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The End Of Warlord Government In Somalia
A New Approach to Genuine Peace & Reconciliation
By Ahmed M.I. Egal
The Warlord Government Era
The time for wishful thinking and fantasy solutions to the crisis in Somalia is finally over. The slow motion disintegration of Abdillahi Yusuf’s TFG, the latest fiction purporting to be a government of Somalia cobbled together by the international community, is the final chapter of this sad and sorry saga of foreign powers seeking to establish a client regime in Somalia. In 1996 the members of the Arab League, acting through Djibouti, created the TNG of Abdul Qasim Salat which proved incapable of establishing its legitimacy and governing the country. When Al-Ittihad-Al-Islami (Al-Ittihad), a major constituent element of the TNG which had six of its members as Cabinet Ministers at one time, became a pariah after 9/11 and was placed on the US Government’s list of terrorist organizations, the writing was on the wall for the TNG. Domestically, the TNG was perceived as a Hawiye-lead regime, but Salat was unable to unite the Hawiye behind his government, nor establish alliances with other clans and groups to broaden its base, and thereby legitimize, his regime.
Ethiopia , having watched with growing concern as its enemies (namely Al-Ittihad) and regional political competitors (namely Egypt and Sudan) assumed control over the TNG, decided that it could not allow another Somali government to be established without its imprimatur. Accordingly, when yet another reconciliation conference was convened in Embagathi, Kenya after the demise of the TNG, Ethiopia was determined to play an effective and pro-active role. Their preferred candidate for President, the Puntland President and old Majerteyn strongman, Abdillahi Yusuf, won his bid for the Presidency and the TFG was duly born. However, the TFG had the same lack of legitimacy as the TNG, and arguably the TFG had a greater problem in this regard than the TNG. At least the TNG attempted to incorporate elements of civil society, while the TFGT was composed unapologetically of warlords and their representatives, with the biggest warlord Abdillahi Yusuf, at the head.
The Collapse of the TFG - A Falling Out Among Thieves
Despite Ethiopia’s unstinting support, including its invasion of the country to expel the fanatics which had usurped the leadership of the UIC and install the TFG in Mogadishu under an Ethiopian security umbrella, Yusuf and his gang of warlords have been completely unable to legitimize their ‘government’ by articulating a new vision for the establishment of the state and promoting genuine reconciliation among the people of Somalia. The recently concluded reconciliation conference in Mogadishu was an elaborate sham attended by paid retainers and warlord entourages to satisfy the international community, which had made further funding conditional upon the holding of such a conference. During the time the conference was being organized and held, Yusuf and Geedi were each seeking to consolidate their power within the TFG at the others’ expense in anticipation of the post-conference period when its sham would be exposed.
Thus, Yusuf sought to concentrate military power and the security apparatus within the TFG in the hands of his Majerteyn clansmen, e.g. by appointing the notorious warlord and mass murderer, Col. Morgan (known as the ‘Butcher of Hargeysa’ for his genocidal campaign against the Isaaq in Somaliland during the Siyad Barre dictatorship) as Head of the Army and National Security. It is noteworthy that, when in Mogadishu, Morgan lives in the Presidential Palace with Yusuf and that he personally commands the President’s security detail. Geedi, for his part, has moved to consolidate his control over the government by dismissing Ministers not loyal to him personally and he has also sought to establish control over the aid funds provided by various sources, i.e. EU, US and various Arab countries. However, the issue which not only brought their conflict out into the open, but which also exposed its true nature as a fight over loot, was the proposed Oil Law governing exploitation of hydrocarbon resources.
Yusuf had a head start in this area since his old fiefdom, Puntland, over which he continues to exert control through his chosen successor (Adde Muse), had already signed a concession agreement with an Australian independent, Range Resources, and part of the payments made by Range Resources to the Government of Puntland flowed to Yusuf. Despite his plaintive protestations that Puntland’s agreement with Range Resources should be brought under the TFG umbrella, Geedi knew that this wouldn’t happen and that he was effectively cut out from this particular cash cow. However, when the Chinese and western oil majors indicated that they would be willing to open negotiations for oil exploration in Somalia, he saw his opportunity and immediately demanded that any such negotiations be held with himself and his government. Realizing that such a formula could exclude him, or at the least sideline him, Yusuf decided that Geedi had to go and set about securing a no-confidence against him in the parliament. In short, with the fiction of their legitimacy exposed and having no vision for the future, save securing their own, personal positions, Yusuf and Geedi are now squabbling over the spoils of war, much like robbers fighting over the loot they have stolen.
