|Home | Contact us | Links | Archives|
|It Is Now Or Never For Somalia|
Nairobi, February 12, 2004 (The East African Standard) – The third phase of the long drawn Somali peace talks is set to begin next week at the Kenya College of Communications Technology, Mbagathi, with some of the sticky issues carried forward from the second phase being among those expected to play themselves out prominently.
With the tricky question of power sharing and the formation of an all - inclusive government as the main agenda, Article 30 of the Somali Charter - expected to be adopted by the next government as the Constitution for a federal Somali state - is bound to be the centre of focus as some participants are still dissatisfied with the formula for the formation of the 275 member parliament and the eventual appointment of a transitional president.
While according to the Charter, power is to be shared along the 4.5 clans -where 4 stands for the four major clans Hawiyes, Darods, Digil as well as Mirife and Dir and the 0.5 stands for a conglomeration of the numerous minor clans normally referred to as the fifth clan -other regions like the breakaway Puntland feel that it ought to have been given greater representation. Each of the four major clans are to each have an equal number of MPs while the fifth clan is to have half the share of what has been allocated to the major clans.
But, other than the reservations being expressed by the Puntland, there is also the question of who has the right to choose the MPs.
The Charter seems to bestow that mandate to a section of delegates, who last attended peace talks held at Safari Park last year - who were mainly political leaders - together with a team of those who will be agreed upon as genuine traditional elders, but this seems to leave other participants at the plenary of the on-going talks left out.
Currently there are five different groups taking part in the peace talks, namely, the Transitional National Government, the Somali Restoration and Reconciliation Council, Civil Society Organizations, the National Salvation Council and another one referred to simply as the Group of Eight. This means that, should the approximate 39 political leaders have their way, the remaining 361 delegates could start feeling thoroughly disenfranchised.
But critics say that this is a matter that had actually been long ironed out, only that there is a section of delegates who have specialized on going back and forth on every issue, a factor to which observers are now attributing the fruitlessness of the 14-month long negotiation process. The on-going Somali National Reconciliation Conference, the fourteenth attempt at bringing peace in the war torn Somali Republic that has not had a government since the collapse of the General Mohammed Siad Barre leadership in 1991, started on October 15, 2002 with meetings in Eldoret.
The prime achievement of the 14 month talks is regarded as the signing of the Declaration on Cessation of Hostilities on October 27, 2002, though this has itself been violated several times due to what analysts are billing as a manifestation of lack of trust and proper consultations on the way forward. It is generally agreed, for instance, that a cease-fire cannot hold without the militias being disarmed, a process that requires the goodwill of all factional leaders.
But the factional leaders argue that they cannot disarm without first being guaranteed that an all - inclusive government will be formed - a process that is expected to generate heated debate in the third phase beginning next week - and that they will be properly represented. Independent observers are in agreement that it will be unwise to disarm militias without a government in place to prevent re-acquisition of arms.
The winding nature of these arguments has without doubt put the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) committee, one of the six reconciliation committees formed when the Declaration of Cessation of Hostilities was signed in 2002, in a tight spot. While DDR is now consulting with the African Union's newly formed Peace and Security Council on the way forward, its progress looks beholden to the impending third phase that should determine whether a five year transition government will be formed or not.
An official of the African Union, speaking to the East African Standard on condition of anonymity, said the real challenge to Somalia is neither the disarmament nor the formation of the transition government, since all this can eventually be achieved, but the sustainability of peace and stability.
While it is being recognized that the factional leaders have been a threat to peace in Somalia, the main fear currently revolves around the long standing suspicion between Somalia and its neighbors - who are said to have greatly fuelled the war that toppled the Siad Barre government.
This is a view that some delegates at the conference seem to share. It could well be true that, when the Somali Republic - home to an approximate 9 million people - finally realizes peace, its leaders may again embark on the ambition of establishing the greater Somalia of five clans that are represented by the five stars on the national flag.
This may mean demanding the 3000 Km stretch of land along the Ethiopian border occupied by some 6 million Somalis; asking for some parts of Northern Kenya inhabited by up to 3 million people of Somali origin and also hoping that Eritrea will agree to the hiving off of some parts of its soil. Though currently only postulated in theory, it is a matter that has had serious historical implications in the past, the hallmark of which was the so-called Ogaden War with Ethiopia during Siad Barre's reign.
The Kenyan Somalis voted overwhelmingly in favor of being part of the greater Somalia during a referendum organized by Britain in the early 1960s just before handing over independence to Kenya.
Their view was overlooked and their further attempt at pulling away led to the bloody shifta war later in the 1960s. On the other hand, Libya, Egypt and Djibouti are known to have extraneous interests in the Somali peace process that are understood to have their roots in the potential for oil and its ramifications for the interests of the Arab League.
So, other than the obvious sensitivity that has attended border issues in the Horn of Africa - especially in view of the costly war between Ethiopia and Eritrea in the late 1990s over disputed pieces of land that included Salambesa Aiga - this historical perspective highlights deeply rooted suspicions within Somalia's neighbors that are now being feared to have the potential to undermine the peace process.
The move to include the breakaway Somali states of Puntland and Somaliland in the final government is already being undermined by the border dispute between the two. Initial hopes of holding parallel reconciliation talks within the conference between Somaliland and Puntland over the disputed Las Anod strip have been dashed by Somaliland's failure to send representatives to the talks.
That also means that, should the third phase of the conference eventually come up with a transition government, the breakaway Somaliland may still not be part of it. The conference may also be expected to resolve some minor issues that are still pending such as the place of language and culture.
While the Charter suggests that Somalia be made both the official and national language with Arabic as an alternative, other groups such as those allied to the president of the Transitional National Government, Mr Abdiqassim Salad Hassan, feel that they should both be rated equally as national languages.