Somalia is coming out of 20 years of transitional and interim administrations that had spawned statelessness, protracted conflicts, political vacuum and warlordism. After more than two decades, the country has assumed its full responsibility of post transitional government, has adopted a new and federal Constitution, has appointed a new president and a new PM and has completed the downsizing of Members of Parliament.
Given Somalia’s recent past, this has been an historical moment.
Basically, the new post-transitional government is responsible, with the help of international partners, for its state and security. Already, Somali forces, together with coalition partners, have begun to take over key towns from the insurgents, notably Kismayo, the third largest city in Somalia and al-Shabaab's biggest revenue-generating town. In addition, the objective of the post-transitional government is, in essence, to let Somalia to stand on its own, both politically and militarily. In order to enable the new government to provide for its own security, the African Union has already – and formally – proposed the UN to lift the arm embargo on Somalia
Moreover, the appointment of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, a civil society activist, came as total surprise to many Somalis who feared a restoration of the status quo ante in the presidential election. Instead, he represents a new – and genuine – leader who seeks to resuscitate Somalia. Its appointment represents a breaking point in Somalia’s history; unlike previous governments where the presidents and parliamentarians were cooked outside and parachuted on the ground, he was appointed inside the country – Mogadishu –, thus enjoying some degree of legitimacy.
This new political momentum wouldn’t have been possible without the courage of the previous transitional government who, despite all its setbacks, has paved the way for responsible transition. Of equal importance was the international community's unflagging commitment in ending the roadmap process that yielded this nascent transformation.
But looking ahead, and as the dust begins to settle slowly, there seems to be some prospect for successful transition. Some fundamental facts remain unchanged: government institutions are woefully dysfunctional, insecurity has reached an unacceptable level, Somali forces are heavily dependent on AMISOM's assistance, the government is bankrupted. Yet, despite having been severely downgraded, al-Shabaab still remains a very potent force controlling a sizable swath of territory in the central part of the country.
Addressing these challenges will not be easy, but keeping them in mind will help the president to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.
Widespread insecurity is the biggest source of instability in Somalia. In the days leading to the presidential election, countless people have been killed including journalists, politicians and district commissioners. Moreover, al-Shabaab affiliates are hiding among the local people, intimidating and killing journalists and government officials. These assassinations, hit-and-run tactic – sort of asymmetrical guerrilla warfare, remain a lethal threat to local population. The new government must encourage local residents to tip-off suspicions, thus enforcing the local government systems. This is a very important measure to be taken in order to enhance local security.
More dangerously, a recent report issued by Saferworld - a UK based think-tank – has found out that a staggering number of Somali police work for private companies and individuals, as a result of the government's inability to pay their salaries. In order to rebuild Somali national security forces, the president must improve the quality and the morale of Somali army and police, reimburse their overdue salaries and strengthen central and regional administrations. Only a cohesive and integrated army can secure and stabilize the country.
Another unrelenting obstacle to the country’s stability lies in the weakness of government institutions. In the last decade, transitional governments were paralyzed by infighting; the only exception was the National Security Intelligence, propped up by Western intelligence agencies but able to perform reasonably well, so as to push the insurgents at bay. Rightly or wrongly, previous governments were widely regarded as syndicate corrupted officials putting their interests first. At this point, Somalia lacks functional government institutions capable of delivering basic services including health, education, water and infrastructures. The new government must find the way to address this problem, thus building institutions able to push instability, extremism and poverty away.
Then we come to Kismayo, by far the most complex issue in today’s Somalia. The fall of Kismayo has dealt a huge blow to al-Shabaab but it could also be harbinger of the intensification of deep-seated inter-ethnic rifts. Historically, Kismayo has been a multi-ethnic region with no specific clan configuration. It is a very complex place where local realities often diverge. Secondly, while the coalition troops have successfully toppled al-Shabaab, the real test is now whether they will succeed in building effective local governance system – some kind of tribal local structure, that fills the vacuum and provides the basic services to the local people. Thirdly, and perhaps more dangerously, its the long-established regional rivalries between Kenya and Ethiopia over Nairobi's driven Jubaland Initiative, which is problematic on many level.
Therefore, looking at the bigger picture, the debacle of Kismayo will only intensify the regional rivalries – directly or by proxy – to the detriment of the new government. Fourthly, the role of Mogadishu government has been blatantly undermined, adding fuel to the already deep-rooted suspicion by the Somali government in Kenya's motivation towards Kismayo. To avert future fallout, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development's (IGAD) role is very critical to coordinate and provide frameworks for cooperation between the stakeholders.
Talks with Al-Shabaab
Unlike his predecessor, president Hassan seems to be really willing to negotiate with al-Shabaab. Like he often says, al-Shabaab is made up of two camps – nationalist (Somalis) and global Jihadist (foreigners) –, all with their own views of negotiation and peace agreement. There is another element to take into consideration: a frustrated and disoriented youth, who should be reconciled and pursued. This are precisely the issues the president wants to bring into the process.
Then, there is a small – but quite powerful – global Jihadist faction, whose vision for Somalia is to keep the country in anarchy, in order to make it a launching pad for terrorist activity.
There can be no accommodation room for this faction.
To avoid past mistakes, the president needs to articulate his negotiation strategy package. A blank-check negotiation won’t help; the president must appoint an interlocutor or governmental body to spearhead the process.
For its part, the international community should abandon its narrow focus on fighting terrorism and embrace a broader approach to reconciliation and diplomatic engagement, by strengthening the government institutions, providing resources and support for the national reconciliation project.
Even if Somalis agree on a broad-based internal political settlement, the country still needs a broad-based external political settlement. This is where the international community's role comes to mind. For years, Somalis and non-Somalis alike, have questioned – and critiqued – about the external interferences in Somalia's internal affairs. Aside from the external elements, Somali leaders are to blame when they invite external actors to take part in their internal disputes. This practice was notorious in the past government. For the sake of their own stability, neighboring countries, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Djibouti need to agree on coherent and constructive strategy for stabilizing the country, one that respects Somalis sovereignty and forswear internal intervention.
The international donor community should support, with no strings attached, Somali's plan for stability, governance and development. The international community's interest in Somalia is to see the country becoming stable, at peace with itself and to the world.
The importance of minimizing the foreign intervention has also been recognized by Ken Menkhus, one of Somali's most eminent scholars, who, at a recent Nairobi Forum, affirmed: «As Somalis are sick and tired of statelessness, perpetuate conflicts, warlordism and piracy they're, equally, sick and tired of us – the international community».