. (Bartaa ku jooji)
The Wrong Approach to Reconciliation in Somalia
For the last 15 years the world has closed its ears to those which had counseled that the solution to the crisis in Somalia can be found in Hargeysa. Many people inside and outside Somaliland, including academics and others with deep knowledge of Somalia, have maintained that the approach adopted by the international community to establish peace and reconciliation in that country is basically flawed and will not yield a positive result. The fundamental flaws of the approach can be summarized as follows:
The futility of this top-down, warlord-focused approach to peace making and reconciliation in Somalia dates back to the international community’s first intervention in that country during the early 1990s under UNOSOM. Even then, its utility and appropriateness was questioned, most notably by the UNOSOM’s first head, Mohammed Sahnoun of Algeria. Sahnoun’s spirited objections to the UN’s policy of negotiating with the warlords in favor of dealing directly with the people through their traditional clan leaders and social structures quickly lead to his removal and set the template for all future international efforts to achieve peace and reconciliation in Somalia. Since 1996 Somaliland has been advising the international community that this warlord-focused approach is doomed to failure and that there is a better way to achieve peace and reconciliation in Somalia. The impending collapse of the TFG is eloquent evidence of the bankruptcy and futility of this approach to rescuing the people of Somalia from anarchy, starvation and misery. The question facing the international community is: what now? Another sham reconciliation conference to create another illegitimate, warlord-lead government is too ridiculous to contemplate, so what now?
The Somaliland Experience – Background
There is an alternative approach, based upon local culture and traditions, which has been indigenously developed by the Somali people themselves. This approach was developed and employed in Somaliland and has resulted in the establishment of a functioning democracy in that country with a written constitution, separation of powers between the executive, legislature and judiciary. Since adopting this approach to peace and national reconciliation, Somaliland has witnessed two peaceful, constitutional, changes of President and held elections deemed free and fair by both local and foreign observers for local government, the national parliament and the Presidency. The next round of elections are scheduled for early 2008 for all three branches of government, and there is no fear whatsoever that they will not also be free and fair. One would expect that this stunning success in indigenous conflict resolution and nation-building would be welcomed with open arms by the international community, however it has seen fit to ignore Somaliland’s example for the last 15 years.
After the Somali National Movement (SNM), the guerrilla group that fought to overthrow the Siyad regime and reclaim Somaliland’s independence, successfully evicted Siyad Barre’s army and air force from the country in 1991, Somaliland declared independence from Somalia. An SNM government was duly installed in Hargeysa, however it soon became clear that this government was not up to the task of establishing a functioning, democratic, nation-state. This was due to several reasons, but the central one related to the way in which the SNM itself was organized as a guerrilla movement, which was along clan lines. Thus, when the organization’s principal aim of the liberation of the country was achieved, the SNM army reverted back to their clan loyalties and the SNM government was unable to disarm their own cadres which had become clan militias. With the country swarming with these heavily armed clan militias, simple and routine clan disputes and competition quickly degenerated into armed conflict. In addition, in the context of a country that had been totally destroyed, with very limited opportunities for employment and income generation for the militia cadres, extra judicial use of their weaponry to generate revenues, e.g. establishing road blocks to gather ‘taxes’, quickly became a growth industry.
