Since the collapse of the military government 21 years ago, Somalia has faced a series of problems perpetuated by clan militias, warlords, economic-lords, religious-lords, regional-lords, and a group that I will refer to as ‘ghost-lords’. All except the latter are domestic phenomena, yet as counter-intuitive as it may seem the ghost-lords are perhaps the biggest and most elusive obstacle to the reconstitution of the Somali state.
The ghost-lords are a loose association of involved international actors who come with their own interests, motivations and hopes. As such, they provide solutions as well as problems, enticements as well as threats, and promote good governance as well as corruption. They sometimes work together and sometimes against each other.
In one form or another, these international ghost-lords have funded at least 15 “Reconciliation Conferences” that turned out to be little more than pricey power-clutching rituals. Within the span of 12 years of transition, these so-called Reconciliation Conferences have produced three Presidents and nine Prime Ministers.
While domestic factors keep Somalia divided, nothing has exacerbated the downward spiral to balkanisation more than Ethiopia and the United States’ interventions. Ethiopia’s approach offers military training and weapons to any and all political actors on the ground, despite the UN weapons embargo on Somalia passed in 1992. This is coupled with the US’ Dual Track policy which provides political legitimacy and financial incentives to any political actors so long as they stand opposed to al-Shabaab, even if those actors are on a path that makes the reconstitution of the Somali state more difficult. As it is there are now several semi-autonomous mini-states that are given some degree of support and legitimacy by the policies of non-Somali actors.
Ironically, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which represents Somalia in the United Nations and is widely recognised, has been placed in a political straitjacket that handicaps its decision-making authority. To an extent, the several mini-states in Somalia have more authority to make political and economic decisions, and do so without angering the ghost-lords.
For the TFG, marching to the drumbeats of international actors has become their only source of political legitimacy, especially on the international stage. Sometimes this march leads away from Somalia’s national interest. But the TFG and the Transitional Federal Parliament (TFP) are under extraordinary pressure from non-indigenous stakeholders in Somalia to expedite the ratification of a controversial United Nations Development Programme-led draft constitution. And all before genuine reconciliation and negotiation has taken place.
“As I have mentioned before, finalising the draft Constitution before the May deadline must be a top priority now,” wrote the UN special Representative for Somalia, Ambassador Augustine Mahiga in a letter published on January 26. Following this was a stiff warning to the TFP which read, “One of the key problems remains the ongoing impasse within the Parliament. I have impressed upon the leaders that the region and the international community demands that it is resolved quickly. As I have constantly reminded all parties, spoilers of the peace process will not be tolerated and non-compliance will result in decisive action.”
It is against this backdrop that UK Prime Minister David Cameron has called the London Conference on Somalia scheduled for February 23. The conference is supposed to attract heads of states and high-level representatives from 40 countries, mostly from donor nations. The conference organisers ought to be commended for the interest and momentum they have generated in a few months and expectation is high.
But it remains to be seen how much can be done in a single congested half-day conference.
If opportunistic economic predators attempt to exploit this, who would stop a Somali group hiring mercenaries or rogue private security firms to mine uranium? Who would protect the Somali public interest and set up strict policies to protect against environmental problems that could ensue from mining hazardous minerals? How would such non-state actors be kept in compliance with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)? And who would prevent that uranium from reaching the black market?
Solving the Somali political problem will require a new paradigm and partners who are less intrusive and more honest brokers. Somalia needs a decentralised unitary government and a national army to safeguard its collective security. But not before an indigenous reconciliation that includes Somaliland takes place, and not before a new constitution that specifies the individual and state rights as well as legal authority to land and natural resources is collectively negotiated and ratified.
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