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Last Updated: Feb 11, 2014 - 5:11:05 AM
''The Failure of 'Reconciliation' and 'Reconstitution' Opens Up a Political Vacuum in Somalia''

ith the closing on August 30 of Somalia's National Reconciliation Conference (N.R.C.), which was sponsored by the country's internationally-backed Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G) and failed to produce substantive and enforceable agreements; and the conclusion on September 12 of the Somali Congress for Liberation and Reconstitution (S.C.L.R.), which brought together the country's political oppositions and narrowed its focus to the single aim of removing Ethiopian occupying forces, a political vacuum has opened up in Somalia.

The two conferences were the only political events on the horizon that carried any prospects for the movement of Somalia toward political integration and the reversal of the devolutionary cycle into which the country has fallen. Their failures to engage the form of a future political order in Somalia, the disposition of political forces within such an order, and the way toward power-sharing has shown that neither the T.F.G., which initiated the N.R.C. at the urging of Western donor powers, nor the opposition is united enough within itself to provide Somalia with a credible political formula and is much less disposed to compromise with its rival. With no other major political initiatives in the offing at a national level, PINR expects fragmentation to persist in Somalia as power devolves to regional, local, clan and sectoral centers and solidarities. The signs of political evolution in Somalia that PINR noted in its August 20 report have for the most part been erased and have been replaced by the possibility of violent polarization within a devolutionary context.

The Failure of "Reconciliation"

As PINR has noted, the N.R.C. was compromised from its inception. Originally pressed upon the T.F.G. by external actors as an instrument for political reconciliation with its non-violent political opposition, the T.F.G.'s president, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed -- in a move to preserve the power of the transitional executive -- transformed the conference into a meeting to resolve disputes among the country's clans, effectively avoiding engagement with political issues and finessing the donor powers, which acquiesced in his counter-initiative.

After two weeks of discussions on clan-related issues, which resulted in commitments to a cease-fire, disarmament and restoration of property stolen in clan conflicts, the N.R.C.'s chair, Ali Mahdi Mohamed, abruptly announced on August 1 that the clan phase of the conference had ended successfully and that its political phase would now begin. Mahdi's action, which was greeted with skepticism by many delegates and observers, came in response to pressure from donors who were holding their purse strings tightly.

The political phase of the N.R.C. effectively ended on August 9, when rancorous debate over the issue of natural resource distribution led to the adjournment of the conference. Members of the Hawiye clan family attending the conference also asked for an adjournment in order to mount an effort that proved unsuccessful to persuade Hawiye factions that had boycotted the N.R.C. to participate.

When the N.R.C. reopened on August 19, the majority of delegates signed a document reaffirming their August 1 agreement without providing enforcement mechanisms for the cease-fire or disarmament, and devolving property restitution to an arbitration committee.

On August 22, political debate on the definition of religious extremism, which had not been resolved in early August, was revived and once again reached no conclusion, with some delegates arguing that there was no "religious war" in Somalia and others contending that the killing of civilians and suicide bombings are "un-Islamic." On the same day, Somalia's ambassador to Kenya, Mohamed Abdi Nur, announced that the N.R.C. would end on August 31, stating that the T.F.G. would provide a plan for "all Somalis belonging to the different segments of society regardless of their political orientations and shades of opinion." On August 29, Mahdi announced that the N.R.C. would conclude the next day, angering many delegates who believed that matters of concern to their clans had not been adequately addressed.

The closure of the N.R.C., which had run its projected 45 days, was due in greatest part to unwillingness of donors to provide more funds and also to fears of the T.F.G. executive that the conference might get out of control addressing political issues. Mahdi, who had recently returned from Nairobi where he had been meeting with donors, told the N.R.C. on August 29 that he blamed opposition groups that had boycotted the N.R.C. for making donors reluctant to fund the conference adequately, adding that he had persuaded the donors -- the European Union, United States and United Nations -- at least to pay the promised stipends of the delegates.

