GAROWE ONLINE EDITORIAL |
The path to peace must commence with recognition of realities on the ground in Somalia.
America's policy vis-à-vis that war-torn nation called Somalia has, at least inadvertently, contributed to the spark of today's Mogadishu insurgency which began nearly four years ago. It was the Islamist armed group, Islamic Courts Union (ICU), then led by the current President of the TFG of Somalia, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, that efficiently mobilized resources to counter the actions and propaganda of a group that called itself, the "Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism," or ARPCT. Founded by a coalition of Mogadishu's violently notorious warlords, the ARPCT was allegedly funded by a covert CIA program that aimed to seize terrorism suspects hiding in Mogadishu and protected by ICU fighters. The ICU's victory after a four-month conflict against the ARPCT accumulated in the Islamist takeover of Mogadishu in June 2006 and the collapse of the U.S. covert program.
The failure of the ARPCT was not the only failure of that project. Today, the armed ICU offshoots such as Al Shabaab and Hizbul Islam still use propaganda designed upon that premise: that America's policy only cares about capturing or killing terrorism suspects. In propaganda reels, the Islamists say they are "defenders" against such American militarism in Somalia.
The policy of interventionism must be approached within the context of valuing what is lost and what is gained. The failed U.N. mission in the 1990s, and the incessant media references to the Hollywood film "Black Hawk Down", has desensitized U.S. policy on Somalia and empowered those who pursue solely the narrow vision of "counterterrorism" at the expense of genuine and workable partnerships. It was that line of thinking that led to the failure of the ARPCT program; indeed, even then, the U.S. sidestepped the U.N.-recognized TFG (today's predecessor interim government) to accomplish short-term goals in counterterrorism.
The announcement of a U.S. policy shift by the State Department is a small, but important step in the right direction. Mr. Johnnie Carson, who is the Assistant Secretary for African affairs, announced that the U.S. would "aggressively" engage the self-governing states of Somaliland and Puntland, both stable regions in northern Somalia.
The BBC quoted Mr. Carson as saying: "We think both of these parts of Somalia have been zones of relative political and civil stability, and we think they will in fact be a bulwark against extremism and radicalism that might emerge from the south."
Mr. Carson ruled out U.S. recognition of any separatist region, which in this case applies solely to Somaliland, whilst underlining that Somalia's problem is "both a regional and a global problem."
From the American diplomat's comments we can infer that the U.S. government has: a) changed its Somalia policy; b) now recognizes as "political entities" separate of TFG control both Puntland and Somaliland; c) wants regional and world governments to actively share responsibilities over Somalia; and d) seeks a new policy of supporting local governments that can prop up the TFG domestically.
Since 1998, the State of Puntland has been saying rather consistently that it wants to be part of a "federal" Somalia and to maintain some measure of political autonomy until that goal is realized. Puntland has been the most important domestic backer of the TFG since the latter was was formed in 2004. Puntland has also encouraged the formation of other state governments to prop up the TFG in Mogadishu. While southern Somalia fell under the control of Al Shabaab insurgents, and the separatists in Somaliland sought recognition as an independent country, it was the people of Puntland who stood united and strong for "one Somalia" and kept the blue Somali flag with the white star flying high in the air at all government buildings.
The path to peace must commence with recognition of realities on the ground in Somalia. The political collapse of 1991 completely disintegrated the Somali nation-state and what emerged was a tri-faced reality: Mogadishu and southern Somalia (south of Puntland) became the hotbed of wars in a violent competition for power and resources that continues till today; Puntland, in northeastern Somalia, founded its own regional authority and strengthened peace and order; and Somaliland, in Somalia's northwestern corner, where a group declared independence but at least brought peace and governance.
It is this reality that dictates everything that takes place in Somalia. It is this reality that prevents Al Shabaab's advances upon Puntland and Somaliland, where local populations have known governance unlike the southern regions plagued by armed conflict where Al Shabaab offers itself as an "alternative government" to local populations. U.S. and international recognition of this reality is a critical development in helping Somalia recover from years from political collapse.
Secondly, the path to peace must take a holistic approach that incorporates social reconciliation and political settlement with economic equality and empowerment. Social reconciliation is needed for Somalia at all levels, from districts to nation-wide genuine reconciliation among relatives and neighbors, friends and foes, regions and communities.
Thirdly, political settlement in Somalia will be strengthened and bolstered by a successful program of social reconciliation and interaction among communities. A resolution for outstanding grievances like civilian killings and looted properties can be reached at community-level reconciliation, while political settlement would involve Mogadishu's capital status, parliamentary representation, reintegration of national armed forces, and the division of power between federal and state governments, can be tackled during the political process.
Fourthly, the reconciliation of communities combined with the settlement of political differences creates an environment conducive to economic development and growth. Somalia offers tremendous resources, both human and natural, and there is a great potential for vast economic opportunities with the restoration of peace and national governance.
The U.S. pledge to aid Puntland and Somaliland in the sectors of agriculture, water, health and education, is an important step that sends the right signal to all Somali communities. The message is twofold: 1) that t
hose regions who self-govern and restore order will be rewarded with development projects; and 2) that it weakens the insurgents' propaganda and shows that America does care by forming partnerships with the Somali people.
It is hoped that the delivery and impact of U.S. aid to the stable regions will not suffer from the chronic corruption renowned for U.N. offices in Nairobi. Both governments in Puntland and Somaliland are more than capable of hosting, managing and directing the flow of development projects, but might require some external technical expertise.
The U.S. must set the example in empowering Somali communities by assuring that the development projects create jobs mostly for Somalis, contribute to local economic activities, and advance common goals and interests.
America can hardly afford yet another failed policy in Somalia – that is, if America wants to correct its past policy miscalculations and still wants to "win" the hearts and minds of the Somali people.
Garowe Online Editorial
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