The Dividends of Strong National Government: A Policy Shift Towards Somalia

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“One of the key objectives is to move to an arrangement in which there is a sovereign Somali voice speaking for the Somali people,” Ambassador James C. Swan, the US Special Representative for Somalia, in London on May 7, 2013. (US State Department)
Abdi Dirshe

The United States Government and other global actors have finally recognized that the support of legitimate strong Somali State offers the best opportunity to address the mounting security and development challenges in the country. As a result, the UN and other international organizations have shifted their engagement with Somalia. This new policy ends the previous dual-track approach that treated regional-clan-based actors and the Somali national leaders as equals in all affairs of Somalia. The dual-track tactic has proven to undermine the emergence of national authority due to the erroneous assumption that the Somali conflict was based on clan violence. As one expert noted, regional observers and so-called experts on Somalia had based their solutions on the assumption that “Somalis are killing one another due to age-old clan rivalries”.

Such fallacy didn’t only “distort” the nature of the violence, but it also misspeaks about the Somali history. Given the fragmented nature of the warring factions in Somalia that were fanning the violence during the civil war, one could easily see that different militias from the same clan were killing one another, leading to only one conclusion: the conflict was about power and it “revolved around personalities who use kinship, money, and food to form a patronage network with militia and neighborhood gangs”.

Clearly, the Somali people share common language, history, and culture. Had the focus been the restoration of the rule of law and strengthening of the institutions of the Somali State to “provide security and governance” as Tulumello has rightly argued in his book, “Rethinking Somalia’s Clanism”, thousands of lives could have been saved and international security threats averted.

The current international policy change rightly proposes the strengthening of the national institutions of Somalia and a single-door approach where all international organizations are expected to respect the sovereignty of Somalia and deal with Somalia through its national government in Mogadishu. This strategy has received positive response inside Somalia and provides the new government with the opportunities to advocate for the interest of all Somalis. However, it also faces constraining internal conditions as well as persistent external threats.
Festering tensions

On the internal front, poverty, piracy and extremism are not the only obstacles facing the Somali government to assert its power. Clannish politicians and militia leaders continue to resist the emergence of strong national government as it undercuts their political status and power.

The government has already been challenged by militia leaders who are backed by neighbouring States, namely Kenya and Ethiopia, in terms of the formation of Jubbaland administration and the continuing political crisis in that region. This has been a litmus test for the Somali government and frankly it exhausted all its options to resolve this peacefully as a result of the meddling role of Kenya and Ethiopia.

So far, a minority faction in Lower Jubba (Jubbaland) with backing from Kenya unilaterally went ahead with its plan to elect its militia leader, Sheikh Ahmed Madoobe as a regional leader without consultation with the Somali government. Rejoicing this disorder, the Puntland leader, Farole promptly supported this mayhem as his expressed political interest aligns with the militia in that region more than with the Somali government. The behavior expressed by these clannish politicians can be characterized as one of “spoilers” because they view the failure of the national government as a victory.

Moreover, a weak central government provides the best shield for spoilers because rogue clan administrations can serve as a Trojan horse for maintaining the disorder that supports their power base. A case in point: the Somali Minister of National Resources, Mr. Mohamed has recently reiterated the “race to lay claim on resources risks triggering wider conflicts” when regional authorities insist to manage the national resources against the terms of the national government, as previously done by Puntland authority with Western oil corporations. Recently, Galmudug authority has taken similar measures by inviting oil corporations to resume geological surveys on “its territory”, claiming similar rights as Puntland. However, it seems that this attitude is shaping up the relationship of regional authorities with the national government because of the inherent clannish approach by regional leaders that insists on clan territorial sovereignty. These regressive political ideas continue to foster tension among the Somali people.

On the external front, considerable challenges remain to be tackled. IGAD as a regional body lacks the credibility to sort out the Somali issues. On the one hand, Ethiopia and Kenya resist the emergence of strong central Somali government despite the marginal cooperation they have shown in the past few months with respect to the vision outlined by the Somali government on restoring rule of law. They continually aggravate the internal political tension in Somalia by providing weapons and political support to any spoiler in Somalia. On the other hand, the current international modality can’t afford to disregard the role of these two states in Somalia because of the fragility of the situation. Without political pressure, recent security gains may evaporate in the face of the emerging international approach to Somalia.

Such dilemma largely defines the complexity of the Somali conflict which necessitates a shift in policy and commitment on the part of the international community to ensure Somalia’s external challenges are not left unattended, especially in the case of Ethiopia and Kenya. What is at stake is more important than the narrowly defined interests of both Kenya and Ethiopia. Therefore, the International Community should express concern about any activity that undermines the huge blood and toil spent already on stabilizing Somalia.

For the Somali Government to succeed, it should understand the motives behind the external and internal threats to its newfound status. It should assert its leadership in restoring its sovereignty and align its strategic foresight with its international obligations and its national interest; ultimately its legitimacy will depend on the performance and services it provides to the Somali public at large.

May  2013

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