Policy WATCH:Mubarak's Musings
Mubarak's Musings
Somalia's 'Transition' Can Go Either Way
By MUBARAK 08/25/2012

In the past week, Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) was officially no more; the cabinet ministers are acting on a caretaker basis, most of the new parliament members were sworn in, and a date was set for elections of the parliament speaker, after which the presidential elections will take place.

Despite everything not going according to schedule (presidential elections were due on August 20th), the process to move beyond the current transition is nevertheless steadily moving forward.

Somali people the world over are euphoric over the upcoming elections; websites and Facebook pages dedicated to supporting one candidate or the other have sprung up. In Mogadishu, the Sheikh Sharif campaign has been distributing campaign t-shirts since early July. Young men wearing the t-shirts ride motorbikes around Mogadishu, many of whom are reportedly members of the secret police, which would indicate Sharif is using government funds to campaign for president.

But the truth is that the public campaign is more for show than an attempt to really win votes; the president will be elected by the quasi-representative parliament of 275 members, many of whom have yet to be accepted by the technical committee.

Perhaps the public campaign is in line with the rather inaccurate perception that this indeed is the end of the transition and that the new government has more legitimacy and is more democratic than the one it is replacing.

To understand the similarities between the TFG and the incoming government, one has to look at the basis of both governments.

Somali Parliament
Somali Parliament

Both are based on the extremely flawed 4.5 system which shares out government positions on the basis of clan, and has been proven to be less than efficient with the TFG. This system was first used by the Transitional National Government (TNG) that was created in Djibouti in 2000.

The TNG was more based on the clans than the clan warlords; the latter – with heavy Ethiopian help – were mostly responsible for the destruction of the TNG, denying it the power to move beyond Mogadishu.

A lesson was learnt: no matter how much a Somali government had popular support (the TNG arguably had more public support than any Somali government in the past 20 years), it could not function without the consent of the warlords.

The answer was the TFG created in Nairobi, Kenya in 2004; this time the warlords would lead the process and thus be heavily represented in the new government. There is a little difference here between the TFG and the incoming government: while the elders with the warlords were responsible for naming the first Transitional Federal Parliament (TFP) (the outgoing TFP was a product of the TFG – ARS peace deal of late 2008, which saw the parliament doubled in size), the elders are supposed to have sole powers in nominating the current parliament. Some of the elders were accused of being impostors or of selling seats to the highest bidders, but at least they had the final say on who would represent their clans, unlike during the formation of the first TFP.

As the warlords were very much responsible for its creation, the first TFG administration was filled with the who’s who of Somalia’s warlords; the bigger the warlord’s area of influence, the more powerful a post he got in the cabinet. Almost all of Mogadishu’s warlords were given ministerial posts.

Quickly, it became clear that not one of the warlord ministers was interested in moving to the government headquarters in Jowhar and later Baidoa. Muse Sudi, a Mogadishu warlord gave a hint of the warlord mentality when he said that the then-Somali president Abdullahi Yusuf was “putting on shoes that were bigger than him”, alluding to the fact that the Mogadishu warlords were not happy with someone who wasn’t from their clan being the president.

The Mogadishu warlords were only fired when Mogadishu had mostly fallen to the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) in 2006, and many of them had humiliatingly run to Baidoa for cover.

Today the technical committee overseeing the nomination of the current parliament reportedly tried to block the nomination of the more notorious warlords, but did accept the Islamist warlords (Sharif's pals).

While the old warlords’ influence in Somali politics is minimal – the Islamist warlords are more powerful now – they should not have been allowed to be part of this attempt to move beyond the tarnished TFG past.

There are people who are responsible for a decade and a half of hell in southern Somalia; if anything, they should be tried for their crimes, not allowed to be part of the process to move beyond that hell.

Perhaps more dangerous than the warlords to the future of a now-distant truly democratic Somalia is the presence of the three most powerful men in the TFG: Sheikh Sharif, the outgoing president; Sharif Hassan, the outgoing parliament speaker; and Abdiweli Gas, the outgoing prime minister.

These three men have turned the Somali government revenue to their own personal bank accounts, overseeing a massive scheme that saw the siphoning off of as much as 70% of government income before it even reached the central bank, according to this year’s UN SEMG report. Imagine how much more was stolen after reaching the central bank.

Arguably, the federal government’s corruption and lack of support for the local administrations of Mogadishu may have caused the rampant corruption of said administrations’ officials. These guys openly steal food aid meant for IDPs in their areas; some of them still have extortion checkpoints in the city.

While the men on top have been busy stealing government funds, they forgot to pay the men who are supposed to die for Somalia: the Somali national army has not been paid for months, according to presidential candidate and former Prime Minister Mohamed Farmajo – also accused of being a government funds embezzler by other government officials.

The unpaid soldiers have in turn turned on the unarmed populations of the frontline districts such as Afgoi (Afgoye), where they are accused of looting and killing at will. The president visited Afgoi many times to reprimand the commanding officers, but let us face the truth: an army created from warlord militias with no discipline can not be expected to behave itself when not paid in time, especially with their constant need of the relatively expensive Khat.

For this transition to have been of a great significance, the individuals who have been guilty of sabotaging the Somali state from within should be held accountable for their actions and denied the chance to once again lead Somalia – if by lead we mean drag into an abyss.

The new government has challenges even before it is born: it claims to represent all of Somalia, including the secessionists in northwest Somalia who call themselves Somaliland, and the areas still in Shabab hands in central and southern Somalia.

Translating that claim into reality will be harder said than done; Somaliland leaders have spoken against elders representing their region, saying that they don’t represent them. As for the Shabab, they held counter conferences with clan elders who support them in their areas of control and have said that they will fight the new government as they fought the old one; for them, it is business as usual.

While Somaliland officials say they will continue talking with the new government, there is little hope that they are ready to renounce their secessionist ideas any time soon. Even if that were to happen, I doubt they would want to join a government heavily manned by the most corrupt people on earth.

The Shabab used their more moderate leader, Sheikh Hassan Dahir, to deliver the message at the end of Ramadan in the coastal city of Barawe that the group had no intention of stopping the war.

However untouched the topic of talking with the Shabab is, it shall have to be done sooner or later. The group has lost a lot of territory in the past one and a half years; their biggest city, Kismayo, is now under threat and may fall soon.

Al-Shabaab in Afmadow
Al-Shabaab in Afmadow

Sure, continuous loss of territory has the tendency of radicalising some fighters, but some factions may, just may, decide to get a deal for themselves.

As for the clans who totally support the Shabab no matter what, some of them apparently have second-degree elders present in Mogadishu. For example, the firmly pro-Shabab Gaaljecel were represented by the brother of their supreme leader who had given his pledge of allegiance to the Shabab.

Elders will switch loyalties if they see it as being of the best interest to their people, so the elders in currently pro-Shabab territories just may decide to accept the new government if it conquers all of Somalia.

This is not to say that we have seen the last of the Shabab or that they are on their way out. They may very well outlive it as they outlived the TNG and the TFG. Dealing with them cannot and should not be limited to military action; they do represent a section of the population that is fuelling them with men and arms.

Already there are signs that there are better days ahead for Somalia: the top three corrupt men may not win as 20 candidates are reportedly deciding to field one candidate. Most of these candidates have decent backgrounds and stand a chance to win if they decide on one candidate.

Let us hope that four years from now Somalia will be able to have its first truly democratic government in more than half a century and that this government will not be as bad as its predecessors.

The bar is not set high; let us hope they don’t set it lower.