December 15, 2015
By Abdul Ghelleh
December is a standalone month. And we tell you why: it is regarded by many as a transitional month, neither belonging to the calendar year in which it’s listed under nor part of the in-coming year. December is also a holiday season which prompts people to reflect on the passing year and to gather their thoughts and imaginations for their prospects for the future. And it evokes the mind with intense desire to achieve more comes next year. In the industrial world, for example, production comes to a halt, most workers take early leave, utility companies suspend billing invoices, and even the justice system takes a break. It’s the preparedness month for what is in store for us for the next eleven months. A successful firm may want to upgrade a new processing plant; someone gets ready for a new job, a business plan, a project to get things right and, government civil servants, prepare for the implementation of a new legislation. If you miss December, the coming year may not work well in your favour.
The year 2016 has been often talked about by the Somalis and others who are working with them since the 2012 London Conference on Somalia. And it has been reminded and emphasised for the Somalis and their leaders again and again for the past two years, in order to meet the goals set out at that conference including holding general elections for Somalia. But some in the Federal government have recently voiced concerns that nationwide elections – involving the population in the safe areas – may not be possible in 2016. In fact this has had a negative impact on the enthusiasms surrounding the recent Somalia state building programme.
However, if changes had to be made, an expanded electoral consultative process, increasing the number of representatives from the regions who are electing members of parliament and the executive branches of the government could be put in place. This is for minimising the perceived corrupt practices by individual candidates and for general accountability purposes. In this respect, the Somali people, their leaders and the international community had a fairly good head-start and therefore, although no tangible progress was made so far, an urgent clarification is awaited by all who are interested in the Somalia stabilisation programme. And with the good news that an experienced new UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Somalia to guide it all through will be taking up office in the New Year, nothing should be left to chances.
Michael Keating, the new UN SGSR who is currently thought to be in Afghanistan, may be heading home to the UK this December, probably not to celebrate the holiday season, but to reflect on what had been achieved in the conflict-ridden south Asia nation (well, Afghanistan may not be the preferred model for Somalia after all). He may be reading about Somalia and what worked in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world’s fragile states that could be incorporated into the Somalia project. Keating is not a stranger to Africa. In fact he was born in Kampala, Uganda and worked for the Africa Progress Panel in Geneva. Unlike his predecessor, Nicholas Kay, who is a career diplomat, Keating worked in academia, humanitarian and political transitions, and he is a researcher at Chatham House – an international affairs think tank. With extensive transferable skills, Keating is expected to coordinate with the numerous individual service delivery programmes that are working for Somalia 2016, in order to beef up the governance, humanitarian and security challenges facing the country.
But what are the Somali leaders up to in this December? A recent flare up of fighting in Galka’ayo is unfortunate to say the least, becoming an eerie reminder of the height of the civil war in 1991. According to the International Crisis Group, this conflict which has now been reportedly resolved through a fragile truce could have been prevented had the Federal government built trust levels between Galmudug and Puntland to acceptable standards. However, in general terms, the Federal system, though half-understood by the Somali leaders and the population at large, is reasonably taking shape. The new UN SGSR may already be aware of the short-fall in expounding and clarifying the Somali Federal system for the Somali people, and accordingly, it’s hoped, would close the knowledge gap in understanding the federalisation process by government institutions, regional states and the general public.
On the security front, the Shabaab’s ability to disrupt the Somalia stabilisation programmes is dwindling by the day, and most urban areas are now almost free of the terrorist-insurgents. Thanks to the hardworking Somali National Army (SNA) and the Africa Union Mission (AMISOM); their resources had been depleted as the Somali people showed their resilience in opposing the extremist group. The Shabaab are now on the run and in large parts of the country are against wall, and had been squeezed from all sides from Jubba to the South West. They are also, at least actively, non-existent in Somaliland and Puntland. Somalia appears to be rising from the ashes of civil war, terrorism and bad governance, but more needs to be done as the road ahead is bumpy which needs to be paved out.
The New Deal
In the light of the complex and multi challenges faced by Somalia, in 2013 the international community has offered a New Deal to Somalia. Although it has not been implemented as planned thus far, the New Deal for Somalia is the most comprehensive assistance programme ever agreed with a fragile country anywhere in the world. It provides a far-reaching recovery programme for social, institutional and governance structures for Somalia and its regions. All three areas in one go, how good is that? What else would anyone wish for under the current circumstances? In fact a number of weak or failing states in this region would have wanted such programmes to be implemented in their own countries but so far only Somalia had qualified for such a deal. It is an opportunity that does not present itself twice, and the Somali leaders need to grab it with both hands. Failure is not an option; it is in no one’s best interest. In fact the programme which had been on-going for the past few years is envisaged to double its efforts in 2016, paving the way for terror-free and properly functioning Somalia for decades to come.
When the Somali state collapsed in 1991, and a civil war ensued in much of south-central Somalia, Somaliland pulled things in a different direction, albeit unwittingly becoming a little contributing factor in the destabilisation of Somalia. Observers say this because Hargeisa could have been the new Somali capital long ago in which the state institutions could have been housed there while the civil war in the south could be brought to an end. Unfortunately, Somaliland unilaterally declared independence from the rest of the country, excluding that part of the country from the state building process. And although Somaliland developed an impressive political and economic system, it had not achieved the desired recognition from the international community. And due to the advances in the Somalia state building and the progressing federalisation process, it is even less likely that the international community would change its stance on Somaliland, which would also be most strongly objected to by the majority of the Somali people and the Somali federal government.
Therefore, in the light of the Turkey sponsored talks between the Somali parties, it’s time for Somaliland to review its position, not to give up its main point of contention but to change its strategy in order to come up with a compromise position in which to meet its main objectives in other ways rather than demanding officially recognised formal independence. Actually, the government of Turkey has offered its own New Deal to Somalia, and has no national interest in facilitating such talks between Somaliland and the Somali federal government. And there is no denying that many in Somaliland would prefer to see Somalia as a united country. Moreover, to prevent the mistake of the previous military government of Siad Barre, a federal system of government which is supported by Turkey and the rest of the international community could well be the answer short of total independence for Somaliland.
And indeed, the Somali provisional constitution states in its first article that “Somalia is a federal, sovereign, and democratic republic founded on inclusive representation of people, a multi-party system and Social justice”. This is where Somalia should be heading, and Somaliland has nothing to lose but everything to gain from. Their unique institutional system would be safe-guarded by the federal constitution. Therefore Somaliland should take a leading role in the development of federalism and the establishment of federal and democratic structure for all of Somalia.
And finally, the leaders of Somalia, including Somaliland, should understand that the principles of federalism have to be shaped to meet the specific historical, cultural, political and social foundations that make the Somali tradition.
Exchanging misleading arguments on radios and satellite television channels or hotel lobbies in Ankara or other foreign capitals would not work towards anyone’s interest in Somalia and the region. What Somalia needs at this crucial stage in its existence is to adopt a new strategic policy choice to coincide with the gains made against the Shabaab by the SNA and AMISOM troops, coupled with a full implementation of the New Deal for Somalia in 2016. Failing this, 2016 would not be a prospective year for Somalia and its people, and the years after that are going to be even worse.
Article co-authored with Dr Chris Jaeger
Dr Chris Jaeger is a Frm. UN RC and UNDP ResRep Advisor: Federalism, Peace and Reconciliation