An Alternative Approach – The Borama Conference
Some of the inter-clan conflicts escalated into all out wars with the deployment of heavy weaponry on each side and substantial casualties not only among the militias, but also among the civilian population. Against this backdrop of a rapidly escalating anarchy, the SNM government proved ineffectual with its own ministers’ active in the clan wars. By the end of 1992, the level of anarchy in Somaliland was comparable to that in Somalia to the south, and it was in this atmosphere of clan conflict and anarchy that the elders of the country decided to take a courageous and historic step to stop the madness. They decided to convene a national conference of all the clans and communities that inhabit Somaliland to discuss and settle all outstanding grievances between them in an atmosphere of fraternity and open dialogue. To this end, they deliberately choose to focus upon the traditional, social, political and religious representatives of the clans, i.e. the elders, largely honorary sultans, businessmen, intellectuals and poets. The Gadabursi clan, which was largely absent from the ranks of the SNM, offered to host the conference at Borama, which is the capital in the predominantly Gadabursi Awdal region.
It is extremely noteworthy that the Borama Conference was conceived, organized and held outside the auspices of the ineffectual SNM government in Hargeysa, as well as the leaders of the various clan militias (many of whom comprised the leadership of the SNM military wing and were thus the heroes of the liberation war against the Siyad Barre dictatorship) were not given a prominent role. It is equally noteworthy that there was no formal, preset agenda for the conference, nor was there a preset time deadline to which the participants had to adhere. Neither was there any formal delegate procedure by which the participants were determined by any external body, rather, each clan was free to choose its representation as it saw fit. Thus, the Borama Conference became the first time in modern history, and perhaps ever, that all of the clans of Somaliland gathered together to discuss their differences and how they were going to live together in the future. It was truly a unique and historic exercise in indigenous, democratic, open, political debate, which harked back to the traditional, Somali practice of settling clan disputes through dialogue at meetings held under the shade of a tree. This firm grounding in local culture and history, not to mention the deliberate absence of foreign influence and interference, enabled the conference to secure the support and participation of all the clans in a an open and fraternal spirit.
The Borama Conference lasted some four months and all outstanding issues between the clans were discussed and debated in the most open and inclusive manner possible. Thus, issues relating to the Siyad Barre era as well as recent disputes and conflicts were openly and fully aired. True to Somali, nomadic tradition many minor and major disputes between particular clans were discussed and settled in bilateral meetings between their elders and representatives, while other, more intractable or more emotive ones, between particular clans were discussed and resolved through the mediation of neutral, third parties. The conference was hugely successful in its aim of settling all outstanding issues between the Somaliland clans, and it resulted in an agreement to secede from Somalia by reclaiming the sovereignty of the Republic of Somaliland which had united with Somalia in 1960 in an Act of Union that had never been ratified by the people of Somaliland. The major conclusions of the Borama Conference which all the clans solemnly vowed to be bound are listed below:
The House of Representatives was chosen at the conference and it held its first meeting in Borama at the end of said conference. A new President to succeed the outgoing SNM government was duly elected and Somaliland’s experiment in indigenous conflict resolution and democratic nation-building was initiated amid much euphoria and tremendous hope. At this point, it must be stated that the Borama Conference and the initiative in national reconciliation had generated overwhelming popular support. This massive public support was critical in forestalling any efforts that various interests may have had in disrupting or sabotaging the conference. After some 22 years of brutal, military dictatorship and 10 years of war, genocide and mass flight as the SNM fought to liberate the country from Siyad Barre, the public was tired of war and destruction. The Borama Conference proved successful in quelling the anarchy that existed in the country and most of the clans did in fact transfer most of their weaponry to the new government and demobilized those of their militias which were not absorbed into the national army.
In fact, there was only one significant holdout when one clan refused to abide by the Borama agreements and it, in effect, declared war upon the government created in Borama. However, after a few months of sporadic, if at times intense, fighting, negotiations between the government and the clan leadership (which the clan militia had initially resisted) were opened and concluded successfully. This clan militia then surrendered their weapons to the government at a ceremony held in the Hargeysa stadium and some of their cadres were inducted into the national army, while the rest were demobilized. The success of the Borama Conference can be gauged by the fact that within eight months of its successful conclusion, the entire country of Somaliland had been pacified, municipal, regional and national governments had been established, a two chamber legislature was established and functioning as were local and national courts as well as a national police force. This is not to say that all these institutions were working well or effectively, in fact their performance was somewhat sketchy. It must be remembered that the country had been completely destroyed and that these institutions were established from literally nothing, with no desks, computers or filing systems in most instances. What is important, however, is that they were established, that they enjoyed public support and consent and that they were staffed and functioning.
