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Taking Stock: Somalia’s Post Transition and its Discontent

by Daud Ed Osman
Saturday, May 25, 2013

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Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud on various occasions underscored his commitment to security, but he is yet to formulate coherent and sustainable strategy that is capable to improve security by weakening and defeating Al-Shabab, ideologically and militarily. Some people may as can the president and the government of Prime Minister Abdi Hashi Shirdon - alias Sa’id - able to deliver this promise? The answer to this question is of course yes, but with a clear strategy and government reform that alter the way current leadership views the security challenges, and develop capability to carry out this new strategy.

When the president came to office in September 2012, there was widespread feeling of post transition euphoria, notwithstanding government dysfunction, that anticipated external recognition of post transition government will bringing more financial resource and legitimacy. As a result, the public rallied behind the president and the new government led by Prime Minister Saa’id, and the new parliament led by speaker of parliament Mohamed Osman Jawari that gestured their committed to work with the new government.

However, the last view weeks there were many signs that indicate  public frustration and discontent of the post transition initial result, and the government inability to prevent, or reduce the number of suicide bombing carried out by Al-Shabab, and give the impression that they are in control of public security. Furthermore, the contested issue of Kismio and the attempt of some groups to create Jubbaland regional administration tested the credibility and sustainability of post transition institutions conceived through “clan formula” and its ability to manage this arduous transition from collapsed state to what I call “minimally functioning state.”

 The point is how do we interpret the government’s poor performance? And what can be done to improve it. Is the poor performance inevitable? Does it mean that we exhausted all the available options in our disposal as some analyst suggest? Or is there a flaw in the frame work that needs to be altered in order to move forward? It seems that the latter interpretation only that can focus our attention to break the vicious cycle of incompetence and confusion.

The deteriorating political and security situation testifies that the current political formula of 4.5 is not up to the challenge, because It is not a comprehensive political formula that take into consideration all the relevant stake holders who could play an important role in the post transition government.

The main culprit for the current mess is the deficient political framework that tried to legitimize clan and consider it as the only legitimate stakeholder, when in fact clan politics is losing steam. The proponents of clan framework simply failed to recognize that clan as political ideology lost credibility. We also must not forget that the track record of clan politics in Somalia has been devastating, because of its tendency to feeds antagonism, cynicism, extremism, incompetence, corruption, paranoia and zero sum politics.

It is time for the Somali President and the Prime Minister to take immediate actions to bridge the leadership and talent gap that stalled the government capacity to innovatively transform the unrelenting challenges into opportunities before it is too late. The government must seize the opportunity created by London conference on Somalia, and United Nations Security Council (UNSC) approval of UNSOM mission two weeks ago; by restructuring government and retooling the cabinet and other key government positions with competent and credible individuals who has been overshadowed by over-exaggerated clan discourse.

We must stop using the current vocabularies and concepts that kill creativity, and confined our debate to useless concepts such as: clan reconciliation; 4.5 political frameworks, the pros and cons of federalism; and the merit or demerit of the current constitution, which doesn’t give us the prospect of exploring alternative options. In addition, these concepts and vocabularies corroborate biased clan discourse and guards against any argument that question its relevance. 

Instead, we must construct new concepts and vocabularies that stimulate our creativity and supply us innovative solutions such as: genuine national reconciliation; adoption of sustainable political frame work that reflect the demographic shift and youth bulge; leadership who can inspire the masses; and focus on competence and credibility. We must realize that Change and progress doesn’t happen randomly, but they are triggered by conscious planning, and persistent search for coherent systems and institutions that are predictable, credible and efficient.

Take for example the current discussion on deteriorating security in Mogadishu. We rarely hear any discussion on ways the government can improve its image and inspire youth to contribute state building effort, instead of allowing Al-Shabab to attract more talented young people to carry out suicide missions.

Many people will agree that the current clan discussion of 4.5 will not help us improve security, because there isn’t single clan that is threat to security in the capital. Therefore, the only way to improve security in Mogadishu or other regions is to discredit and defeat Al-Shaba and its apocalyptic and cruel ideology by working closely with the Islamic scholars to formulate a plan that demystify Al-Shabab and its ideology, which is antithesis to the Islamic ideals that exhort Muslims towards moderation, compassion, meekness, piety, orderly, and Shurra/consultation (democracy).

Any government reform that doesn’t take into account the demographic shift is fated to prolong the current state. To avoid this scenario, we need a new generation of competent and credible leaders who are able to inspire the current generation of youth whose only demand is access to education, personal-growth, security, and employment.

The reason Al-Shabab is so successful drawing many young people to its cause has to do with its effective communication to create Islamic state through violence and intimidation. In other words, they effectively exploit the frustration of many youth who are not able to make sense of the protracted conflict that forced their families to endure unnecessary suffering. In order to discredit Al-Shabab’s narrative the government must not only create a counter narrative, but it must also demonstrate the credibility and aptitude that it is capable to transform this narrative in to reality.

It is also crucial for the government to commission thorough study and scrutinize the educational curriculum that led Al-Shabab to commit such violence in the name of Islam. And develop effective rehabilitation and re-education program in order to abate its appeal and prevent its resurgence in the future. Even though extremism is global phenomena, however, there are certain local ingredients that are prerequisite for their appeal, such as state failure or state collapse, poor education system or no education at all, and propensity to literal interpretation of Islam, youth bulge and high rate of youth unemployment.

There is a great need for cross sector collaboration between government, Islamic scholars, Islamic organizations, civil society groups, educational institutions, business, and grass root groups, so they can share resources, information, and intelligence, so the government can be more effective. It is imperative that we create culture of collaboration if we want to create effective institutions. The main reason that Somali government is not reaching its potential is that it is not partnering with other sectors, because partnerships will provide critical resources and legitimacy.

We also need national security team who has formal training in national security policy and are familiar with Al-shabab and other extremist groups, instead of relying aging former military officials who are trained to fight a conventional wars. The reason I stress the familiarity with non-state actors is that you cannot defeat extremist groups if you don’t understand their state of mind, their motivation, and sophistication. It is likely that some current military leaders in Somali believe that the reason Al-Shabab is so effective is that they bribe youth to conduct suicide bombing. And simply this kind of thinking that is underestimating the threat of Al-Shabab and is preventing any serious discussion to device coherent policy that is capable to reduce the threat of Al-Shabab.

To compensate this flawed framework of 4.5. The president and the prime minister must create multiple forums, commissions, and town hall meetings to create collaborative spaces and partnerships with the public, civil society, private sector, Islamic organizations, expatriates, and educators. These efforts will not burden the government’s scarce financial resources, but these commissions can generate their finances through crowd-financing and other potential revenue generating means.

Finally, reconciliation is not about building artificial state apparatus or creating legal framework, it is about creating a level playing field where all the stakeholders reconcile their differences, mediate their biases and decide the collective goal to be pursued. And this is simply how Nelson Mandela defined it by saying “in the end, reconciliation is a spiritual process, which requires more than just a legal framework. It has to happen in the hearts and minds of people.” In Somalia reconciliation was engineered to look like reconciliation, because it started with a selective process where clan is promoted to the level of political ideology and exempted other legitimate groups and stakeholders. Ending such clan monopoly is precondition on sustainable progress and government capacity building.

Daud Ed Osman is policy analyst, writer and commentator on governance, security, development, terrorism, and Islam.
Email: [email protected].
Twitter: @daudedosman
Tacbook: daud ed


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