Home / Events / ISS Seminar Report: Somalia, Approaching the August 2012 End of Transition - Progress, Challenges and Prospects
ISS Seminar Report: Somalia, Approaching the August 2012 End of Transition - Progress, Challenges and Prospects
Date: 11 July 2012

Organised by  the Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis (CPRA) Division, ISS Pretoria Office


Somalia approaches a crucial milestone in its recent history and the quest for peace in the country, as the August 20 deadline for the end of the transition draws near. More than ever before, a great deal of effort has gone into the process in an attempt to stabilise the country this time around. Concurrently, the efforts of international and local stakeholders appear to be achieving some measure of success. Apart from the visible progress with the on-going political process, there is renewed international support for and attention to the realisation of peace, considerable buy-in from local partners and traditional leaders, robust military engagement of belligerents and an overall recognition of the role of socio-economic development and reconstruction in the restoration of sustainable peace in the country. Against the backdrop of all these factors, the international community is committed to ending the transition.

Crucial questions, however, remain as to whether ending the transition will provide any positive contribution to the stabilisation of the country, what form the next phase of governance will take, and how sustainable the outcome will be. Also, to what extent has preparations for the 20 August deadline met all its milestones? These and many more crucial issues formed the basis for the ISS seminar, which aimed at providing a platform for different policy actors in the region to interact with actors in the Somali process. The meeting brought together 35 participants and took place at the ISS Pretoria Office.

In his introductory remarks, Dr David Zounmenou, the acting Programme Manager of the Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis (CPRA) division in the ISS Pretoria office, who chaired discussions, noted the importance of the end of the transition process in Somalia and the need for all remaining challenges to be comprehensively addressed so as to take the country closer to the attainment of peace and stability. Speakers at the meeting were Honourable Wafula Wamunyinyi, the Deputy Special Representative of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (DSRCC) for Somalia; Colonel Thomas Chepkuto the Chief Military Information officer of the AU Mission in Somalia; and Andrews Atta-Asamoah, a senior researcher at CPRA. Presentations and deliberations at the meeting centred on the following themes.

Progress in the run-up to August 20.

Since 1991, there have been more than a dozen attempts to bring peace to Somalia. The on-going process, which brings the transition government to an end in August, follows the 2004 establishment of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) after the conclusion of the Mbagathi peace talks. The tenure of the TFG was initially five years and it was tasked principally to reach out to all stakeholders and to broaden the scope of dialogue among Somali citizens. In line with these tasks, the Djibouti agreement was signed between the TFG and the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS). Despite the initial five-year term, the TFG has been in place for eight years but with numerous challenges. In September 2011, however, representatives from the TFG, African Union (AU), United Nations (UN) and international actors met in Mogadishu to discuss a roadmap for the end of transition in Somalia. The document outlined the tasks of the TFG and the deadlines for each task. The tasks were centred on four benchmarks, namely security; constitution; national reconciliation and outreach; and good governance and accountability.

The constant state of insecurity experienced in Somalia requires a reform of the security sector. TFG was tasked with rebuilding and reforming the security sector to ensure national security. The rebuilding and establishment of key institutions is integral to this development. Somalia consists of a number of clans with different interests and the TFG is made up of representatives from a number of interest groups. Although this has created a sense of stability it has proved to be an obstacle in creating an organised security force. Therefore, AMISOM has been involved in training and reorganising the TFG forces. However, the task of training and restoring a security force for Somalia remains greatly challenged.

One of the key aspects of the roadmap was the drafting of a constitution, which is integral to the end of the transition. So far, the Somali constitution has been drafted through the assistance of members of the international community, the AU and the UN, and the TFG is still on course with the timeline proposed for the drafting of the constitution. So far, the draft constitution has been signed by signatories to the roadmap and is due to be submitted to a National Constituent Assembly made up of 825 representatives selected by a group of 135 traditional leaders for provisional adoption. The document is, however, supposed to be a living document that will be subject to a public referendum before the end of the new parliament`s term. The President will be elected by 4 August and his deputy by 20 August. Therefore, by 20 August a new government will be in place. The constitution will then be considered by the new parliament and the Somali people will vote on their acceptance of the constitution in a referendum.

The involvement of the Somali people and their ownership of the process are integral to its success. However, there has not been much achievement with regard to national reconciliation among Somali groups.

