Somalia: peace prospects
After 20 years of sliding backwards, Somalia has taken a step in the right direction. Together with international efforts and adoption of a new federal constitution by the 825-member Assembly of Somali Elders, the country has renewed hopes for the return of peace.
Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) came to an end in August and the new dispensation has taken over the process of political reconstruction.
However, Somalia, with millions living in displaced camps and with the country inundated with arms and ammunitions, faces an uphill task in restoration of peace and stability. Lack of dedicated leadership and absence of good governance, widespread resource conflicts, economic disarray, and external pressures are serious challenges that today’s Somalia is confronted with.
Somalia’s new constitution, adopted on August 1, 2012, introduces a new federal model for the country. Somalis, who lived under the unitary form of government for decades, are sceptical about the idea and consider federalism to be less viable for the homogeneous Somali society.
From 1969 to 1991, President Mohamed Siad Barre’s highly over centralised rule led Somalia to the current state of affairs. During the general’s unitary government Somalia experienced major armed conflicts, including a war with Ethopia, and indiscriminate use of force against the Issaq clan. That led to the secession of the northern part of Somalia, which became Somaliland.
In addition to these wars, many legacies of Barre’s over-centralised period fuelled conflicts in Somalia. First, the state had been oppressive and exploitative and was used by some political leaders to dominate others, to monopolise state resources and appropriate valuable land and other assets.
A constitution based on the principle of federalism and decentralisation can best suit Somalia, as the country is already divided into many self-proclaimed regions with their own administrations.
Besides complete implementation of the constitution, Somali stakeholders have to address the challenges that have torn the country apart in the last two decades. These challenges include the political integration of Islamists groups, particularly Al-Shabab, restoration of public trust in the country’s leaders, promotion of good governance, development of mechanisms for conflict resolution, demilitarisation and economic development. Equally important are management of the interests of regional and international actors in the region. To avoid further bloodshed, Al-Shabab’s leadership has to renounce violence and engage in political discourse. In the aftermath of the Arab spring, Al-Shabab needs to understand that non-violence political movements can better attain the objective of peace and stability.
Over the past two decades, one of the major impediments to the ending of turmoil has been lack of a strong, non-partisan leadership. As Ismail Osman, a Somali journalist said: “Somalia needs a leadership that can bring transparency, accountability and inclusiveness in the Somali political process. It is important that the government in Mogadishu provide an enabling environment and opportunities for the youth to take part in politics and in the development of Somalia. …The political culture shows little sign of embracing the necessary changes.”
Absence of good governance has made Somalis suspicious of governments. Many Somalis see the state as an instrument of domination, enriching and empowering those who control it and exploiting and harassing the rest of the population”.
The leadership in new federal Somalia has to amicably address the challenges of governance. Somali leaders need to restore people’s trust and confidence in the federal system and have to promote a participatory, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective, efficient, equitable and inclusive model of governance.
The new system must ensure that corruption is minimised, the views of minorities are taken into account and the voice of the most vulnerable in society are heard in the process of decision-making.
Resource conflicts are rife in Somalia and will have devastating consequences if not dealt with wisely. The future Somali government will confront a gigantic task to prevent and manage resources conflicts. A dialogue among the stakeholders and the institutions involved in resolution of land and property conflicts will be paramount for lasting peace in Somalia.
The prolonged civil war altered the clan settlement patterns. Strong clans have occupied valuable urban and agricultural real estate by force. Thus, competition for control of power and resources has significantly changed clan boundaries in many parts of the country. It is likely that one of the difficult issues a new government will have to address is the impact of the changed structure of clan distribution on state and societal relations, which could potentially fuel several forms of conflict.
Easy availability of small arms in the country makes minor conflicts more lethal. For lasting peace in Somalia, the upcoming government and the international community need to come up with a practical strategy to counter the threat of large-scale availability of weapons. At the same time, there is need for social and economic incentives for Somalis to encourage them to demobilise and demilitarise their society.
After 1991, Somalia became one of the poorest countries in the world with a high level of dependence on foreign aid. For a functioning state, the Somali government needs uninterrupted support from western and Middle Eastern countries. Moreover, recent reports of discovery of natural resources in parts of the country have elevated prospects for future economic developments. If managed wisely, the vast Somali coastline and marine resources could also give economic impetus to the new Somalia.
As for its internal conflicts, a big challenge for the Somali leadership would be to peacefully settle the complex regional conflicts and competitions among competing groups, particularly among clans and sub-clans.
Dispute in south-central Somalia are some of the major causes of internal disputes. Contesting areas in the region have a strong potential for destruction of the future of political and reconciliatory process in Somalia.
Another problem for Somalia is conflicting international influences. Managing external influence by the impoverished and aid-seeking Somalia would be a Himalyan challenge. Somalia is a member of the African Union and the League of Arab States (LAS), and since long Arab and African governments are competing to exert and extend their influences in Somalia.
With its crumbled institutions, politically weak and economically dependent Somalia has very little choice in terms of selecting friends and foes. The Somali leadership needs a visionary diplomatic approach to avoid any sort of confrontation and competition with neighbouring countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda, which have played a crucial role in the peace process and peacekeeping. The Somali leadership could also encourage wealthy Middle Eastern countries to play a significant role and contribute generously to the social and communication sectors to rebuild war-torn Somalia.
The US and the European Union played a positive role in peace process and provided much economic support during the transitional period. Their long-term commitment is essential for Somalia and they have to adjust their commitment to conflict-sensitive assistance to the country.
The writer, Sanaullah Baloch is a former senator who served as a senior constitutional adviser to the UN and the Independent Federal Constitutional Commission of Somalia.