Home / Events / ISS Seminar Report: Somalia - Achieving Peace and Sustaining Progress after the Transition
ISS Seminar Report: Somalia - Achieving Peace and Sustaining Progress after the Transition
Date: 23 November 2012
Venue: , ISS SEMINAR ROOM, Block C, Brooklyn Court, 361 Veale Street, New Muckleneuk, Tshwane (Pretoria)

The last eight years in the history of Somalia have been characterised by efforts to nurture and sustain a transition arrangement with the hope of achieving progress and transitioning into peace. The end of the process, in August 2012 has left little doubt that some commendable progress has indeed been made. This progress is epitomised by the formation of a new government with a new parliament and speaker, a provisional constitution, and an elected President who in turn has appointed a Prime Minister, who has composed a cabinet. While these efforts have brought Somalia closer to peace, a lot remains to be done in sustaining these achievements and attaining peace.

Against the backdrop of these realities, the existing challenges and crucial political decisions in crafting the new government, the country finds itself at a crossroad between progress and relapse. Fortunately, stakeholders agree on the enormity of the task ahead, but ways of managing the hurdles are as diverse as the stakeholders involved. With the aim of finding ways of sustaining the achievements made and peace in the Horn of Africa country, this seminar discussed the imperatives of sustaining progress and achieving peace in post-transition Somalia and ways if dealing with the threat of Alshabaab The seminar was chaired by Dr David Zounmenou who started by giving a brief outline of Somalia`s troubled political history concluded that after many years of being stateless, Somalia has finally managed to establish its own government. Even so, it must be noted that this government was established with the commendable efforts of the Africa Union`s mission and the support of the United Nation`s through its office for Somalis. The meeting was attended by members of the policy community, academia, civil society organisations, the media and other think-tanks based in Pretoria. The two key presentations were made by Dr. Ibrahim Farah, a lecturer at the Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies, University of Nairobi; and Abdi Aynte, a Somali journalist and senior editor of Aljazeera English. Andrews Atta-Asamoah, a senior researcher at the ISS, discussed the two presentations.

Summary of Presentations and Discussions

Ibrahim Farah started his presentation by pointing out that Somalia has been in a period of transition for eight years. Despite the Successful end of the transition, however, it the country still faces numerous problems including the fragmented nature of its civil society, a confused Somali diaspora, a number of security challenges including the threat of Alshabaab, piracy, and the complexities associated with the post 9/11 security and response dynamics. On the positive side, there is a new and energetic government in Somalia, a high level of fatigue by all stakeholders with the status quo and a general level of commitment to change and the readiness to make it work this time around.

The new crop of leaders who emerged out of transition process have also given some hope that the country has some new breed of leadership in who are ready to make things work differently. Most encouraging is the fact that quite a number of Somali thinkers and academics are now being involved in what is going on in parliament and are consulted at various stages of the on-going process. In addition to this, traditional leaders are also playing a more pro-active and positive role than have been the case in the past. There is now a higher percentage of educated parliamentarians, and increased regional engagement in the quest for peace by neighbouring countries, especially Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda.

Presenting on the imperatives of peace in post-transition Somalia, Dr. Farah argued that there remains three major challenges to be addressed in Somalia. These are the on-going existing security dilemma, structural instability resulting from more than two decades of conflict, and the struggle for power and influence among many stakeholders in the country. In his view, in the past, most of the peace building processes in Somalia focussed on post-conflict relations instead of the detailed mechanisms needed for reconciliation, sustaining the process and addressing the three key challenges. He argued that the key determinants of any future peace process for Somalia would be in making a clear distinction between peace building and state formation. Even though the two concepts are inter-related, a clear understanding of how each and both should be utilised is important. Whilst peace building requires reconciliation, state building is naturally characterised by competition and tension. Appreciating the key issues involved in the formation of each of these processes and avoiding the contentions inherent in the two is important in sustaining the achievements so far made through the transition process in Somalia.

Farah highlighted a number of possible solutions for addressing the complexities associated with the post-transition context, the two concepts and their correlates in Somalia. He emphasised, among other things, that the new government should learn from past peace processes and clean up the provisional constitution as well as engage in countrywide reconciliation and political outreach. The new government should focus on securing progress in areas of stability, economic recovery, peace building, service delivery, international relations and unity in Somalia. As the government has already outlined a number of areas for engagement, it will be ideal for it to focus on those areas so as to achieve the needed progress as soon as possible. Importantly, Somalia needs to build a new security sector. It is also vital that the Somali traditional leadership be empowered through various capacity-building programmes, technical support and institutional support and strengthening Most importantly, there should be an unbiased interrogation of the role of the Somali traditional leadership after the transition. A recommendation to transform them to constitute the Upper House of the new parliament was made.

