Somalia: Chatham House Addresses the Transition
Jul 17, 2012 - 1:31:56 AM
By: Dr. Michael A. Weinstein
In mid-July, the British international foreign-policy organization, Chatham House, released a report on the (possibly) approaching political “transition” in Somalia: “End of the Roadmap: Somalia after the London and Istanbul Conferences.” The Chatham House report, written by the organization’s associate fellow in its Africa Program, Jason Mosley, who was previous the senior Africa analyst at the strategy organization, Oxford Analytica, is the first major document concerning the “transition” that has been published by an important Western establishment think tank for the past several months. With the end of the Roadmap fast approaching on August 20, Mosley’s report, which, according to Chatham House, is “the sole responsibility of the author,” assesses the status of the “transition” and the political situation that is likely to follow it, and suggests the policy direction that the Western “donor”-powers to Somalia, particularly Britain, should follow in the short term. Moseley’s report is significant because t reflects current Western establishment analytical thinking on Somalia.
The Western Establishment Think Tank
Like its counterparts in the United States, the Center for Strategic and International Studies; and in Continental Europe, the International Crisis Group, Chatham House is not a governmental organization – as Chatham House puts it, it “owes no allegiance to any government or to any political body. It does not take institutional positions on policy issues.” Nonetheless, all of the major establishment foreign-policy think tanks are closely associated with their home governments and supra-governmental organizations, interchanging personnel with them, inviting their officials to meetings and symposia, and directing policy recommendations to satisfying what are perceived to be their interests.
The establishment think tank holds a particular position in the configuration of Western institutional political power: it functions as a semi-independent source of political analysis and policy proposals to Western governments and the foreign-policy public, providing critiques of and policy alternatives to “institutional positions.” Yet it is committed to the basic strategic interests of those governments and would like them to act on its recommendations. In order to try to accomplish the latter, it must take care not to offend the governments that it would propose to serve. Given its aim of influencing governments, the establishment think tank cannot “speak truth to power.” Instead it must try to tell as much of the truth as it can without offending power.
The compromised situation of the establishment think tank makes it necessary for analysts taking a less compromised position to recognize the limitations of its discourse and adjust for them. The establishment think tank is staffed by intelligent professionals with impressive resources for research and political contacts at their disposal. It caters to informed professional audiences. Therefore, the establishment think tank does not spread misinformation or disinformation, or engage in ungrounded speculation or partisanship. The limitations of its analyses and policy recommendations come in what they systematically leave out; that is, what would offend the governments that the think tank proposes to serve.
When one first reads a report of an establishment think tank, it appears to be reasonable and cogent until one realizes that some of the most important considerations are missing.
What Chatham House Gets Right About the “Transition”
It is to the credit of Mosley and Chatham House that they acknowledge the most important fact: the “transition” is no a transition at all, but a continuation of the conditions that currently exist in Somalia. As Mosley puts it: “The end of the Roadmap will not signal an end to Somalia’s transition. The new administration will face many of the same challenges threatening the TFG, and some others generated by the Roadmap process itself.” It must be added, of course, that Mosley is not credited here for having come up with an insight; what he says is blatantly obvious, but the Western “donor”-powers do not (want to) admit it in public, and it is an analyst’s business to point out that the “emperor has no clothes” when that judgment applies.
As a good professional analyst, Mosley does not merely point out that Somalia is going through a transition to another transition; he demonstrates his case beyond any reasonable doubt. Again, although the considerations that Mosely brings up are right on the surface of events, they deserve being repeated (over and over again) because there is such resistance to admitting them on the parts of the “donor”-power, the organizations through which they operate, the regional powers allied with them, and even the Somalis who persist in nursing false hopes that the “donor”-powers will some day do something in the interest of the Somali people. The emperor has a lot of dependents in his retinue who will try to weave a rhetorical tapestry over his nakedness.
“When the transition ‘ends’ and the current government hands over to a ‘caretaker’ administration, South-Central Somalia appears to be set for more of the same,” says Mosley. Among the many points that Mosley raises in support of his thesis are that “a political crisis is being approached primarily through a security lens;” the “transition” is not inclusive, being confined to the signatories of the Roadmap; “dissenting voices” to the Roadmap process “have not only be ignored but branded ‘spoilers’;” “the Roadmap’s initial scope” has been narrowed in practice “to finalizing a draft constitution and setting up a National Constituent Assembly to approve it and to select a new parliament;” the new transitional institutions are likely to be staffed in great part by members of the old government and parliament; “the new federal government will probably continue to provide only relatively weak central authority;” and, in conclusion and most significantly, the inattention to political reconstruction, the lack of inclusiveness in forming and implementing the new institutions, and the weakness of the new “caretaker” government will lead to “previously dormant rivalries” being “reactivated.”
