Posts by Ahmed Dirie

Editorial Examines a Top Down or Bottom Up Approach to Somalia
As Somalia debates a new constitution and ends its transitional period this year, mini-states have been popping up across the country in an attempt to solidify power and legitimacy while they still can. Somalia Report has been examining this trend and produced a lengthy report "A War in Waiting: Somalia's Disintegration into Mini-States" and today presents an op-ed by Somali scholar and community leader, Ahmed Dirie, who warned of this trend five years ago. Mr. Dirie is also an editor at Somalia Report.

Somalia Flag
Somalia Flag

In November 2007, I published a detailed article "Regional Reconciliation and Reconstruction Approach: A Paradigm Shift for Somalia" on a now-defunct online magazine and several other Somali-run websites and feverishly zapped the article through an email to dozen officials and members of the international community. At that time, I thought the article was timely and could provide some constructive insight and propositions as Somalia was at a very critical stage. The proposition coincided with the conclusion of the National Reconciliation Congress (NRG) on August 30th, 2007 in Mogadishu.

In my article, I wrote, “The political, social, and financial sacrifices made and risks taken by the international community and brave Somalis could be wasted if Regional Reconciliation and Reconstruction Approach (RRARA) efforts, long overdue, are not implemented right after the National Reconciliation Congress. In this feature, RRARA is proposed as a drastic political paradigm shift to achieve stable and sustainable political system.” (Development Narrator Magazine. November 27th, 2007)

To capitalize on the momentum, the article criticized the top-down approach of governance: the prioritization of securing Mogadishu and neglecting other regional hot-spots including relatively stable autonomous regions. This included the illusive pursuit of an ideal and all-inclusive Somali government from the get-go, and lack of intellectual debates on alternative approaches.

It, however, did propose: a selection of Somali lawmakers that are representative and accountable to their respective constituents and clans since the transitional government was based on 4.5-system as well as the Somali society, a grassroots approach through the establishment of regional administrations, the deployment of critical mass of peacekeepers; repatriation of UN-Somalia Office to Mogadishu or relatively stable autonomous regions, a shift to nation-building instead of relief, identifying regional hot-spots, illegal trading and criminal activities, and how mixed clan zones are contributing to the civil conflict.

In my article, I suggested, “...a shift to regional reconciliation approach would lay the foundation for a fresh mindset of how to stabilize Somalia and end the prolonged civil war. Somalia needs a new paradigm shift, implementation of painful reforms based on accountability, and committed individuals and communities to rise from the ashes of the brutal civil war.” (Development Narrator Magazine. November 27th, 2007)

At that time my sense of urgency was triggered a grave concern for the future of my original homeland and shifts I felt from the Somali Diasporas in North America and those back home. A strong opposition was in the making and coalescing against the Transitional National Government (TNG) established and the potential deployment of Ethiopian troops to contain the Islamist movement in Southern Somalia.

The various Diasporas and local groups with various political agendas have coalesced — nationalists, Islamists, defanged warlords and tribalists who concocted and framed their message on three emotion-laden premises: the international community based in Nairobi solely decides the destiny of the Somali people, the Christian arch-enemy of Somalia or Ethiopia is re-colonizing the Somali nation with the full support of United States, and a ruthless Darood warlord is at the helm of the Somali government to revenge on the atrocities Hawiye clan committed against the Daroods after the collapse of the Siad Barre’s dictatorial regime. For a fact, it seemed to me that the war-torn country was transitioning to stability and I thought that my proposal would receive some attention and some of the UN and diplomatic corps would acknowledge it and hopefully incorporate into the Somalia a reconciliation processes at least. Alas, it fell on to deaf ears and those folks who were in charge of Somalia at that critical moment only envisioned carrying on with the ineffective top-down approach as the only way to manage the prolonged Somali conflict from distant offices located in Nairobi, Kenya.

And even a Somali reader commented on my naiveté thinking and described the entire proposition as incomprehensible:

“As an ordinary Somali your whole article is Chinese to me. You are just another Somali who is not in touch of with his people who want to solve their problem in an Somali way with forign troopes in the mix. PEOPle the solution is their AND it is Somali. Find it. Come up with something the average Somali can understand and relate too.” Siigaale, Hiiraan Online Nov 25, 2007

Maybe the bottom-up approach and accommodation of credible and self-sustaining regional administrations sounded Chinese to many including the international community at that time. But with the return of the US government's interest in Somalia and the adoption of the Dual-Track policy (continued of support of central government and potential regional administrations) coupled with the global and regional concerns for out of control piracy and Islamic terrorist activities, the time has come to abandon the top down approach and managing the Somali conflict from distant office nested in Nairobi and appreciable critical mass of African Union peacekeepers.

With the several components of the ‘Regional Reconciliation and Reconstruction Approach: A Paradigm Shift for Somalia’ being in place today and the adoption of regional approaches as a international policy towards solving the prolonged Somali conflict, it is very important to analyze the important factors that will contribute to the success or the failure of the newly adopted bottom-up approach, especially the impulsive and overnight sprouting of mini-regional administrators in conflict zones and along the relatively stable autonomous regions of Puntland and Somaliland.

But the current adoption and advocacy of the US Dual-Track Policy towards Somalia and the international community’s endorsement of a bottom-up approach through Garowe and London Conferences has created more furor and the coalition of new and old opposition groups to derail any political and military progress made so far.

