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The Traps Beyond the Euphoria

by Nur Bahal
Friday, February 10, 2017

First, I want to take this opportunity to congratulate Somalia’s new president, Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo. He has been met with an overwhelming exuberance from the masses inside and outside the country. In all honesty, I wish him to succeed but cannot help but compare the events of yesterday and last night to the jubilations that his predecessor received in 2012 and the eventual disappointment that lead to the country-wide demands for change and culminating in Farmajo’s election.

He assumes the executive command of the country at a crucial time when the previous leadership proved incapable, or more appropriately unwilling, to advance either the security or the economic welfare of Somalia. Many writer’s, including myself, believe that Hassan Sheikh created a complex and devious knot similar to where the country was in 1991. Despite the average Somali’s clan loyalties, an overwhelming majority were looking forward to change that can engender stability – not change per se but tangible change which, according to the multiplicity of the Somali website, restores Somalia’s prestige and national pride.

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The prevalent discussions and comments on these websites concerns three major issues; expediting the withdrawal of the foreign troops (AMISOM) from the country, strengthening the national army and inverting Ethiopia’s meddling in the internal affairs of Somalia. It is normal for societies to set the agenda and the tone for their leaders. It is also normal for the leadership to listen to the popular demands of their constituents. However, the extenuating circumstances at this point in the history of Somalia makes it necessary that some unpopular but prudent choices be made.

A hasty AMISOM withdrawal, though catering to the emotional wishes of most Somalis, will have severe drawbacks. First and foremost, the Somali National Army is not realistically ready to take over the security responsibility from AMISOM for two obvious reasons; in addition to the obvious lack of training, the army is mélange of clan militias that are impervious to the moral discipline required by the army of a nation emerging from civil war. As individuals, they belong to clans and are also subject to the general social reconciliation that so far has not been conducted. Obviously, the lack of constant and sufficient pay also presents an opportunity to either join the extremist groups, sell their weapons or set up road blocks to extort taxes from the public, options that present more obstacles to furthering the actual purpose of national stability. In the face of such choices, it is important to undertake a more judicious approach to the withdrawal of AMISOM. A more pragmatic and matter-of-fact alternative would be to implement a properly planned timeline(s) that takes into account he critical relationships between social reconciliation, building a national army, eradicating extremism and the withdrawal of foreign troops. This four-pronged monster requires to be solved for each variable and for all of them as their interdependence dictates nothing less.

Strengthening the national army has both internal and external components factors. It is closely tied to a national reconciliation process in that unresolved social misgivings directly impacts the army that can fragment into clans with the direct consequence of infighting and the risk of another round of civil war. On the other side of the coin, before the UN can lift the sanctions on buying arms, the government has to prove that the weapons intended for the national army will not be funneled to the extremist groups or sold in open or underground markets. To begin this process, it will make much sense for the government to abolish any weapon’s markets and place some kind of deterrence on weapon’s markets, sale and use by the public. Only when the government secures its rightful monopoly of violence (only the government has the right to have weapons) then and only then will the sanctions be lifted. Securing monopoly on violence will not be fruitful if there are no strong mechanism to root out corruption, not only the army but more importantly in the government and in the institutions that dispense justice. Even social reconciliation will not be possible without putting in place a justice system that caters equally to the poor and the wealthy, to the aggressed and the aggressor, to the weak and the strong and to the administered and those that administer. 

Somalia should desire to have a good relationship not only with Ethiopia but also with all its neighbors. Ethiopia has been exceptional in inserting too many fingers into the Somali pie and given the historical hostility between the two nations, its interference is naturally looked with suspicion and apprehension. It is an open secret that Ethiopia’s intentions towards Somalia are not altruistic at all. Yet, it requires a careful and pragmatic approach to end this undesirable interference. It is my personal belief that Somalis would have reconciled a long time ago without Ethiopia’s meddling.  In my humble opinion, the first move would be to cut back on the powers that previous administrations granted to the Ethiopian representative. He must act like an ambassador and not as an overlord of Somalia. That means, any Ethiopian representative to Somalia must be limited to their ambassadorial duties – a limitation that includes moving out of Villa Somalia and into the Ethiopian embassy compound. One of the cornerstones of foreign diplomatic missions is to work for peace but if that mission’s behaviour and activities is proven to be detrimental to peace in the host country, they can be denied Agrément (the formal acceptance of foreign diplomat by a host country).

Remember too that Ethiopia had over twenty-five years to impinge on Somalia’s political interests. It has formed a network of local and international friendships that require a careful navigation and disentanglement to restore a normal bilateral and political relationship between Somalia and Ethiopia. Limiting the Ethiopian diplomatic mission’s involvement in the local Somali affairs will not doubt hasten social reconciliation but has to happen in a diplomatically peaceful way that does not cause tit-for-tat responses from both governments. That will only hurt a fragile Somalia.

President-elect Farmajo has been saying all the right things for some time now. The litmus test is how he can turn that into a concrete platform of action in the shortest possible time. To that end, the kind of government he institutes will reflect his capacity to move the “mountain of enigmas” that is typically Somalia.  He will be pulled and pushed in many different ways and directions and a capacity to be a good listener is of paramount importance. It is equally significant to delegate work; to trust the people you are working with but above all to have a vision that can be worked into a viable plan of action.

I wish him luck and pray for his success.

Nur Bahal
Toronto, ON
[email protected]

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