The above listing of Mosley’s points only indicates the situation that he describes more exhaustively, coherently, and convincingly in his report, which should be read by anyone who still doubts that a travesty of a “transition” has been foisted on the Somali people.
At only one point in his exposition does Moseley’s argument lose coherence, when he is discussing the selection process for the new institutions. He says: “...the contentiousness of the selection of the caretaker leadership will probably prove less of a stumbling block for the new government than observers might fear. This is not to say that the new leadership will not suffer from questions over its legitimacy. However, this is no more of a disadvantage than that which affects the current administration. In that sense the new administration will be building on a foundation left by the TFG.”
Although he has already said that Somalia “appears to be headed for more of the same,” Mosley seems to lose heart when he comes to elaborate on that judgment in more detail. It is worth retracing his troubled paragraph. Mosley begins by attempting to dispel the fears of “observers” that “contentiousness” in the selection process will prove to be a “stumbling block” for the new government. Then he admits that the new “leadership” will suffer from “questions over its legitimacy.” How, then, one must ask, will the selection process not prove to be a stumbling block? If the new government does not have legitimacy, then what does it have? Mosley cannot answer that question. All that he can come up with is that the lack of legitimacy of the new government “is no more of a disadvantage than that which affects the current administration.” Yet is it not the lack of legitimacy that gutted the T.F.G.? Perhaps the lack of legitimacy of the new government is “no more of a disadvantage” than the T.F.G. had; simply it was a fatal disadvantage. Had Mosley kept his courage, he would have said forthrightly that the new “transition” is doomed to the same fate as the old one. Since he did not do that, he ends the paragraph with a statement that defies belief in terms of its absurdity: “...the new administration will be building on a foundation left by the TFG.” What foundation is Mosley referring to? The foundation that proved to be unsustainable? The corrupt foundation that the “donor”-powers were driven to try to replace? Mosley simply cannot bring himself to say that the new government will be a replica of the T.F.G. But in a contorted way, he said it nonetheless. It is just too much for the “donor”-powers to be told plainly that they have perpetrated a travesty. One cannot expect Mosley to employ dramaturgical analysis. A transition to a transition that isn’t a transition is, to repeat, a travesty.
What Chatham House Leaves Out
Mosley got it right, despite quavering a bit, that the “transition” is a sham, although he could not quite say it in so many words. What he could not do, because as an establishment analyst he must try to tell the truth without offending power, was to say why the process ended up replicating what it was supposed to replace. Indeed, there is not a whiff of causal analysis in Mosley’s report, the responsibility for the fiasco is never addressed, and the discourse of power is entirely absent from his account. The reason for those absences is, of course, plain: the “transition” was the brainchild of the “donor”-powers, they are the ones with the power (the power of the purse, primarily), and they are responsible for the travesty.
Had Mosley done a complete political analysis, including power, rather than a truncated “policy analysis,” he would have had to acknowledge that the “donor”-powers were the most powerful players in the “transition” and that, as a consequence, they were the most responsible for how it turned out. Holding the “donor”-powers to account is, however, outside the bounds of establishment think-tank discourse. It is possible for the establishment analyst to hint that the emperor has no clothes, but it is forbidden to tell the emperor that his naked body is ugly and deformed.
From a methodological standpoint, it is always necessary for readers of establishment think-tank reports to be continually aware that such reports will avoid placing responsibility for failures on the shoulders of those on whom those think tanks try to exert influence. The reader has to add the power-responsibility component of the analysis to the think-tank report in order to get a complete and adequate analysis. One needs to exercise what the critic-poet John Keats called “negative capability” – seeing what isn’t in the text.
The Irrelevance of Chatham House’s Recommendations
A causal power-responsibility analysis might be thought to have primarily intellectual interest, except for the fact that its absence tends to vitiate and render irrelevant any policy recommendations. That is clearly the case for Mosely’s report.
Mosley has but one recommendation for the “donor”-powers, to which he is speaking in public: “Somalia’s international partners should focus in the next few months on how to transform the momentum [what momentum?] injected into the Roadmap process into policy attention and diplomatic support, or pressure, needed to see the caretaker administration develop into more of a government. A more functional government would focus on the provision of services beyond the attention already paid to the security sector.”
In short, Mosley is telling the “donor”-powers to do what they have never done up to now. Why should anyone expect them to do it now? Their behavior in mismanaging the “transition” does not bode well for their changing their entire approach. Indeed, there is even less of a prospect now for the “donor”-powers to own up to their responsibility, because they undertook the “transition” to diminish their commitment, a point that would have followed from a power-responsibility analysis.
