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Last Updated: Feb 11, 2014 - 5:11:05 AM
Somalia: Interminable Transition [Analysis]

By: Dr. Michael A. Weinstein

In their latest attempt to stage-manage Somalia’s political transition to normalized statehood, the anti-Islamist external “stakeholders” in the country’s conflicts have been unable to resolve on a strategy, thereby leaving the persistent condition of stasis in place.

Stasis/deadlock/stalemate hardened in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu in the autumn of 2010, after the Islamists led by Harakat al-Shabaab Mujahideen (H.S.M.) mounted a failed offensive during the month of Ramadan aimed at driving their rivals the Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.), which is protected by an African Union peacekeeping force (AMISOM) and funded by Western great/”donor” powers through the United Nations, from the city. Since then neither H.S.M. nor the T.F.G.-AMISOM has been able to alter the balance of power on the ground, H.S.M. because it lacks the capacity to break through AMISOM armor, and the T.F.G.-AMISOM because T.F.G. forces are weak and unreliable, and AMISOM is restricted by a U.N. mandate that bars it from “peace enforcement.”

The T.F.G. was contrived by external stakeholders in 2004 in Kenya and expanded by them in 2008 in Djibouti as a vehicle through which the stakeholders could gain access to and leverage in Somalia, and that would perform the transition to a permanent government that was satisfactory to the stakeholders. From the beginning, in great part due to inadequate support from its creators and sustainers, the T.F.G. has been weak, ineffective, factionalized, corrupt, and unpopular, all of which are mutually reinforcing aspects of a single condition/phenomenon/syndrome. Factions within the T.F.G. are constantly disputing its organization and thereby deferring any action on substantive issues. The external stakeholders have been dissatisfied with the T.F.G., but have not been willing to replace it.

When the T.F.G. was doubled in 2008, its mandate was set to expire by August 20, 2011, when it was supposed to have approved a constitution to be submitted to a nationwide referendum. As it became apparent that the T.F.G. would not approve a constitution in time and that a referendum could not be held with H.S.M. in control of most of southern and central Somalia, the self-declared republic of Somaliland controlling the northwest, and the autonomous regional state of Puntland (which broke relations with the T.F.G. in 2011) controlling the northeast, the external stakeholders were faced with the alternatives of trying to initiate a new path to statehood or of extending the T.F.G.’s mandate.

The external stakeholders, at least for the present, have been constrained to take the default option.

The “Transition” Implodes

Until the end of January, the external stakeholders had been pressuring the T.F.G., without success, to complete its “transitional tasks” by August, 2011, especially the approval of a permanent constitution, a draft of which had been written, but which was contested by a faction around the T.F.G.’s president, Sh. Sharif Sh. Ahmad, and key cabinet ministers allied with him. The constitution had become the latest in a series of political conflicts that had held up the T.F.G.’s work, this time pitting the Sh. Sharif faction against a faction backing the draft constitution led by the speaker of the transitional parliament, Sharif  Hassan Sh. Adan, a former ally of the president.

Without the external stakeholders, the T.F.G. could not exist; each component of their coalition is essential to its survival. The Western great/”donor” powers working through the U.N. finance the T.F.G.; African states working through the A.U. and financed by the “donor” powers under a U.N. mandate provide the military force (AMISOM) that defends the T.F.G.
and the enclave of Mogadishu that the latter controls; and Horn of Africa states working through the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (I.G.A.D.) give diplomatic support to the arrangement. Once the extreme dependency of the T.F.G. is understood, it is intelligible that the external stakeholders take it for granted that they can/should (try to) tell the T.F.G. what to do. They are only effective in giving directives, however, if they are on the same page. In addition, although the T.F.G. is dependent, its factions exert whatever power they have as the stakeholders’ “internationally recognized” government to advance their own interests, often at the expanse of the stakeholders – the T.F.G. can dare the stakeholders to get rid of it if they do not like what it does. Yet then they would have to replace it, assume control of Somalia directly, or walk away from the country, all of which options have their own costs.