According to Farah, the government can improve governance, credibility and demonstrate leadership by engaging in public financial management, recruiting on merit, institutional capacity building, learning from the failures of previous transition governments and leading by example, especially in the area of dealing with corruption. The international community should play the role of facilitator and let go of the culture of cynicism and interferences in the process. Speaking on containing dealing with Alshabaab after the transition, Abdi Aynte argued that the Somali Islamist group ought to be understood in at least four phases, starting with its formation in 2003.

The first phase was when the group was formed in 2003 to about mid-2006. This was when the group Established itself in northern Somalia but with bases and training camps in Mogadishu. They also started training some of the fighters that joined Shabaab and eventually became their commanders. The camps were quite secretive because the group did not want to attract the attention of the international community. Significant part of this phase was e fact that some Alqaeda operatives joined the group, irked with them and also trained many of the recruits at this stage of the formation of the group. The US government at the time repeatedly said there was Alqaeda presence in Mogadishu. In hindsight, the three Alqaeda operatives of East Africa at the time were all present in Mogadishu and were on and off to train Alshabaab trainees. The group was not known at this stage until about mid-2006 when the second phase of the group started when the Union of Islamic Courts emerged in Mogadishu and Alshabaab joined the movement purely for survival purposes because the warlords were aided to go and captured the Alqaeda operatives and the warlords instead went after local Imams. The Alshabaab`s joining of the UIC was purely for survival and a tactical option. This was the phase that the group decided to adopt the nationalist jihadist agenda as their mode of operation, which really worked for them at this point.

Between June 2006 to about the end of the year, even though the group was part of the UIC, they were not the most prominent. The group was however trying to figure out how to transform themselves into a full-blown global jihadist group. Their operations, partly provoked Ethiopia into invading Somalia. The third phase of the group then was when they started to normalise and to exploit the situation of the Ethiopian intervention in Somalia to get support, financial, recruits, logistics and to bolster their ideology during the early days of 2007.  The projected themselves as the new nationalist group to lead the people against the invasion of the Ethiopians. This phase started around the early days of 2007 to about the end of the year. They had at this time started to make contacts with other groups around the world, namely the Alqaeda. Towards the end of 2008, there was an agreement between the political wing of the UIC, which had moved out of Somalia and was based in Eritrea, and had moved back to Djibouti and was in negotiations with the government, marked the beginning of the next phase of Alshabaab which was to formally adopt jihadism as their new platform for operations. They had captured substantial part of the country including a largest part of Mogadishu and about 50 per cent of Somalia. This was the stage that the international community and other actors evidently pronounced the group as a terrorist organisation and clearly set to deal with them. The lose of the Bakaraha market set the group on downward spiral and even though they said their withdrawal was tactical, was a lose of their hold.  Kismayo was the second most important territory and they eventually lost it to the Kenyan troops. Their grand strategy to switch into a guerrilla phase eventually materialised after they left Kismayo. The lose of kismayo also led to the lose of a huge economic source and loyalist.

There are two major approaches to dealing Alshabaab - in the short-term and the long term. In the short-term, there can be an attempt to try and win over the redeemable elements of the group. These are the members of the group such as former Hizbul Islam members who are not core to the ideology of the group and are therefore practically peripheral to the operations of the group and are redeemable. The new government has an opportunity has an opportunity to put together a national reconciliation that can be `peeled of` from the group. There are number of possibilities that will make this short-term approach succeed. In the long-term, there is the need to empty the group of some of the factors they use in recruiting. This is particularly important and should inform the intervention and choices of the Kenyan forces around Kismayo. The long-term response needs strong institution-building in the country particularly the professionalisation of state institutions and the construction of institutions in places that have been liberated recently. There is also the need for an ideological jihad against the ills of Alshabaab so as to counter the extreme narratives that the group presents to the country.

