Somalilandsun – Looking back at the last one year and few months, what’s striking is how wrong all observers were about future political developments in Somalia.
The current Somali government has failed politically and it is a self-inflicted crisis. This might not be revelatory rather a reinforcing assertion. The tragedy is though the most organised forces in today’s Somalia are both covert sects and secret cliques than openly structured political groups with transparent political agendas.
It is not encouraging at all to learn that Damul Jadiid in Mogadishu and Amniyat within Al-Shabaab have preponderant positions at both ends.
The Real Scoundrel Around
The Somali government, so it seemed when it was established, is at an auspicious turning point in the country’s history of state and peace building. Thanks to the success of the African Force, AMISOM and armies from neighbouring countries in the past two years and grave mistakes of the main insurgent group al-Shaabab, the Somali government led by Hassan Sheikh Mohamud had an unprecedented opportunity to end the crisis within a generation. It is fair to mention here that Africa in general and the armies of neighbouring countries deserve some respect. Critics may decry neighbouring countries, Kenya and Ethiopia, for having a hidden agenda, or fret that their intervention might have turned this crisis rugged and impoverished country into an incubator of jihadist terror. Some cite other ills like supporting clan forces, such as in Jubaland, the Ahlu Sunna wal Jama’a or the Rahanween. Yet Ethiopia and Kenya’s will to fight Al-Shabaab and stabilise Somalia is clearly formidable. Their commitment and endurance for this end goal is an achievement in itself. That being said, such a determination prepared the ground for the smooth take off of the new Somali government and the widespread optimism associated with its inauguration.
No wonder, Somalis inside and the Diaspora were hopeful the establishment of the new government in September 2012 would be a game changer and the country would change course. There was a great deal of optimism that the new leaders will deliver. The international community had hoped that Somalia would soon stabilize. However, the new Somali government had dismally failed to live up to the expectations. Its failure is self inflicted mainly political and a problem of governance than the lack of internal and external support or obstacles created by Al-Shabaab. This is not to say that the insurgent group has been fully defeated. The recent attack on a UN compound, among others, shows that the security situation is still precarious and the terrorist militia al-Shabaab is still active. Nonetheless, the main obstacle to the speedy stabilization of Somalia remains to be the misguided and erroneous political strategy of the group that controls the current Somali government in Mogadishu. This might seem a paradox, but it is real.
I might argue that the new Somali government’s political formula, a set of practices for domination (and not negotiation) based on narrow and partisan interests that began with the internal takeover of the government by a group known as Damul Jadiid or ‘New Blood’ is the real villain in the continued political crisis in Somalia and, needs to be recognised as such and dealt with decisively if Somalia is to achieve peace and security. Evidently, the first contention of this piece is that the current Somali government has failed politically and it is a self-inflicted crisis. This might not be revelatory rather a reinforcing assertion. Nonetheless, the policies pursued so far are revelatory of the new governments’ modus operandi, of the tragic weakness of its leadership, and of the extent to which the Somali people, neighbouring countries and international stakeholders were misled by the inner circle of the group residing in Mogadishu.
The new leaders were not ‘new’ as we would have liked to believe. Their political strategy was defunct and redundant it is almost impossible to differentiate them from previous crisis-laden projects. For both narrow clan and ideological reasons they pursued a failed strategy of state and nation building. Theirs has become a failed project. The new Somali government has been unable or unwilling or both to reach an understanding with the disparate clan and regional forces in the country. This is not to underestimate the challenges faced by any government in Somalia to bring together hostile and disparate entities. It’s a hard world out there and local differences as well as policy contradictions are not easily avoided; sometimes influence has to be bought, negotiated or even coerced. And the process can well be messy and protracted. This being generally true, looking from all angles, Damul Jadiid’s political formula remains to be the main culprit. It made futile and I must say provocative attempts to establish preponderance over different regions of Somalia.
This paper is not concerned with revealing Damul Jadiid’s past. The idea is simple: to underscore the point on how the mind and physical fitness of the Somali government helped not only to perpetuate old problems but create new ones. Its policies helped to antagonize most of the political and armed forces in the country. A case in point is its antagonistic posture towards the politico-military actors in Galmuudug, Ahlu Sunna wal Jama’a Jubaland and the Puntland Administration. In many cases, it tried to act like a strong government, if not an empire, wanting to cynically exploit clan differences and dictate terms rather than realistically seeking negotiation and compromise. The ‘new’ government is far from new, credible, legitimate or representative. Its composition, character and approach only led to the loss of optimism and the progressive polarization of political forces. All its policies show how much little it has learned from distant and recent history of the country. No wonder the government exists only in Mogadishu and has no influence in other areas of the country.
The Somali government is weak and unable to mobilise support among the major clans and regional administrations. It lacks both the political framework and military capacity to stabilise and transform Somalia’s two decades long civil war. Hence, it is unable to protect its population and indeed unable to protect itself. Its main asset is international dimension and support. It is crucial that the central government should have tried to extend its authority, mainly to the regions, through political means only by creating consensus and behaving less belligerent.
The ‘new’ Somali government seems to have forgotten the hard lesson that stabilizing Somalia and establishing a strong government requires consensus building among the major clan and regional-political forces in the country. The tragedy is that there is no consensus and agreement among the three major clan affiliations on how to structure the Somali state and govern the country. The ‘new’ government aggravated the mutual suspicions making a workable political framework as distant as it can be.
The second contention of this paper is that almost all the promises provided and policies designed at the outset didn’t pass the test of time. The contents of the so-called road map were misdirected, ignored or gutted by the top leadership itself. The problem has reached a point where the government will not be able to change course and repair the damage. Whether by deafault or design the small clique at the helm of the government have mismanaged the whole process and frustrated the opportunity opened a year ago. The origin and ideological inclination of the so-called Damul Jadiid is beside the point. The group has never entertained new ideas and strategies as the name implies; quite to the contrary it exhibited obsolete and less transparent agendas. The facts so far show that the group belongs to another era of conducting business and politics.
The tragedy is though the most organised forces in today’s Somalia are both covert sects and secret cliques than openly structured political groups with transparent political agendas. It is not encouraging at all to learn that Damul Jadiid in Mogadishu and Amniyat within Al-Shabaab have preponderant positions at both ends. Paradoxically both groups have little support in both camps. Probably this is the third contention that needs to be taken into account while measuring progress or the lack of it in Somalia. Given the situation in the ground and the political agendas of the Somali government it is fair to suggest that Somalia could again lapse into anarchy and instability rolling back the achievements achieved in recent years.
However, two things stand out clearly as major accomplishments in the last year or so. The successful targeting of al-Qaeda linked leadership within al-shaabab by US drones and Navy Seals and most importantly the dramatic decline in piracy on the coast of Somalia. It is not a surprise then that whatever progress is made so far has to do with the determination of external players. Another contention could be the lack of synergy between international support and internal political progress. The two projects are not helping eachother; rather they are incrasingly becoming contradictory and antagonistic to eachother.The military front has been quite successful while the political front remains stuck or heading backwards. In fact, the genuine and effective support by external players has been assaulted by the Somali government. While the much needed external support in the military front has advanced the political front is lagging behind threatening to derail the sacrifices made so far. The war against al-Shaabab has greatly advanced and piracy has significantly declined. However, the political project of the ‘new’ Somali government has failed to do a catch up; indeed it threatens the collective effort to stabilize Somalia.
Looking back at the last year and few months, what’s striking is how wrong all observers were about future political developments in Somalia. This is largely true of Western diplomats. For many years all their errors seemed to have been on the side of over optimism, especially on the peace processes and formation of governments in Mogadishu.