At the closing ceremonies, Mahdi said that reconciliation would "continue at the regional and village level," and Yusuf assured that he was "ready to hand power over to whomever is elected by the people" in projected 2009 elections for a permanent government. Delegates were divided on the outcome of the N.R.C., with some stressing that it was a victory for 2,000 representatives from all the regions of Somalia to have met at all, and others saying that the conference amounted to no more than a paid vacation for provincial elders that -- as clan leader Ali Hassan Barrow from the Hiraan region put it in a closing speech -- left the delegates with "nothing in hand."

Representatives of donor powers, regional states and regional organizations -- the U.N., African Union (A.U.) and Arab League (A.L.), China, Norway, Ethiopia and Egypt -- attended the closing ceremony. The U.N.'s special representative for Somalia, Francois Lonseny Fall, spoke for them, calling on the T.F.G. to "reach out to all opposition groups inside and outside Somalia," and on the international community to support the T.F.G.'s efforts to extend its authority, and to support the under-manned and under-funded A.U. peacekeeping mission (AMISOM) in Somalia -- a simple repetition of the position the donor powers had taken before the N.R.C. was convened.

The most telling point was made by a Western diplomat speaking to Agence France-Presse on condition of anonymity: "We know that this conference has gone nowhere. The problem is blind confidence in the T.F.G. We all wanted to support it and we did; it did not rise to the occasion, so we need a different approach now." What such an approach might be remains at best unclear with the T.F.G. walking away from the conference with no obligations but to disarm clan militias and integrate their members into its forces, which it is not likely to accomplish despite general agreement on those goals at the N.R.C.

The N.R.C. met in Somalia's official capital Mogadishu against a backdrop of an escalated insurgency at the same levels that PINR noted in its August 20 report. Ethiopian and T.F.G. forces were generally able to protect the conference, although a leading delegate from the Hawiye clan was assassinated on August 19, and two delegates from Puntland were wounded in one of the several attacks on hotels housing delegates. The jihadist Youth Mujahideen Movement (Y.M.M.) took credit for more of the attacks than it had previously done, and they persisted in the face of a security crackdown and a flight of residents from the neighborhoods most affected by violence to areas immediately south of Mogadishu, where they took refuge in squalid and unhealthy refugee camps. Inter-clan violence also continued, notably in the central Hiraan and Galguduud regions, casting doubt on the credibility of the cease-fire agreement at the N.R.C.

On September 17, Yusuf was in Saudi Arabia, where he and some former delegates to the N.R.C. signed the pact that had been agreed upon at the conference. The ceremony, which was attended by Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, was not a new step forward in reconciliation, but a symbolic event aimed at showing Arab support for Yusuf's version of reconciliation. Yusuf also took the opportunity to call for a U.N. peacekeeping mission that would include both Arab and African contingents. There were reports that Washington had urged Riyadh to support the T.F.G. in order to isolate its domestic opposition. The opposition quickly announced its rejection of the pact.

Having achieved no substantive reconciliation, the N.R.C. also does not appear to have strengthened Yusuf's power base. The T.F.G. remains a weak protagonist in Somalia's tangled conflicts, and it has probably lost some of the "blind confidence" of the donor powers in it.

The Failure of "Reconstitution"

The political alternative to the N.R.C. was the S.C.L.R. held by the T.F.G.'s political oppositions in Asmara from September 6 through September 12. PINR had previously noted tendencies toward coalescence in the opposition that might have made it a credible movement that could pressure the T.F.G. into power-sharing negotiations, but that possibility was not realized in the face of divisions among the opposition's components -- the Islamic Courts Council (I.C.C.), which controlled most of southern Somalia before an Ethiopian intervention ousted it in December 2006; dissident members of the transitional parliament favoring an accord with the I.C.C.; significant portions of the Somali diaspora; nationalists; and dissident clan warlords, notably the former T.F.G. deputy prime minister and defense minister, Hussein Farah Aideed.

Originally planned as a vehicle to form a national political opposition, the S.C.L.R. was narrowed down -- as a result of the inability of the opposition factions to agree on a common political formula -- only to address the aim of removing Ethiopian occupation forces from Somalia. The I.C.C. remained insistent on a Somalia ruled by Shari'a law; the "Free Parliament" and the diaspora groups favored a wider power-sharing agreement involving the T.F.G.; and the nationalists, who backed out of participating, favored a strong non-theocratic state transcending clan divisions. Their diverse aims and support bases made it impossible for the oppositions to engage political issues, leaving them with a common commitment to resist a foreign occupation.