Crafting A New Approach in Somalia
Clearly there are significant differences between the situation prevalent in Somaliland in 1992/93 and that which prevails in Somalia today, not least the widespread cynicism among the people of Somalia which have witnessed successive warlord ‘governments’ installed under the aegis of foreign powers during the last eleven years. Thus it would not be reasonable to simply graft the Borama formula onto clans in Somali, if this were possible, and expect similar results. In addition, the social make-up of society is somewhat different between Somalia and Somaliland. Somalia contains a significant sedentary, agricultural population that are not nomadic and which have somewhat different internal social organizations compared to the nomadic clan system, particularly in the region in the south around the Juba and Shebelle rivers. Finally, inter-clan conflicts and enmities are much more entrenched and deeply felt than was the case in Somaliland. After all, the inter-clan conflicts which erupted in Somaliland were swiftly addressed and settled, while in Somalia they have continued for the last decade and a half and much blood has flowed during this time entrenching the bitterness and hatred. Thus, promoting reconciliation in Somalia will be a much harder objective to achieve than it was in Somaliland, nevertheless the two countries share some most important factors militating in favor of peace, reconciliation and the re-establishment of the state.
Arguably the most important of these factors is the war fatigue of the general public and their desperate yearning for peace and a functioning government. The ordinary people of Somalia are as weary of the endless cycle of violence and the vicious and capricious rule of the warlords, as they are cynical about the integrity of the successive ‘governments’ hatched by regional powers in foreign capitals, not to mention the venality of the false leaders of these ‘governments’. Thus, when the local Sharia courts established by businessmen in various Mogadishu districts to adjudicate on local disputes, began to challenge the writ of the warlords some years ago, there was a huge groundswell of popular support for them. Within a few months these courts, and the militias they had assembled, comprised of local youths and defectors from warlord militias, had become powerful enough to evict the warlords from Mogadishu. For the first time in nearly two decades, there arose in Somalia a hope for a post-warlord political reconciliation. Unfortunately, the success of the courts attracted the attention of the remnants of Al-Ittihad which had been quietly biding their time after the collapse of the TNG.
These remnants, under the leadership of Dahir Aweys and Adan Ayro among others, saw their opportunity in the success and popularity of the Sharia courts. The Al-Ittihad remnants succeeded in taking control of the Sharia courts movement through stealth and infiltration, using their superior organizational skills, disciplined militia leadership and cadres, as well as their superior funding from external sources. However, having secured control over the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), Al-Ittihad swiftly began to impose its harsh, alien and brutal vision of Islam. Having flocked to support the UIC against the warlords, the brutalized people of Somalia soon found themselves under the rule of any equally oppressive and unrepresentative gang of thugs masquerading as holy warriors. Cherished freedoms such as those of information, association and expression, not to mention cultural traditions such as wedding and birth celebrations, were summarily outlawed as un-Islamic. Protests at these arbitrary and patently ludicrous dictates were brutally suppressed by armed UIC cadres. Truly, the people of Somalia had jumped from the frying pan into the fire! We have digressed to the short lived success of the UIC to demonstrate the deep and genuine yearning among the mass of ordinary people in Somalia for a real alternative to warlord government.
It is our contention that the experience of the Borama Conference in establishing national reconciliation and an open and democratic state in Somaliland, can be used as a template to develop a new approach for reconciliation in Somalia. In line with Somali tradition, the first element in such a new approach must be the selection of a trusted and neutral third party to mediate the proposed reconciliation between the clans of Somalia. That trusted and neutral party is Somaliland, specifically the elders of Somaliland since they are greatly respected by the mass of ordinary people in Somalia for having so courageously and ably guided the reconciliation process in Somaliland. In addition, distancing the mediation entity from the Government of Somaliland (GOS) sidesteps any sensitivity with respect to eventual secession and recognition negotiations between Somaliland and Somalia.