It is as though, for Mosley, the “donor”-powers were born yesterday and had not been around trying to satisfy their perceived interests in Somalia for decades. “Be good and be wise!” exhorts Mosley to the “donor”-powers. Who is he talking to? The “donor”-powers don’t mind being told to be good and to be wise as long as they don’t have to do anything about it, as they have always shown in Somalia. In any case, why should the “donor”-powers expend resources to “see the caretaker administration develop into more of a government”? Mosley has demonstrated that the new government will be a replica of the T.F.G., which the “donor”-powers did not support in part because it was too corrupt, fractious, unreliable, and illegitimate – in their judgment – for them to unreservedly trust. Mosley’s advice is irrelevant, except as rhetoric that the “donor”-powers might take up as a cover for their inaction, and that might plant false hopes in the hearts of some Somalis.
The rules for reading a Western establishment think-tank report are to take its description of the problematic situation seriously, add power to the analysis, and ignore the policy recommendations.
Back to Reality
The disconnect between Mosley’s policy recommendation and the actual political dynamics of Somalia was starkly demonstrated on July 13, when the convening of the National Constituent Assembly (N.C.A.), which, to remind, is supposed to approve the (incomplete) draft provisional constitution for Somalia and to choose the members of a new transitional parliament was delayed when the group of traditional elders that is charged with selecting the members of the N.C.A. withheld its list of nominees (the very kind of “stumbling block” that Mosley had tried to wish away in his troubled paragraph).
Voice of America reported that a group of elders, spoken for by chair of Hawiye clan elders Mohamed Hassan Haad was blocking release of the nominees’ list because it wanted the elders’ group to consider revisions to the draft constitution. Interviewed by V.O.A., Haad said: “Actually we have all the names, but elders were saying to each other if they present the names everything will be in the hands of the parliament and nothing will remain [for] the elders to talk and be consulted about.” Haad added that the elders “don’t see our role” the way the backers of the Roadmap do.
Faced with the deferral of the “transition” beyond the August 20 deadline, on which the “donor”-powers claim to insist, on July 14 the signatories of the Roadmap from the T.F.G. – President Sh. Sharif Sh. Ahmed, Prime Minister Abdiweli Gas, and ousted parliamentary speaker Sharif Hassan Sh. Adan – met with the elders’ group to try to convince it to release the nominees’ list. Garoweonline reported that the elders said that they would: “work to resolve the issues.” They also said that they had chosen only 75% of the nominees to the N.C.A.
In a later report on July 14 by R.B.C. Radio, the split between the elders and the T.F.G seemed to have widened and sharpened. Sh. Sharif told R.B.C.: “We want the elders to complete all the names of the N.C.A. delegates as to launch the meeting [of the N.C.A.] very soon. It is expected the meeting to start on 21st of this month.” Sharif Hassan added a threat that any clan that had not submitted its delegates to the N.C.A. by July 21 would not be allowed to participate in the N.C.A., a threat, which if carried out, would severely impair any legitimacy that the N.C.A. might have had.
Countering the T.F.G. Roadmap signatories, R.B.C. reported that elder Suldan Warsame Ibrahim said that the elders had proposed eleven amendments to the draft provisional constitution. In addition, he said that half the delegates were not present in Mogadishu and that only 50% of the N.C.A. nominees had been selected. Suldan Warsame said that he did not think it would be possible for the N.C.A. to convene on July 21, adding: “We recognize the time shortage but we must also assure that there were still challenges.”
Even if the N.C.A. convenes on July 21, which is far from assured, and even if it completes its work successfully in several days, which is also quite problematic, that would leave only three weeks for the “transition” to be “completed.” Such a tight time frame was not envisioned by the Roadmap, even though it was already, as Mosley points out in the Chatham House report, a “hasty” affair.
In itself, the dispute between the elders and the backers of the “transition is not of particular significance. It is simply yet another of the endless bumps in the long and winding road that were not anticipated by the “donor”-powers when they decided to manage the “transition in late 2010. In the present case, the elders have emerged out of the blue as an interest group of their own, cross-cutting clan divisions – even though they represent clans – and adding to Somalia’s political fragmentation.
The new dispute evidences a basic flaw in the “donor”-powers’ strategy. A “transition” cannot be credible in the absence of prior social and political reconciliation among Somali groups and factions. Mosley’s report made that plain in its section on the challenges that would likely plague the post-transition Somali political arrangement. As long as those “challenges” are not addressed and the conditions underlying them remain endemic, it is unlikely that the “donor”-powers will make a concerted and credible effort to bolster the new Somali government on which they have insisted and which they have engineered. The political dynamics of Somalia will remain as they have been.
Report Drafted By: Dr. Michael A. Weinstein, Professor of Political Science, Purdue University in Chicago firstname.lastname@example.org
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