Paraphrasing an article, I wrote in 2012, following the election of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as President of Somalia, today -again – Somalia eyes its first glimmer of hope in decades with the election today of the new president, Mohamed Abdullahi “Farmaajo”. Just like in 2012, the international community talks about end of a transition – again. Indeed, in so many ways, Somalia is still at the same point as then. Perhaps except for the problematic formation of federal states, and the urban development in Mogadishu, which can be credited to the citizens and Turkey rather than the outgoing government.
Just like in 2012, the new President came to power based on deep frustrations amongst Somalis of the ongoing government corruption, and deep wish and need for change. Instead, corruption appeared to get worse – to the point that even the new corrupted MPs could not defend supporting the incumbent President. However, Farmaajo is a very popular President, which stems from the perceived credible and accountable performance during his tenure as Prime Minister in 2011. Hence, the Somalis hope for change and progress this time, with Farmaajo at the helm. Hopefully, Farmaajo has learned from his tenure and will not repeat Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s mistakes to lead Somalia out of corruption and war.
However, what we have is still just a glimpse of hope for peace in Somalia. The challenges ahead are tremendous, and the frustrations and grievances we have seen during the election process will need to be addressed urgently. Tensions between the clans was deepened during both the election process and formation of new federal states. Al Shabaab remains, and will continue their strategies of playing Somali clans out in their game to discredit and weaken government. Hence, like in 2012 security and stabilization remain key challenges to the new President. However, the absolute key challenges to achieve security and stabilization will be to end corruption and the war economy, and finally engage in an overdue and profound peace and reconciliation process throughout Somalia.
The UN and international approach to peace building in Somalia has so far been extremely state-centred, based on establishing power-sharing arrangements rather than prompting actual reconciliation. This miscalculation has been at the root of the failure of all the previous transitional governments. Even now, the new government is considered by the international community as a model for national reconciliation and good governance. This is far from being the case.
Key issues of reconciliation, namely the rights to land and resource sharing must be addressed. The new government with the support of the international community must prompt this process at the local levels, and build new accountable governance structures up from below. The new central government should refrain from manipulating or controlling this process, but should simply allow for its facilitation.
Bottom-up reconciliation will be a key to success for the new government, which in turn should refrain from trying to impose its power from top down. AMISOM forces’ ‘liberation’ of new areas should be used to prompt such local reconciliation processes involving the true local elders, women and youth groups. The finalization of the provisional constitution should await and reflect the outcomes of the peace and reconciliation processes throughout the country, as agreements made should be built into the amendment of the provisional constitution.
The war with Al Shabaab is still ongoing, and it is important that AMISOM does not start winding down their peacekeeping mission. Not at least because the FGS security forces and police are far from being in place, are still fragmented, still underpaid, and many of the forces are following their old militia loyalties, that is warlords, strong businessmen etc. There is a need to provide the forces and police with appropriate administrative training, functional courts, and police stations. To begin with, this can probably only be done with the participation of communities, district by district, a process which at the same time could address the dire need for reconciliation at local grass-roots level.
In the meantime, the new parliament and central government should prepare the ground for a constitutional process based on the outcomes of the localized reconciliation processes, towards a new constitution, which builds on indigenous political institutions on one hand but also paves the way from clan-based constituencies to geographical ones.
It should also launch a break from the past financial management practices and embark upon building governmental institutions characterized by accountability and transparency; showing the Somali public that the government’s own revenue will be spent on rebuilding the country, health and education sectors as well as for a new national security sector. It must also safeguard its territorial integrity, especially in regards to its international waters and in combating piracy.
Healing Somalia requires a comprehensive long-term strategy, not a quick fix. It is therefore important that all achievements enable a move away from dependency on the humanitarian aid system towards development and long term investments in the economy. The new coalition of politicians working across the clans in Mogadishu is the best opportunity for Somalia since 1990.
By Joakim Gundel, Director of KATUNI Consult