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|Warlords Delay Somalia’s Long Search For Peace|
Jonathan Clayton, The Times, UK, May 02, 2003
As Somalia's warlords go, Hassan Mohamed Nur is refreshingly honest. "Ambition is now the main problem. Everyone wants a position in government, everyone wants to be satisfied," he said.
"Shatigudud", or Red Shirt, as he is known to his supporters in the Rahanweyn Resistance Army (RRA), is explaining why the Somali peace talks, which are about to enter a critical stage, will have to last a little longer. The talks, hosted by the Kenyan Government, have been going on for more than seven months.
"Everybody wants peace and stability, you see - we have killed enough people and destroyed enough, but every leader first wants his position to be satisfied," he said.
The talks are already the longest in more than a dozen failed internationally sponsored attempts to broker peace in the country, which collapsed in anarchy over a decade ago and was carved up into fiefdoms by armed, clan-based groups, each with their own "warlord" or, in United Nations jargon, "faction leader". The previous deals fell apart before the ink was dry.
So far, the talks have cost more than $2 million (£1.4 million) and are way over budget, a situation not helped by a recent auditors’ report, ordered by alarmed donors, which found that tens of thousands of pounds were lost as a result of financial irregularities. These ranged from day rates (per diems) to bogus delegates - about 1,000 turned up at the opening session instead of the 400 expected - and hotel bills for non-authorized guests to trips around the country in official transport vehicles. Faction leaders also demanded separate vehicles for themselves and their "staffs".
Critics say that the UN and the European Union have learnt nothing from past mistakes and allowed the talks simply to turn into a "junket for warlords" and their thuggish supporters. In the early days, fights broke out between Kenyan security officials, and some of the warlords’ "advisers", minibus operators and rival Somali factions.
"The conference has become a cake-cutting exercise in power-sharing by an un-elected and only partially representative political elite that threatens only to repeat the mistakes of earlier, failed initiatives," Matt Bryden, an analyst on Somalia for the Brussels-based think-tank the International Crisis Group, said. The main problem, he said, was that most of the people attending the talks were self-appointed.
A Somali UN employee said: "This whole thing has been a fiasco. The problem is that the international community is not really involved. They have subcontracted everything out to local players while they concentrated on Iraq and elsewhere."
Finally, to save money, it was decided last February to relocate the talks to Nairobi from the small tea-growing town of Eldoret, in western Kenya, where it had been thought that the quietness would be conducive to serious negotiation but which simply led to hangers-on thronging the small market town. The Kenyan Government made available the campus of the Kenya College of Communications and brought down costs by allowing 380 delegates to stay in the Hall of Residence, where daily meals are provided and conference facilities are on the doorstep. Even then, local mini-bus drivers would shuttle the delegates to Nairobi only after the Government intervened to assure them that all outstanding bills would be settled. "The move has brought the (daily) cost down to around $35-$40 per delegate, as compared to at least $55 in Eldoret, not including transport. So far the EU has disbursed only about $2 million," a Kenyan organizer said.
The transfer was not popular with many warlords. One called it an insult to Islam to hold the talks at such a venue after wild pigs from the nearby National Park were found dozing under campus trees.
"Shatigudud" says that the end is in sight, but the timing and success or failure of the talks will depend on the continued engagement of the international community.
A slight man with a kind smile, the ubiquitous gold tooth and omnipresent mobile phone, "Shatigudud" - so called because, as a young man in Mogadishu in the 1970s, he loved to wear red shirts - has been present since the start.
He has seen his power gradually eroded. His deputy split off to lead another faction, soon to be joined by others. Meanwhile, other groups allied to the RRA also broke away and built new alliances. Even "Shatigudud" says that he is no longer sure how many splinter groups there are. "There may be another split on the way. We are not sure about some of the deputies still in Mogadishu, it could be three, possibly four," he said.
Somalia, a former Cold War cockpit, collapsed in anarchy after the overthrow in 1991 of the late-dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, derisively referred to as "Afweyne" (big mouth) by many of his subjects for failing to deliver on his promises of economic development.
Since 1993, when a US-led aid mission went wrong and American troops and UN peacekeepers were killed, the West has largely ignored the impoverished state, leaving the UN and EU to administer aid and reconstruction projects and foster a political settlement.
Things changed with terrorism: Somalia, with its long, porous borders and strategic location across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen, coupled with its lack of any central government or recognized authority, was allegedly a haven for terrorists.
The United States claimed that al-Qaeda held training camps in the country. Investigators say the plotters of last November’s terrorist attacks in Mombassa slipped in and out of Kenya from Somalia. Other reports said that the perpetrators of the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam had ties to the country.
It was decided that it was time to have another go at establishing an "all-inclusive central government" for Somalia, one that would enjoy the support and recognition of the international community. The EU agreed to finance the process, which it was estimated could cost about $8 million.
The three-year mandate of the existing "legal" entity known as the Transitional National Government (TNG), which emerged out of a mere four months of UN-sponsored talks in Djibouti in 2000, also expires this summer.
The TNG occupies Somalia’s seat at the UN and the African Union, but in reality controls an area of the country smaller than that of Greater London.
Backers dispute critics who say that the talks are a waste of time. They argue that everybody is represented in one form or another and, as a result, an all-inclusive government will ultimately emerge.
"We are here working towards the formation of a government that will allow all the Somali people to rule and govern themselves in keeping with the wishes of their people," Winston Tubman, the UN’s representative to Somalia, recently said.
Riven by strife
Somalia was formed in 1960 by an amalgamation of Italian Somaliland and British Somaliland. The democratic government was overthrown by Major General Mohamed Siad Barre in 1969. He aligned himself to the Soviet Union but, when Somalia began supporting insurgents in Ethiopia, the Soviets withdrew their support.
In 1991 General Barre was forced to flee the capital, Mogadishu. An insurgent group in the former British Somaliland then proclaimed the Somaliland Republic and a power struggle began between forces loyal to Mohamed Ali Mahdi and those of Mohamed Farah Aidid. The UN sent peacekeepers and food aid in 1992, but became embroiled in the conflict when convoys came under attack. The US then sent in Marines, but they were forced to withdraw in 1994.