The second element of this new approach is to change the focus of the effort from the creation of a government to the promotion and establishment of genuine national reconciliation between the clans of Somalia. Towards this end, it is essential that the warlords be excluded from the process as a specific group since they have a vested interested in sabotaging the reconciliation process and maintaining the status quo. This is not to say that the warlords will be prevented from attending, merely that their status as warlords will not secure them an invitation. Each clan will be free to choose whatever representatives it may wish, and as was the case in Borama, this representation can and will be fluid, with various individuals joining and leaving each clan’s team as circumstances may dictate. Thus, individual clans may choose to include particular warlords in their team and, as the conference progresses, certain warlords may choose to surrender their ‘warlordship’ in order to participate in the political process. The important factor is that the status of being a warlord at the head of a militia will not guarantee entrée into the conference.
It will be necessary to preface the inter-clan meetings with intra-clan ones to achieve internal reconciliation within specific clans in order to facilitate the larger, inter-clan reconciliation process. To this end, it is proposed to hold intra-clan meetings for the major clans, i.e. the Hawiye, Darod and Digle/Mirifle, at the beginning of the conference to iron out their internal disputes prior to convening the national conference. These intra-clan forums will continue throughout the conference to enable these clan groups to work out their joint positions relative to the issues being discussed with the other clan groups at the national forum. In addition, special provision will need to be made for non-clan, minority communities, e.g. the Arab, Barjun, Missioni, Midgan/Toomal and the agricultural Bantu communities. In this regard, the Borama Conference provides a template that has worked successfully and which can be easily replicated.
The GOS of Somaliland would host the conference in Hargeysa, or other suitable town or city in Somaliland, and it would provide all the required ancillary facilities, e.g. security, lodging, board, transportation, communication, stenography and printing. Clearly, GOS does not have the resources to foot the bill for this huge undertaking on its own and it will require the support of the international community to mount this effort. In this context, it is worth remembering that the Government of Kenya was unable to mount the Mbagathi conference that spawned the TFG without the assistance of the EU, US, AU, Arab League, UN and others. GOS would appoint a special commission comprising elders, intellectuals, poets and NGOs to be responsible for organizing the conference and taking charge of the day-to-day administrative duties necessary to ensure its successful inauguration and operation. However, the formal hosting of the conference and its chairmanship would rest with the Somaliland elders which would select a committee from themselves to undertake this important task.
The expected results of the proposed conference can be summarized as follows:
It is our firm contention that the conference proposed above forms the best possible opportunity to achieve genuine peace and national reconciliation in Somalia. This approach benefits from being firmly grounded in Somali tradition and cultural norms, while avoiding the pitfalls associated with the interference of foreign powers which may be well intentioned, but which inevitably dilutes grass root participation. It provides the people of Somalia with a forum to discuss openly among themselves the way forward and enables them to determine a new ‘xeer’ or social contract for the country which is not based upon irredentism, i.e. the cause of Greater Somalia which was the ethos upon which the Somali Republic established in 1960 was based. If Somalia is to emerge as a functioning nation-state and join the community of nations as a full member, it is essential that its people establish for themselves such a new xeer. We firmly believe that the above proposal presents them with the best possible chance to undertake this essential, if difficult and seemingly intractable, task successfully.
The international community must shed its present approach to the Somali crisis of inaugurating bogus ‘governments’ for Somalia, while relegating Somaliland and its stunning achievements in reconciliation and nation-building to the back burner. This approach demeans and devalues both the people of Somalia by condemning them to an endless parade of venal, warlord regimes, and those of Somaliland by ignoring their unique and heroic achievements. Meanwhile, the crisis in the Horn of Africa continues unabated, threatening the entire region with instability while providing opportunities and havens for Al-Qaeda inspired fanatics to regroup and plot their evil mischief. This proposal will require the international community to foot the bill for the proposed conference as well as finance a fund to enable the government created therein to finance an arms purchase program to demobilize the militias as well as re-establish the institutions of the state throughout the country.
27 October 2007
Ahmed Egal [email@example.com]