contact Groups (ICG) on Somalia is unjustified; they had the commitment, the willingness, the financial resources, and the information necessary to make a rational intervention. However, the UN and ICG for same reason made a wrong choice relying Ethiopian evasion, and bolstering a government run by warlords, incompetent politicians, and self appointed clan leaders, who are not able to gain the legitimacy, and consensus building necessary to create government of nation unity. In the context of Somali politics at the end of 2006 rational/realistic intervention would mean building TFG’s capacity through national reconciliation, and condition any future funds by meeting performance goals, as well as demanding a credible leaders, and competent bureaucracy that are able to meet the challenge of reconstructing a modern state from zero. While pressuring the opposing parties to come to the table, because military intervention, especially one led by the Ethiopia’s autocratic prime minister in a post 911 environment is a recipe for disaster. The Southern and Central Somali, which has been the most unstable area was undergoing a major political transformation or what I described a paradigm shift – a shift from zero sum politics, dominated by view criminal warlords and their militias, to a politics of hope and integrity, with its defining feature of predictability and credibility which as been missing in Somali politics since the independence in 1960, led by Union UIC, business groups, and other local civil society organizations.
However, in retrospect the influence of the extremist elements in UIC were insignificant and were part of what Professor Michael A. Weinstein rightly calls “revolutionary cycle,” given UIC’s acceptance of TFG as de facto government of Somalia in first Khartoum meeting; their cooperation with the European Union (EU) representatives and other diplomats; as well as their education policy that did not prevent girls attend schools, but encouraged; and when Sheikh Sharif who was the head of the executive branch of UIC gave speech at one of the Mogadishu secondary schools, some of the audience who were asking the critical questions were girls who attended this school. Furthermore, the media, civil society groups, and business had a stable environment to perform their important function in society without any restrictions. In addition, crime was all time low since the collapse of Somali state; the price of weapons and other ammunitions fall more than half; the value of Somali shilling was gaining its lost value.
The pretext for the Ethiopian invasion was not to stabilize Somalia, but to prevent UIC becoming a unifying force that could pose unsubstantiated threat to Ethiopia’s national security interest, with the cost of Somalia’s stability. It was the chairman of the African Union (AU) Alpha Omar Konare who commended the invasion by saying; Ethiopia has a right to defend its national security interest. However, Mele Zenawi’s meddling in Somali politics predates the formation of UIC. He had engaged a proxy war to sabotage every political initiative and realignment to revive and jump start Somalia’s collapsed state, such as Transitional National Government (TNG) - a product of a two year long peace process hosted by the Djibouti government, and included different stake holders, including warlords, civil society groups, clan leaders, women’s groups, Islamists intellectuals, and expatriates – the creativity, the hard work, and the compromise that goes into this peace process was possible, because the warlords were in steep decline, and impotent to pose a major threat to any peace deal that bring together various interests groups, and civil society organizations. The biggest misconception of some political analysts in Somali politics is that they consider Somali conflict as pure clan competition, and the warlords as clan leaders that enjoy the support of their sub clans.
However, the warlords are the product of the civil war, and proliferated after the disintegration of clan unity to provide security for the members of their sub-clans, and to contain the warlords of other clans. In other word, they were notorious entrepreneurs, who managed to win the support of their sub-clans, while financing their activities through various check-points that stalled the clan’s economic activity. As result, the clan’s discontent of the warlords, left no other option, but to shift their loyalty to business elites, who provided employment for fellow clan members and granted security through business partners from other clans. In other words, the warlords and business elites who belonged the same sub-clans, had a different priorities and agendas.
The warlord’s power and influence increase with instability, and chaos, and their mission is to create an environment that is receptive to their activity. On the other hand, business elites prosper through stable environment, and were eager to exploit the untapped social capital - honesty, trust, predictability, and multi-clan business enterprises to improve security and expand market for their goods and services. Therefore their mission contributes towards improving security, and in the end genuine national reconciliation, and state reconstruction. Furthermore, the main reason some political commentators and experts misdiagnose the protracted Somali conflict is that, they fail to appreciate the importance of informal networks – traditional clan leaders, business groups, Islamists, and civil societies - and their creativity to achieve not only stability, but competitive and efficient economy that provide better services than the governments and the private sectors of the neighboring states.
When the TFG was created in 2004, United States, European Union, and other donor countries were not satisfied the competence and the integrity of the leadership of the TFG, because the process was not inclusive, and instead of being a national reconciliation process for all the Somali stakeholders, it became a narrow process for the warlords, their close associates, and self appointed clan leaders. However, the International community shifted their approach when the UIC - which has been clan-based courts - ascended in to power, after three month war, declared by the Mogadishu-based warlords, to stop Somalia becoming a safe- heaven for terrorists.
The ascendancy of the UIC as major political and military force and their discipline, organizational skills, competence, efficiency and the speed they have cried their activities have got the attention of otherwise disinterested diplomats and policy experts. However, after four month of junior level diplomatic contact with UIC, the UN Security Council decided to support TFG and considered the UIC as rouge element, and radical Islamists who are threat to the stability in the region. As a result Somalia became another front of the global war on terror. Furthermore, Somali’s political conflict which has been a local issue had become international, and more complicated to find a coherent solution.
In conclusion, the TFG has become the biggest obstacle to genuine national reconciliation and any prospect of achieving sustainable peace and creation of government of national unity. The UN and other donor countries must accept the fact that the incompetence of TFG is permanent and imbedded in its genes, therefore, diplomatic recognition, and financial support will not reverse that condition. I am convinced that the new Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein is man of integrity and he means what he says, but lack of political progress towards reconciliation is eroding his momentum. The Prime Minister must realize that nice words and good intention are not enough to reverse bloodshed and the war crimes; and it’s unacceptable after four month in office he doesn’t have action plan, or direct communication with the opposition. I have no doubt that the president Yusuf and other officials of the TFG don’t want genuine national reconciliation, but the Prime Minister must act courageously to reverse this trend. On the other hand The Alliance for the Liberation of Somalia (ALS) must change their warrior/rebel mentality to find a sustainable solution to Somali suffering through initiating realistic road map, and expend their political base by inviting any one who is interested to end the chronic suffering of our people. It is time for the ALS to change their tactics and instead of focusing the Ethiopian invasion and arms resistance, must explore a political solution that will bring together various stake-holders, and simultaneously achieve the same goal of ending Ethiopian invasion and the war crimes they are committing daily, against unarmed civilians.
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