Hope grows in a post-transition Somalia

Saturday November 24 2012

By NYAMBEGA GISESA Special Correspondent

On the face of it, Somalia is on a roll. But will it last?

On November 8, Somali Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon took part in a rally in Mogadishu, where hundreds showed support for the country’s newly nominated “lean and effective” 10-member Cabinet.

Days later, on November 13, a total of 219 lawmakers voted yes to the Cabinet with three against while three others abstained.

So far, things seem to be working for Somalia’s first popularly elected government in decades as the country enters into an important post-transition period.

Weeks of anxious waiting for an extension to the Amisom mandate paid off on November 5, when the United Nations Security Council extended the mandate of the African Union troops.

“Somalia is evidently emerging from its worst days into a better future but it’s still a high risk moment. Many things can still go wrong,” Prof Ken Menkhaus, a professor of political science at Davidson College and a specialist on Somalia and the Horn of Africa, told The EastAfrican during a forum organised by the Rift Valley Institute last month.

Partners like Kenya are still expected to play a key role in supporting the Somali government and crushing remnants of Al Shabaab, whose operation areas have been largely in southern Somalia, with Kismayu as their former headquarters.

“Kismayu is a flashpoint for conflict and if its leadership challenge is amicably solved, it will form an example that the post-transition government will use in picking leaders for other liberated areas,” said Prof Menkhaus, who is also a senior fellow at the Enough Project.

Through seeking a key role in finding a political solution for Kismayu, the Mogadishu government is working towards building its legitimacy and sovereignty from the influence of foreign troops on its soils.

“Somalis are sick of warlords, jihadism and interference by the international community. Many Somalis want to take ownership of their own country,” Prof Menkhaus said.

Despite the optimism about the first democratically elected government on Somali soil in decades, it faces a string of challenges. His government is made up of inexperienced people, who are largely unknown in Somalia’s political circles.

“During the elections, they made every effort to ensure that warlords did not make it to parliament but still a few of the militia leaders made it. The warlords are still a concern and can interfere with the hopes of a new Somalia,” said Mohammed Affey, a former Kenyan ambassador to Somalia.

The ongoing fight against piracy is bringing in new security challenges, especially in the Puntland region, where former pirates have formed criminal gangs. Many jobless young people have been organising pirate raids and engaging as fighters in militia outfits.

“Managing public expectations is not easy. The new government has to do something that touches on people’s hopes immediately,” said Jabril Abdulle, director of the Centre for Research and Dialogue in Mogadishu.

Former chair of the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea Matt Bryden said that Somalia needs liberation from three things so as to avoid another false start: Al Shabaab, state capture and perpetual transition.

“The real challenge with Al Shabaab is not counter-insurgency but finding a political solution for the people. We should not forget that they represented genuine grievances and offered leadership when there was a power vacuum,” he said.

For Somalia to emerge from state capture, the new government needs to rein in the predatory nature of its officials and push for genuine separation of power between parliament and the executive.

The country should also develop its institutions, boost transparency in the private sector and grow investment confidence in its structures.

“We have never had an independent judiciary; it has never been in the system of the Somalis,” Mr Abdulle said.

Failed peace processes

Investors should be able to walk easily through the bureaucracy and the private sector should be more responsible in the way it operates.

Since the country went into civil war in 1991, there have been about 20 failed peace processes with the promise of transition to stable governments. Yet up to today the vast majority of past transition mandates remain unaddressed.

The underlying transition tasks include choosing a viable political system and dealing with civil and political rights. Among the contentious issues are whether the Somali want a unity government or semi-autonomous regions, if recently included regions by the outgoing president should be recognised, and how to draw borders between the various regions.