Good governance is important to ensure that policies are implemented. However, this aspect has proven difficult as ministries are under-staffed, making it difficult to implement decisions and policies. The lack of structures makes it even more difficult to provide for the basic needs of the people. The allegations of corruption among ministers have also led to the TFG not implementing any of the tasks effectively.

The international community`s involvement in the Somali crisis has intensified since the beginning of the year. Numerous conferences held by international actors have been a means of keeping the Somalia TFG leaders accountable. The February 2012 conference in London, and other meetings in Addis Abba, Istanbul, Nairobi and Rome have created momentum within the international community for addressing the crisis. The London and Istanbul conference were the two most important conferences in recent times. The London conference focused on various issues such as security and justice, piracy, terrorism, and humanitarian and international coordination, while Istanbul built on the issues discussed at the London conference but went further to discuss the role of reconstruction and development.

Challenges in the run-up to August 20

Somalia has been in a state of disarray for the last 22 years, since the overthrow of President Siad Barre, which ushered in an era of conflict and anarchy. The Somali conflict has been characterised by clanism, warlordism and piracy over the years. However, the conflict has evolved to include elements of terrorism, with Islamist insurgents such as al-Shabaab declaring its allegiance to al-Qaeda and formally announcing its merger with al-Qaeda in 2012. This increased link to terrorism has led to an increase in international attention.

However, there remain a number of challenges in the run-up to the August 20 deadline. The transition requires the support of the Somali people. If there is a lack of ownership by the Somali clans, this could possibly lead to renewed tensions. If the people don`t support the new government or don`t view the selection process as transparent, this will result in the government losing its legitimacy. National security remains a concern and the inadequacies of the TFG forces prove to be a challenge to the maintenance of peace after the end of the transition. During the transition there has been a lot of security support from AMISOM and neighbouring countries, but this support will reduce in the coming months and there are a number of aspects that need to be taken into account. The situation in Somalia remains fluid due to the presence and consistent activity of armed opposition groups (AOGs), all defending their individual interests. The hostile environment poses a challenge to the success of the transition. Thus, the TFG forces are integral for the maintenance of peace. However, the inconsistent management of defectors or ex-combatants from AOGs may result in their return to the conflict. Therefore, the new government needs to develop a policy and a DDR process to address this issue. The inflexible conditions of the donors make it difficult to ensure development across all sectors. The limited capacity of key institutions adds to the crisis of governance, which has been evident with the inability of the current TFG to address the food shortages in the country. The interests of regional actors will prove to have an effect on the success of the end to the transition as Eritrea has been accused of helping insurgents and Kenya and Ethiopia has to protect their borders, as there is an increase in terrorist activity spilling over to the neighbouring countries.

There still remain a number of aspects that need to be considered before 20 August. Among these is the problem experienced with the TFG and its  inability to implement any of the tasks assigned to it in the roadmap. The new government will most likely be a continuation of the same TFG officials and therefore a continuation of the same corruption and inability to govern. The selection process of the new government will be steered by the 135 elders on the selection committee, which is made up of 25 representatives from each of the four big clans and 35 representatives from the remaining smaller clans. There is concern that certain officials will either manipulate the voting system or refuse to hand over power. Apart from the struggle for power, the issue of federalism remains a concern. The push from the international community to stick to deadlines might have adverse effects because of the shortcuts taken. For example, there is no Independent Election Committee (IEC) in place to ensure that the election results are legitimate. This may lead to the Somali population questioning the results and to increase tension within the country.  This dissatisfaction could lead to the re-emergence of clan militias and warlordism. This is a concern as Al-Shabaab still controls parts of the country and the TFG`s inability to control the situation at present is of great concern for the effective establishment of sustainable peace.

The challenge of extending security beyond Mogadishu

The peace process in Somalia is greatly threatened by the Islamist armed group Al-Shabaab. For a long time they have controlled the southern region of Somalia, but national and regional forces have been able to gain key towns where Al-Shabaab bases were situated. Despite these recent gains, the situation in Somalia remains fluid. The attacks on Al-Shabaab bases near the towns of Afmadow and Afgoye have caused Al-Shabaab to order a withdrawal of its troops in an organised manner. The new pattern has witnessed it melting into the surrounding communities and making it difficult for national and regional forces to identify the insurgents. The recent attacks have greatly diminished its numbers and as a result Al-Shabaab seems to be avoiding a major confrontation with these forces. Therefore, there is currently an increase in attacks using improvised explosive devices (IEDs), particularly in the Mogadishu-Afgoye corridor. The total number of Al-Shabaab attacks in the month of May 2012 using ambushes was 19, in which 11 AMISOM soldiers died and 15 were injured.

