Many analysts say hopes for peace in Somalia seem slim, as the country marks the 20th anniversary of the coup that brought down long-time ruler Mohamed Siad Barre.
Since 1991, more than 16 transitional governments have failed and the latest is battling an Islamist insurgency.
Somalia’s current transitional federal government (TFG) controls only parts of the capital, Mogadishu, and portions of the country’s center.
It’s a daily struggle to both fight off Islamic insurgents while managing a humanitarian crisis in a city with thousands of jobless and internally displaced people. The TFG has also been trying to manage relations with break-away regions like Somaliland and Puntland. The acting head of political affairs for the U.N. Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS), Tariq Chaudhry, explains why the country as a whole is less successful than the autonomous regions of Somaliland and Puntland in organizing an effective government.
“Somaliland was homogeneous in the sense that there was one clan that was predominant throughout the region. The same was the case in Puntland, but that was not the case in the rest of Somalia. In the rest of Somalia, three or four major clans fought with each other to control various parts of the country. There were always areas of contention; there were also long-standing disputes over land and water rights.”
Despite these factors, Chaudhry says there has been progress:
“They have been able to extend some control in Mogadishu, taking over half of the city. They’ve also been able to build bridges, not only with Puntland but also with new regional administrations that have been emerging in central Somalia. They’ve also had the task of developing a new constitution for Somalia, and that task is well on its way.”
Despite the accomplishments, Chaudhry says much remains to be done. Some of it will have to wait for the next government, which is expected to be named by Parliament when the mandate of the current government expires six months from now.
The importance of inclusion
Somalia’s transitional governments have been built on the lessons learned from the collapse of the previous efforts to re-establish civilian rule in Somalia. Chaudhry says those lessons demonstrate the value of increasing efforts to include groups that have traditionally remained outside the political process. That means bringing in moderates from extremist groups, as well as civil society elements, such as women’s groups, religious leaders, clan elders and youth.
Government outreach has been underway for years. For example, Chaudhry says 10 years ago, an early transitional government was undermined by warlords who were left outside the administration. So they were included in the next government, formed in 2004. But that government excluded Islamic factions, which in turn undermined the process. A series of clashes then led to military intervention from neighboring Ethiopia.
In 2008, negotiators in talks in Djibouti made headway in unifying more elements, but it was during this period that the radical Islamist group al Shabab began to take hold.
“The problem,” Chaudhry says, “has always been that while all these efforts have attempted to be inclusive, they have not been all-inclusive. And realistically, they cannot be all inclusive because if you try to go for an all-inclusive situation, you give the right of veto to any one group or faction that wants it spoiled.”
“So the push toward a transitional government,” he says, “has been very erratic but incremental.”
The U.N. political affairs officer says this pattern is continuing even though the end of transition is expected this year in August.
Challenge for Africa
In the meantime, the political situation in Somalia continues to be a challenge for the continent and its leaders.
The collapse of the Barre government spread instability throughout the region, says Chaudhry, leading to an insurgency in Ethiopia and terrorist attacks in Kenya, Tanzania and, more recently, Uganda.
Another result of instability is the unprecedented rise of piracy off Somalia’s coast, he says. “It is a big burden and a big challenge for Africa. And the African Union has been doing its best by deploying a peacekeeping force in Mogadishu.”
Chaudhry says the African Union has been working to create greater harmony among Somalia and surrounding countries. He says the AU has been able to get Somalis to work toward peaceful solutions.
He adds that Somalia “is not an easy problem to solve. It will take time,” but he says there’s a lot of international support for Somalia continuing to move in what he calls the right direction.