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Africa Briefing N°87 22 Feb 2012
The next six months will be crucial for Somalia. The international community is taking a renewed interest in the country; the mandate of the feeble and dysfunctional Transitional Federal Government (TFG) expires in a half-year; and emboldened troops from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), Kenya and Ethiopia are keen to deal the weakened (though still potent) extremist Islamist movement Al-Shabaab further defeats. This confluence of factors presents the best chance in years for peace and stability in the south and centre of the country. To achieve that, however, requires regional and wider international unity of purpose and an agreement on basic principles; otherwise spoilers could undermine all peacebuilding efforts.
The crisis has been climbing steadily back up the international agenda. The one-day London Somalia Conference on 23 February will bring together senior representatives from over 40 countries, the UN, African Union (AU), European Union (EU), World Bank, Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD), Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) and League of Arab States. Somalia’s Transitional Federal Institutions (TFIs) will participate, as well as the presidents of Somaliland, Puntland, Galmudug (regional governments) and representatives of the largest armed group, Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama’a (ASWJ). It should prepare the way for desperately needed greater coordination, especially with Gulf and regional states, as well as between AMISOM and the UN.
Coordination is required because the mandate of the TFG is set to run out in August 2012. Although it has failed to achieve any of its core objectives, many officials desire another extension, such as it received a year ago. But it is unreformable – too many of its members benefit from the fully unsatisfactory status quo. It must not be extended. Instead, the London Conference should agree on a new political framework and principles for governing Somalia.
This is important, because AMISOM and regional forces have made impressive gains against Al-Shabaab and are poised to renew their offensive. Nevertheless, their greatest challenge will probably be not to drive the militants out of major cities and towns, but rather to secure peace thereafter. Al-Shabaab, though weakened, is far from a spent force; its militant jihadi ideology is radicalising young Somalis at home and abroad; veteran foreign jihadis are exerting ever-greater influence; and recently its emir pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and global jihad. But it is no longer the only threat to stability; the resurgence of inter-clan competition and warlordism is as serious. While there is an understandable inclination to strengthen the central state in Mogadishu (in the form of the TFIs) and its security apparatus, past and present transitional administrations have failed to bring stability, in large part because many clans do not support the reestablishment of a strong central government. A more decentralised political framework and local inter-clan reconciliation are required.
The root cause of Somalia’s many troubles – terrorism, piracy, periodic famine and constant streams of refugees – is collapse of effective governance, with resulting chronic conflict, lawlessness and poverty. The most effective and durable solution to these ills is to build gradually an inclusive, more federal government structure that most clans can support. Otherwise, Al-Shabaab (or some similar successor) and other disparate groups of would-be strongmen with guns will exploit continued dissatisfaction with Mogadishu and innate Somali hostility to “foreign occupation”.
This coming six-month period is a critical time for Somalia. To make the most of the opportunity to end more than two decades of chronic conflict, the international community should:
q increase AMISOM’s force strength and provide more resources. To maintain momentum and consolidate gains, AMISOM should quickly assume full tactical and operational command of the AU, Ethiopian, and Kenyan missions and coordinate closely with Somali allies. Any major offensive should be accompanied by a political strategy to win the support of local clans and social groups and stabilise those areas in which they are present;
Nairobi/Brussels, 22 February 2012