However, increased military confrontation has resulted in Al-Shabaab withdrawing from key towns and thus its foothold in southern Somalia has diminished. It used to have a number of training bases along the Kenyan border and near Mogadishu, but AMISOM and TFG forces have pushed it back. Kismayo remains its main means of acquiring ammunition, weapons and supplies. Currently it occupies bases in Bardhere, Buaale, Jilib, Barawe and Merka, but they are thinly held. Its key base is in Kismayo, with 1500 militants, and therefore it remains the most import target for AMISOM and TFG forces.

Al-Shabaab`s initial strength in membership was estimated at 5000, but due to recent attacks its physical strength has reduced significantly. Its numbers are fairly elastic as it is difficult to obtain an exact number due to its ability to shift fighters within clan enclaves. The group has been weakened and the capture of Kismayu is likely to cut off its remaining sources of resources and strength.

Al-Shabaab has indicated its intent to vacate centres without fighting, largely due to the intensified military response from AMISOM and TFG forces. However, it has increasingly tried to colour the conflict as a clan-based conflict by appealing to smaller clans for support. Its main source of recruits is from areas that are dissatisfied with the TFG or the election process for the new government. This has especially taken place with clans around and in Kismayu, in order to make sure that it maintains control of the town. Al-Shabaab has also tried to project a religious dimension, as seen with the bombing of churches within Kenya, in an effort to create tension between Christians and Muslims. However, people from both faiths have spoken out against the attacks. These attempts by Al-Shabaab to garner support by exploiting existing grievances are a clear indication that it is aware of its weaknesses.

AMISOM and TFG forces are focused on capturing Kismayu in order to cut Al-Shabaab`s main source of supplies. Once this has been achieved it will be easier to secure the remaining strongholds. However, there remain a number of challenges. Lack of reliable communication links between sectors and force`s headquarters is the main challenge. This is mainly because of infrastructure and environmental (terrain) problems. Secondly, due to the scale of the operation, interoperability challenges are common. Thirdly, the lack of capability among the TFG and AMISOM forces, except for the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF), creates a challenge to effectively addressing the conflict consistently. These shortfalls are experienced with regard to intelligence gaps, lack of manpower and maritime capability. Fourth, the continuous flow of ammunition and supplies from troop contributing countries (TCCs) assists Al-Shabaab in maintaining its strength.

Post-transition scenarios in Somalia

The meeting also discussed scenarios for post-August Somalia. Three main scenarios were mentioned to as being the most likely to emerge. These are the musical chairs scenario, the gains drop scenario and the gains gain scenario. The musical chairs scenario is envisaged to be a situation where the status quo will remain despite a shuffling of the political leaders. Thus, creating a situation where the same issues of corruption and mismanagement persist and with no change in the conflict situation. The gains drop scenario would be a situation where all the improvements that took place within the transition phase are removed, with a return to the political unrest that has been the norm for more than two decades. The gains gain is the best scenario as this is where the end of the transition will witness more improvements in the records of gains towards peace in Somalia.

In order to avoid the worst-case scenario, a number of aspects need to be considered. The political actors need to ensure that there is Somali ownership of the process with visible active participation of the Somali people. International actors need to make sure that it remains a Somali mission rather than a situation controlled by the international community or regional actors. In dealing with saboteurs of the transition process, there is a need to focus on the enemy within and conscious efforts to address existing challenges associated with the war economy and the actions of conflict profiteers. Targeted sanctions will be effective in this regard. Careful consideration needs to be taken in the formation of the new Somali state, mainly the debate concerning the nature of the federal state in Somalia. A decision needs to be taken between the option of a strong central government and weaker local government. It does appear that the option of a weaker central government and a stronger local government needs to be given some consideration. The structures that are already in place in terms of clan structures and the generally strong Somali society also need to be taken into account in designing the nature of the state in Somalia.


Deliberations at the meeting pointed to the fact that the end of the transition provides the best chance of pacifying the conflict within Somalia and that the only way this will be a success is through the ownership of the Somali people. Despite the success that have been choked in recent times, the search for a stable and sustainable peace can only succeed with the establishment of effective political structures.


Ms Maria Maluleke
Fax: (012) 460 0997/8
Your comments
comments powered by Disqus