Now, the international community who is investing a great deal of human and financial resources into Somalia needs to thoroughly device a detailed, credible and pragmatic criteria in consultation with realistic and neutral Somalis in selecting a reliable, legitimate and reasonable regional administrators and partners for the stabilization and reconstruction of the Somali nation once again.

Having said so, it is crucial to ask who qualifies as a regional authority to bring to the negotiation table, how mini-states might jeopardize the peace process and national unity, and to how handle emerging warlords and political opportunists and how to harmonize the interests of the international community in line with the interests of the Somali people.

What's at Stake with a Bottom-Up Approach?

With over 30 mini-states already in place and still counting, it is very important not to open Pandora’s Box and renew the clan conflict once again and if this mini-states and breakup of single clan into sublets of sub-clans lead by opportunist leaders and warlords then the Somali nation will fall back into tribal conflict of the early ’90. Therefore, it is necessary to limit and contain these senseless mini-states by looking into the motive behind the formation of the mini-state, who the leaders are, clan affiliations, groups compositions, contiguity of sizable and credible territorial claims, historical clan and resource conflicts, potential and credible power-sharing processes and reconciliations and the power endowed on the mini-state in relation to national unity and stability.

This is not an easy task and it needs thorough research and analysis rather than relying on to the claims of individuals with vested interests and eventually jeopardizing the reinvigorated interest of the international community in bringing bring peace and stability into Somalia. And eventually these mini-states and disgruntled individuals could strengthen the criminal elements and terrorists operating in Somalia.

Therefore, there is an urgent need to come up with a swift and steadfast stand against the senseless formations of mini-states and political opportunists, but also to avoid the destabilization of the regions of the country.

Handling the Spoilers

For the past 20 years, the international community as well as regional African states have opted to appease and also align their national interests with certain warlords and hand-picked political opportunists which has led to the creation of the current over-bloated and inept 550-member parliament. This policy seriously causes political gridlock and it is necessary and politically feasible to follow through the Garowe Principles and the London Conference Communiqué in order to bring peace and stability to Somalia. Showing a strong conviction and implementation this newly adopted process will marginalize and sends strong warnings to potential warlords and political opportunists trying to derail the recent security progress made in Southern Somalia. And most importantly to avoid further destabilization of relatively stable regions.

The international community could adopt strong stand against spoilers and politicians with vested interests through the adoption of harsh penalties including travel bans, freezing of assets and criminal persecutions against individuals and groups deemed to spoil the peace process on humanitarian basis. The de-fanging of Mogadishu and southern Somalia warlords was an excellent example to follow through, though some of those warlords are part of the current TFG and al-Shabaab militants.

A Changing Political Landscape

There is a total change in the political landscape when it comes to the foreign nations with vested interests in Somalia and the influence of some of the traditional partners are either neutralized or completely replaced with new and energized new comers such as Turkey, Uganda, Kenya, and Iran, United States and the United Kingdom.

On the Arab-Islamic World: the traditional role of the Egyptian government in Somalia as an Arab and Muslim League representative is consumed and wiped out by the change of the old guard through the Arab Spring. Turkey, the UAE, Qatar and Iran are untraditionally becoming very visible in Somali politics and these Islamic countries are vying for the front row seat to influence on the Somali politicians.

On the African Union: the single-handed dictation and influence of the Ethiopian government is currently challenged by the Uganda’s gains in stabilizing Mogadishu after the Ethiopian failure four years ago. Kenya’s troop involvement in southern Juba regions of Somalia is also a new entry. The Ethiopian government leaders are adaptive with the changing political situations and it is foolish to discount early on as they are heavily and aggressively involved in uprooting al-Shabaab from vast swaths of central and southwest regions of Somalia. They also have a strong partnership with Puntland and Somaliland. As of now, it seems that Uganda has an upper hand when it comes to Mogadishu and it will be influential for the foreseeable future. But with the harmonization of East African troops under AMISOM and politico-economic alignment of the East African block, it seems that the East African community is cooperating and coming to terms with the fact that helping out Somalia is for the common good of the Horn of Africa.

On Western influence: the Italians seem to be totally marginalized and look at Somalia as an unreliable ally. They are currently and quickly being replaced by the United States and United Kingdom.

On the Somali politics and leadership: the central political power has shifted and the era of central government or Mogadishu dominating the politics of Somalia has come to an end due to inept central governments and national politicians and selfish warlords who ruled Mogadishu for the past 20 years. Therefore, the Somali nation is yearning for the leadership of a realist Somali leader(s) who understands the dynamics and is not an idealist driven by opportunism and unfounded xenophobia and conspiracy theories. A leader who understands that we live in a globally connected and global village full of compromises for national interests and that we no longer live in an Island free of influences of regional and global political dynamics and the shifts of socio-economic interests— what we need is an adaptable Somali leader, where his/her eyes and thoughts are set on national interests.

In conclusion, at this crucial and transitional period what Somalia simply needs and Somalis yearn for is a leader that fully understands “geopolitical necessities” and one based on “mutual interests” rather than keeping Somalis living at the margins of humanity. We need a leader that can guide the Somali nation to become an integral part of the global and East African communies. We, Somalis have had enough with the endless suffering. We're ready to move on.