Somalia: From Transition to Transformation

The Transition

With less than two weeks to go, the August 20 deadline for the transition to permanent federal institutions in Somalia is on track to be completed on schedule. Three key benchmarks for completion of the transition laid down by the Security Council last month are close to realization: a) agreement on a new provisional Constitution; b) selection of a new Parliament and c) election of a new Speaker and President. The new Constitution was adopted on August 1. Negotiations are close to completion on selection of a 275 member provisional parliament which will include representatives from most of Somalia’s regions. Thirty five candidates are competing for the Presidency to be selected by this provisional parliament. These steps are expected to lead to formation of a new Government to be established in coming weeks.

For the international community, especially the United Nations and the African Union, these steps will represent not only the end of the six year transitional period but more importantly the start of what is hoped will be a more inclusive and representative government enjoying greater support from the Somali public. A main job of this new government and parliament will be the development of a new Federal Constitution to be placed before the Somali public for approval in a national referendum and national election in 2016. At the same time, the new government will need to slowly broaden its presence and operational capability beyond Mogadishu and its immediate environs with a focus both on strengthening security and enabling a transformation from a war-based to a postwar civilian economy.

UN Special Representative Augustine Mahiga is expected to announce completion of the transition to permanent federal institutions at an August 28 meeting of the Security Council. A mini-summit on the sidelines of the General Assembly debate in September will provide an opportunity for the new government and a wide range of international donors and supporters to meet and to agree on key benchmarks for next steps in the gradual reconstruction of the Somali state and economy. This is to be followed by a meeting of the International Contact Group for Somalia expected to take place in South Africa in January 2013 to take stock of progress to date in rebuilding the Somali state and to consider the next steps that need to be taken both by the new Somali institutions and leaders, and by their international supporters.

Political and Operational Significance

What is the political and operational significance of this transition? It is widely recognized that these are still small steps however difficult they have been to attain. At the same time, it should be recognized that they are considerably more than many observers had expected a year ago. It is also important to note the significant progress made on the security front. In the context of the collapse of Somali state institutions in 1991—more than 21 years ago—and the re-engagement of the United Nations and the African Union since 2004, the completion of these transitional arrangements is significant but largely legal and formalistic in nature. In the short term there will be little tangible change on the ground. The new government will remain weak with limited resources and limited territorial impact for some time to come, heavily dependent on external support from the international community.

Challenges Ahead

Security will have to continue to be provided by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) with the active support of the United Nations and western donor funding for the foreseeable future. The UN and AU aim to strengthen and consolidate AMISOM’s short term gains in pushing Al Shabaab out of Mogadishu, and hope that Al Shabaab can be pushed out of Kismayo (in the South) where the next major battle will probably take place. In the next several years, the UN and AMISOM will seek to further build up the Somali security forces to ultimately have the capacity to meet these security challenges. The Somali army and police are receiving considerable financial and logistical assistance from the US, the EU, Italy and Japan, and this will have to be made sustainable over the long term by inviting new partners such as Turkey.

Reviving the economy will require a shift in attitude and behavior from the accumulation of resources and power by high level officials and criminal networks for personal gain in an uncontrolled war situation to an an open trading and business environment in a more peaceful and secure state to benefit the Somali people (schools, hospitals, agricultural development, roads, etc.) which can attract international investment. This will require major international and Somali public and private sector coordination and cooperation. A major challenge will be dealing with rampant corruption in the Somali administration. The UN and the AU continue to have great difficulty to effectively monitor the use of financial resources, equipment, and armaments. Unaccounted funds and disappearance or misuse of equipment and arms remain a major concern for international donors reluctant to provide funding without adequate controls and oversight.

A related challenge is training, developing, and sustaining a viable bureaucracy, including finding, supporting and maintaining qualified Somalis to run state and private sector institutions. This will require further active engagement with the Somali diaspora as well as the non-governmental community.

Somalia: Toward a Federal Structure

The United Nations and the African Union hope that the international community’s engagement and willingness to support its efforts and those of the new Somali government will be re-energized by completion of the transitional stage. The new government will (perhaps) have more legitimacy and be more representative than its predecessor. The new provisional constitution envisages a federal structure which will be more acceptable to representatives from the North (Puntland, Somaliland, etc.). But this has yet to be widely agreed upon by key leaders throughout the country.  The future structure of the state is the major challenge facing the international community; it will determine whether Somalia’s future will be peaceful or violent.

The underlying cause of the collapse of the Somali state in 1991 was the centralization of political structures and clan favoritism imposed by Siad Barre during his 21 years in power (1969-91). The state collapsed from within after Barre politicized the clans, favored his own Marehan clan, discriminated against the Issaks and others in the North, and eventually bombed his own citizens in Hargeisa and elsewhere in what is today Somaliland. All Somalis remember these atrocities. The future of a stable Somalia will require a decentralized federal state structure, with power disseminated and openly shared among the different regions.

A New Somali State?

The big challenge, therefore, for the United Nations and the African Union transcends the immediate political restructuring of the interim state and the defeat of Al Shabab. It will require support and encouragement for an agreement among all Somali groupings to live in a new more equitable political dispensation. This will also require the international community to dissuade Eritrea and other actual and potential spoilers, domestic and international, from fomenting unrest, provoking local clan based fighting, and otherwise destabilizing and thwarting the evolution of this fragile new State. Only the Somalis can reach this broader agreement; but it will require strong and sustained political and economic support from the international community for them to be able to do so.

John L Hirsch is a Senior Advisor at the International Peace Institute, and was Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Somalia from 1984-1986 and Political Advisor to General Robert Johnston and Deputy to Ambassador Robert Oakley during the deployment of UNITAF, the United Task Force from December 1992- March 1993.

About the Photo: Augustine Mahiga, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Political Office for Somalia, addresses delegates on the first day of UNPOS’ civil society conference in Somali capital Mogadishu.