Signs that the S.C.L.R. would falter came on August 28 when the spokesman for the Hawiye sub-clans that had boycotted the N.R.C., Ahmed Diriye, announced that the anti-T.F.G. Hawiye elders would not go to Asmara, although they continued to denounce the N.R.C. as a ploy to gain international support. On September 1, Diriye reiterated the elders' refusal to participate in the S.C.L.R., saying that they had been invited and promised flights to Asmara, but would not attend because the conference had been "mobilized by people with special interests and has no relationship with Hawiye tradition and unity clans."

In the absence of the Hawiye, the S.C.L.R. lacked a base of deeper organized social support, which weakened its credibility, even as simply a resistance to the Ethiopian occupation.

Scheduled to open on September 1, S.C.L.R. was delayed on August 31, when Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan, ex-speaker of Somalia's transitional parliament and leader of the Free Parliament, announced that sessions would begin on September 6 because of "technical reasons" and the failure of all the delegates to arrive -- the same reasons given by N.R.C. organizers when that conference was delayed. Reuters reported that disagreements over the agenda had also held up the conference.

Hassan made it clear that the conference would be "short" and would not be "political," adding that "we expect that the Somali people have realized how to get out of the difficulty and will touch on where the difficulties are" -- presumably referring to the Ethiopian occupation. Already on August 25, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, leader of the I.C.C.'s political wing, had adopted an unaccustomed militant line, saying that the Ethiopians "will be pushed out of Somalia by force and we will take back our freedom by force."

The S.C.L.R. opened on September 6 and the diversity of the opposition was evident at its outset, centering on the interpretation of the term "reconstitution."

As a designation of the positive aim of the conference, "reconstitution" was chosen in deliberate contrast to "reconciliation," which, for the T.F.G., meant the settling of clan disputes within the framework of the transitional institutions and their present officials. The opposition groups were agreed on the principle that a future political formula for Somalia would "reconstitute" a national state transcending clan, and one of their few positive accomplishments was to repudiate the clan-representation formula on which the T.F.G. is based. Nationalism and promotion of a strong sovereign state united the opposition rhetorically, but beyond that consensus collapsed.

The divisions among the opposition groups hinged on the question of whether "reconstitution" meant determining a political formula for a future Somali state or simply forming an alliance aimed at "liberating" the country from Ethiopian occupation. That the latter was the most that could be expected was signaled by the withdrawal of the nationalists before the proceedings began.

The nationalists' pull out was based on their judgment that the conference would be dominated by the I.C.C. and would not consider their case for building a single national movement, rather than an alliance of convenience. They complained that there would be no attempt to forge a "post-liberation vision," a point also made by Aideed, who called for a "common agenda, platform and vision," aiming at a consensus including Somalis who disapproved of the S.C.L.R. The nationalists now plan to form a Nationalist Movement for Salvation and Revival of Somalia to resist the occupation and mobilize the population to create a strong national state.

With the maximum definition of reconstitution shunted aside, the conference became a tug of war between its three major elements -- the I.C.C., which held fast to its formula of a Somali Islamic state, and the diaspora groups and the Free Parliament faction, which favored a democratic formula for Somalia and were willing to accept power-sharing negotiations within the T.F.G. institutions if the Ethiopians withdrew from Somalia.

Confronted with the I.C.C. as the major grouping among the approximately 400 delegates, the other factions were placed in the position of attempting to resist its takeover of the opposition. The Los Angeles Times reported on September 15 that non-Islamist delegates had walked out of a session in a dispute over the issue of whether to include the term "jihad" in the proposed charter for the alliance, and had later succeeded in keeping the reference out in favor of the more general term "struggle." On September 14, Garowe Online reported that disputes had broken out over the institutional structure of the alliance -- a Central Committee to function as a legislature and an Executive Committee. Originally the Central Committee was to have 151 members with 68 apportioned to the I.C.C., but its size was later increased to 191 with 76 apportioned to the I.C.C. to dilute its influence by including "intellectuals" and representatives of civil-society organizations.Read Full Report

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