Overall, This was the phase that lasted until 2006, in which Al-Shabaab trained its fighters. At the time Al-Shabaab was not well known, but in mid 2006 they joined the Islamic Courts` Union.  It was when Ethiopia got involved in the Somali conflict, that Al-Shabaab used the opportunity to exploit the anger that arose from the Ethiopian presence. Al-Shabaab captured almost every city that was formerly held by Ethiopia. Al-Shabaab`s grand strategy to move from conventional warfare into guerrilla warfare is now in full swing. However, of late Al-Shabaab has lost huge amounts of financial support and allies.

In the short term, it may be useful to win over the elements of Al-Shabaab that can still be rescued, specifically those who don`t think that global jihad is the way forward. These elements need to be contained and peeled off from Al-Shabaab. Also, Al-Shabaab needs to be deprived of its rallying causes, specifically foreign intervention. The presence of the Kenyan forces, could be seen as foreign intervention, and this could give credence to Al-Shabaab`s cause.

In his response to the two speakers, Andrews Atta-Asamoah pointed out that he agreed with Dr Farah that the on going security dilemma is the key issue. Another issue is that the state remains in conflict with the traditional leadership structures. These traditional structures and the state need to be reconciled.

The struggle for power in Somalia is also the struggle for a sphere of influence. The regional powers are often driven merely by their own agenda, and their presence does not mean much for the improvement of Somalia. This is something that continues to play a role in Al-Shabaab`s ideology, and should be borne in mind by Kenya and Ethiopia. At this point, it may still be too early to judge Somalia`s new government, but it cannot be said that it is too early for this government to act.  To date the President has not made any constructive moves to unite the people. The Somali people may soon start to consider the relevance of the state in the daily lives of the people, and realise that the government is not useful to them.

The best time to talk to Al-Shabaab is now. If things continue as they are, it will become easy for Al-Shabaab to win the hearts and minds of the people through exploiting the mistakes made by the government, rather than through their own strengths. It is also difficult to keep AMISOM going. Soldiers belonging to AMISOM are far more difficult and costly to replace than Al-Shabaab operatives. This is why Al-Shabaab must be engaged now.

Post transition stability will depend on the relevance of the government, winning the confidence of the people and the strength of state institutions. It is vital that Somali society and the traditional leadership structures be included in the process. The stakes are very high, because the more irrelevant the state becomes, the more relevant Al-Shabaab becomes. The international community must give their continued support to the government for this to succeed. Even so, it is very important that the government appears to be independent from the West. If the government looks like it is the puppet of powerful Western nations, the Somali people will not accept it, and Al-Shabaab will thrive.

Key issues from the Questions and Answers

During the question and answer session, three main questions were raised. The first concerned the fact that the constitution and the involvement of the UNDP in the process of drafting it. The second concerned AMISOM, and whether it is reaching its objective, or whether AMISOM needs to be revised.  The third concerned the apparent success of Somaliland in achieving peace and security and whether this is a good model for Somalia.

Farah said that the developments in Mogadishu should be applauded, especially because there was at least some extent of involvement from the traditional leaders. However, it is still important that the constitution drafting process becomes a Somali project.  According to Aynte, at this point in time, the constitution is very confusing at the moment. There is extensive cross referencing,  but this does not make sense to the reader. It is full of errors and has left the country confused.

Aynte also pointed out that the original AMISOM has done a great job. They pushed back Al-Shabaab and remained neutral. The AMISOM in Kismayo (which has a large contingent of Kenyan forces) is in trouble. If the Kenyan Defence Forces (KDF) are replaced by Ugandans and Burundians, AMISOM will be able to resume its neutrality. AMISOM in Kismayo must stick to peacekeeping and not get themselves involved in politicking. The continued intervention of Kenya could give credence to Al-Shabaab.

The case of Somaliland is much different from that of Central Somalia. In Somaliland there is one major clan, and a relatively small community. Even in Puntland there is a very big clan that can subdue other clans. In kismayo, there are so many diverse competing forces. The situation is not comparable.

In the second round of questions, Farah addressed a question on the role of human rights organisations in Somalia. According to Farah, there are human rights organisations, but there is a serious lack of political will, preventing them from doing their work. According to Farah, peace needs to be given a chance this time. Even piracy is a consequence, not a root cause of the on going conflict. It is important that Somalia is no longer regarded through the “lenses of counter terrorism” because this does not reflect the reality that there are thousands of innocent Somalis who are suffering.

Aynte addressed a question on the necessity of strong institutions. He argued that in Somalia, there are no state institutions except for the state security agency, and that stronger institutions are definitely necessary.

The End


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