Time to Trade “International Community” for Bilateral Relations
by Abukar Arman
It goes without saying that the Somali political problem can only be solved if and when all those actors who are in contention are willing to engage in serious peace negotiation and reconciliation.
And, as in all wars and protracted conflicts, there are those elements that perpetuate status quo for their own interests. These elements have both domestic and foreign components. Sometimes they work in a concerted effort, other sometimes they undermine each other. Be as it may, currently, any potentiality for lasting peace in Somalia is sandwiched between these forces.
The domestic ones are militant extremists, clan militias, sleazy politicians, shady business men and women, pirates and other forces of anarchy and disorder that clearly benefit from the status quo. And, the foreign one, at least at this juncture, is none other than a political powerhouse known as the International Community (IC) – the very IC that spearheaded a number of worthy causes in many parts of the world since the term came into the lexicon of international politics that also carries the burden of the Rwanda genocide.
As the IC embarked on its latest operation in Libya, its two decade ‘on again, off again’ role in Somalia is coming under a great deal of scrutiny and criticism. Among the Somali people, there is mounting sense of disillusionment if not outright cynicism toward that entity. There is growing consensus that, giving its current seemingly dysfunctional role, it behooves TFG to simply reconsider its fruitless partnership with the IC to lead the way in brokering peace.
There are many reasons for this…and the most prominent among them is the incremental (what I would call) projectification of the Somali political issue which condemned it into endless projects that ensure endless processes without any viable and sustainable outcome. Already, in the past twenty years, fourteen unsuccessful peace conferences were held in various countries.
In a reality highlighted with profound irony, in addition to racketeering and abuses by the local profiteers, Somalia has evolved to become a lucrative enterprise for many countries, organizations, and various interest groups who function as part of the IC. This was not that difficult since during the heyday of the warlord era the IC outsourced its UN mandated authority to Ethiopia via the African Union (AU) and, subsequently, to the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
Political Déjà vu
Due to suspicions resulting from historical political tensions and the active role that it has played in perpetuating the conflict in Somalia by arming one militia group against another, Ethiopia’s ubiquitous involvement and micromanagement of the Somali political affairs has caused the greatest setback to peace and reconciliation.
The latest example is the serious political friction that the wily politics it pulled through the last IGAD Extraordinary Summit that it convened is already causing. In that summit, a “consensus based” resolution endorsing the Transitional Federal Parliament (TFP) to unilaterally increase its expiring mandate (Aug 2011) was passed.
Taking this as a legal directive, the TFP haphazardly passed a resolution extending its own mandate for three more years. However, since legitimate extension could only come within the framework of the Djibouti Peace Agreement or the Transitional Federal Charter, and legitimate political authority is derived out of the will of the people, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) had no choice but to draw the line on the sand and contest the legitimacy of that decision.
So long as Ethiopia continues to sow the seeds of division by interfering in the Somali internal affairs and relentlessly involving itself, subduing al-Shabaab will continue being a one step forward, two steps backward endeavor. And, the more Ethiopia continues its military involvement the more it emboldens the very violent extremists that the IC wants to help eradicate, not to mention getting them more public support.
The Right Environment for Corruption
In 2006, after the emergence of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU)…other nations have joined in the race, therefore, blurring the boundaries of authority and indeed legitimacy. And, since IC still remains as an abstract political powerhouse that is neither an institutional regime nor a fixed coalition of specific countries; neither all the UN member states nor the most law abiding, the fluidity of the authority associated with its name—especially in relation to Somalia—is prominently bewildering.
Therefore, it did not take long for these political actors to aggressively seek and cultivate their own constituencies and carve their own self-serving spheres of influence; thus, paving the way for widespread profoundly crippling corruption.
In what could be described as an open secret, routinely, hundreds of millions of dollars earmarked for humanitarian and development projects are squandered every year byway of extravagant overhead costs, bribes and kickbacks. And, as one can deduce out of recent reports, including one by an agency mandated by the UN, there are a number of initiation centers in the lobbies of various luxury hotels, embassies, and chambers of influence in various political, security, and economic agencies at the heart of Nairobi.
An IC lead initiative is most effective when, among other things, there is moral clarity and unambiguous leadership and command that could be held accountable; otherwise, like in the case at hand, it would become diversionary partnership of confusion and frustration.
Sadly, Somalia is at a stage in which even AMISOM—the AU forces charged to assist the TFG on security—could host a conference in another country (Ghana) and selectively invite the President of the Parliament as the sole representative of the Transitional Federal Institutions! Reminiscent of the Somali Adage “Ninkii bukow boqoli kuu talisay” which roughly translates as: He who is helplessly ill is condemned to being under the mercy of a hundred advisers.
Late in the Game
Mindful of how it could impede and sabotage all other progress including security, the new Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed made anti-corruption and good governance his priority. In the spirit of transparency and leading by example, he and his new cabinet have declared their personal assets before formally assuming their new responsibilities. And, as Council of Ministers, they passed a Code of Ethics that each had to sign.
There is adequate evidence on the ground indicating that Somalia is gradually emerging from its unenviable “failed state” status into what could be described as a fragile state. Thus, it is incumbent upon all stakeholders who are interested in sustaining the current incremental improvement in terms of security and good governance to embrace this reality. And, judging from its priority and the positive momentum it has generated in the past few months, this TFG is committed to paving the way for a comprehensive peace process that addresses all political grievances and enshrines all pertinent rights in the new constitution.
Dealing with the Gordian Knot
Aside from its untapped natural resources, by virtue of its geographic location, Somalia is still considered as one of the strategically most valuable locations in the world, especially, in this era of global political volatility.
It is time to use this status and potentiality as leverage. It is time to cut this Gordian knot or the umbilical cord of chronic dependency on the IC. It is time to find a better ways and means to shelter the displaced, heal the sick, and feed the millions on the verge of starvation. It is time to bring an end to the inefficient routine of holding costly conferences in foreign lands and foster indigenous solution negotiated in domestic venues. And, lastly, it is time to focus on establishing robust bilateral relationships with countries interested in mutually beneficial relationship with Somalia; countries that are willing to invest in it, and become a third party honest broker for peace and reconciliation.
In light of the transformational political change in various parts of the Arab world and the imminent shift of the economic balance of power, Somalia is positioned to attract strategically keen states that consider the security and stability of that country in their best interest.
*Abukar Arman is the Somali Special Envoy to the United States.