Nairobi, July 21, 2003 (The Nation) - Somali delegate Hawa Kheri protests after being thrown out of the talks at the Kenya College of Communications Technology, Mbagathi, Nairobi. She was one of the 170 delegates ejected for allegedly using fake cards to register.
It is about 11am on Friday. Somali delegates are clustered in groups. The ambience is relaxed yet the voices are mere murmurs.
Four groups are in the tea room on the second floor of the Kenya College of Communication Technology (KCCT) hotel while outside at the entrance, on the tarmac parking bay, are perhaps half a dozen people.
About four diplomatic cars are parked outside the hotel. The "observers" are from Egypt, Italy, Djibouti, United Nations, Arab League, Ethiopia, the UK, and the US. In low tones, these diplomats coach the delegates on how to influence the deliberations.
This is characteristic of the Somali peace and reconciliation talks at the KCCT, Mbagathi, in Nairobi's outskirts, nine months after former President Daniel arap Moi assembled protagonists around a ceasefire table.
But who are are these "observers"?
"People are here to pursue own interests. In fact, one would say that Somalia is up for grabs," says a delegate from Somaliland, the renegade region whose "head of State" has snubbed the Nairobi talks.
Mr Awad Ashara, spokesperson for Puntland region, talks of vested interests at play "outside the meeting rather than inside".
Kenya is impartial, he told this writer earlier in the week. "Kiplagat is a very, very compassionate and respectable, conciliatory person, he is an all-inclusive," he says of the Kenya Government's appointed mediator, Mr Bethuel Kiplagat.
As the Somaliland delegate talks, an Italian envoy in Kenya emerges from the building sandwiched between five elderly Somalis, all chatting away in Italian.
This writer tries to stop him for a question or two but he says he is in a hurry. "Call me in the office and let's see whether we can set up an appointment."
A representative of the Arab League gestures, saying: "The talks are going ahead all right but there are little things here and there we feel strongly about."
He abruptly pauses, stealing a glance at an approaching delegate. Then his voice drops, and he momentarily stops mid-sentence until the passer-by disappears. "We are not comfortable with the federal system and we want Arabic language to be retained in Somalia. These two issues are top on our agenda".
He adds: "The unity of the Somali people has to be highlighted. This is very important".
The observer has made it known to the delegation that Somalia's continuity in the Arab League depended on whether or not the country retained Arabic as the official language.
According to a British envoy, the Somalia negotiations "show a bit of a way to go". But there was hope, he said.
Interestingly, the presence of the US at KCCT has been erratic. However, an American of Somali origin has been constantly monitoring the discussions.
The ghosts of foreign interference have refused to leave the backyard. Last Tuesday, a number of delegates accused the Egyptian ambassador to Somalia of backing the current President of the Transition National Government, Mr Abdikassim Salat.
Mr Salat has been the lone voice against federalism, a stance that has infuriated his critics. In a letter to the just-concluded African Union summit in Maputo, Mozambique, dated July 9, 2003, a number of delegates asked the Union to banish Mr Salat for "being against" Nairobi negotiations.
About 21 signatories said since the Nairobi talks had made breakthrough in adopting a charter and laid the structure for a transition government that would guide them for the next four years, Mr Salat should not speak as president. His mandate, they said, had been cancelled by the new charter.
"The TNG president failed to implement the charter (that asked for federalism) for the two years he has been in power. In fact, that is why he is opposed to the charter," says Mr Ashara, who is also Puntland's minister for Justice.
But Mr Salat blames his predicament on neighbouring Ethiopia which, he says, has sponsored Somali rebels to frustrate his reconstruction efforts. "In short, Ethiopia's strategy is to undermine the re-emergence of a strong, united and vibrant Somalia," he says.
Some people call the negotiations "the scramble for Somalia", the Horn of Africa country reduced by militia to a clutter of regions.
The ousting of strongman Siad Barre on January 26, 1991, opened a pitched struggle of sorts. His adversaries went for the spoils on failing to agree on power-sharing. They grabbed regions populated by their own clans.
Unlike other African countries strewn by multi-lingual and ethnic loyalties, Somali is of one tribe: Somali. Islam is the only religion while the culture is distinctly homogeneous. Yet its own survival is in the hands of a social order knit together by clan loyalties and political disorientation, all wrapped up by decades of dictatorship since independence in 1960.
Soldier Barre seized power on October 21, 1969, following the assassination of then President Abdirashid Ali Shermarke a week earlier.
According to From Barre to Aideed, a book by former Somali ambassador to Kenya Hussein Ali Dualeh, Somalia's political order is based on kinship clans, namely: Hawiye, Isaq, Dir, Darod, Digil and Rahanweyn. And, the clanship is a weave of sub-clans.
Thus conflicts in the population is traced to the multiplicity of political parties, each of them drawing support and loyalty from specific clans or alliances. Currently, 60 clan-based political factions straddle the country.
So obvious have been fears that the clan loyalties threaten to balkanise the country, and historically, some of the big groups, such as the Hawiye, have insisted on cessation. Now without a central administration, Somalia is balkanised into 16 regions, each led by a warlord.
Mr. Asmara estimates the militia force at 100,000 soldiers.
The peace talks enter a crucial phase tomorrow. The 400 delegates will nominate 351 MPs who will in turn elect a transitional president and Speaker of the House and two vice-Speakers.
These officials will have four years to oversee the disarmament of the militias, pursue reconciliation and lay the ground for a popular government.
Somali leaders expect the international community to fund the transition. Yet to be worked out is the amount of finances required to bring order in the country, but if the apparent involvement of foreign nations in the mediation indicates their interest, the assistance should be readily available.
Puntland President Abdullahi Yusuf wants the federal forces to be blended with an international force with the mandate to mop up illegal guns.
"If we do not do that, we will fall in the way of Salat. He has been holed up in Mogadishu and he cannot administer because he is unable to implement the charter," he says.
"Well, we want to immediately establish a government here and immediately disarm people and pacify the country".
The President of Somaliland snubbed the talks. Mr Kiplagat says Somaliland leaders declined reconciliation overtures.
His predecessor, Mr Elijah Mwangale, travelled to Hargeisa, Somaliland's capital to convince the leadership to take part in the negotiations but they declined. Mr Kiplagat himself sent a letter to the Somaliland administration but he received no reply.
Yet the talks are riven with fears that some delegates and non-governmental organisations are uncomfortable with the likely end of hostilities because that would threaten their easy money.
However, Kenyan scholar, Prof Ali Mazrui, says Somaliland should be let to go its way, for it has resources to sustain itself. "The situation in Somalia now is a culture of rules without rulers, a stateless society," he said last week.
"There is order there, they have the potential to survive". One day, he says, Somaliland will organise and get back to the larger Somalia.