During the last week of January, a mini-drama played out among the stakeholders and the T.F.G. that revealed the ineffectiveness of the former in attempting to stage-manage an anti-Islamist governing structure for Somalia. The U.N. attempted to put into effect a plan that would replace the T.F.G., I.G.A.D. counter-posed a plan that would preserve the T.F.G. in part, I.G.A.D.’s plan prevailed among the stakeholders, part of the T.F.G. resisted I.G.A.D.’s plan, and another part embraced it and took action to implement it without consultation with the external actors. What was supposed to have been, from the U.N.’s viewpoint, a move to speed-up the transition to a permanent government in Somali waa was derailed in favor of continuing deadlock.

On January 26, the U.N. Political Office for Somalia (U.N.P.O.S.) issued a press statement that a meeting would be held at the end of the month, convened by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Chairman of the A.U. Commission Jean Ping to discuss among stakeholders the status of Somalia’s movement towards establishing a permanent government. The meeting would be held in Addis Ababa on the sidelines of the sixteenth ordinary meeting of A.U. heads of state and government.

In explaining the meeting, the U.N.’s special representative for Somalia and head of U.N.P.O.S., Augustine Mahiga, noted that only seven months remained until the T.F.G.’s mandate would expire, and that several key transitional tasks remained undone, including reconciliation with political groups outside the T.F.G., formation of political and security institutions, and “completion of the constitution-making process.” Despite the fact that the clock was running out for the T.F.G. and that so many central requirements for a permanent government remained to be fulfilled, Mahiga insisted that there was “unanimous agreement, both inside and outside Somalia, that the transitional period has to end in August.” To that end, “consultations” were being held among stakeholders to “develop a consensus on how to end the transition and on the nature of post-transition political arrangements.”

In conjunction with the press statement, Mahiga held a press conference in Nairobi in which he added further detail to U.N.P.O.S.’s position that made it plain that the agency was proposing to pull the plug on the T.F.G. and to initiate a fresh attempt to contrive a political order for “Somalia,” which would be the sixteenth effort since 1991. According to Mahiga, the “constitutional process should have been an ideal path,” but it was blacked by the failure of the T.F.G. to agree on the draft constitution and by the impossibility “to consult the population on it.” As a consequence, after the Addis meeting, the U.N. would hold a “summit” in Nairobi (where the T.F.G. had been fabricated) attended by top T.F.G. leaders, officials from Puntland and Somaliland, and “the international community” (Western powers/”donors”) in order to work out a new formula for transition that would, according to Mahiga, by “more inclusive.”

On January 27, RFI published an interview with Mahiga in which he went even further in stating his ambitions for “broadening the base” of Somalia’s political transition to include not only Somaliland, Puntland, and the T.F.G., but also “other local administrations on the margins of the areas controlled by Al-Shabaab,” and “clan leaders, prominent religious leaders, civil society and grassroots organisations, as well as the diaspora and business community,” and possibly “nationalists” in H.S.M.

Despite the obvious dissatisfaction with the T.F.G. among stakeholders, Mahiga’s announcement of a new and exceedingly ambitious position was, to say the least, surprising. Who would pay for such a grandiose new conference? How many of the designated participants would attend such a gathering? How protracted would such a process be? How could so many diverse and opposing interests be reconciled (by August, 2011)?  Who would choose the representatives of those interests and how would they be chosen? In his Nairobi press conference, Mahiga had said that “we do not want a half-baked document [the draft constitution] to define the destiny of Somalis,” but is a “half-baked” conference any better? Even more odd was a comment Mahiga made to RFI that “he sees the ratification of a draft constitution by a constituent assembly over the next seven months.”

The T.F.G.’s administration had certainly not signed on to the U.N.P.O.S. plan and was obviously displeased by it. T.F.G. foreign minister and Sh. Sharif ally, Mohamed Abdullahi Omaar, told a press conference in Addis on January 28  that the T.F.G.’s mandate sould not be decided by external powers but by Somalia’s “people,” presumably by their purported representatives in the T.F.G.

With the U.N. on the verge of scuttling the T.F.G., and the T.F.G. digging in, I.G.A.D. issued a communique outlining its own proposal for the T.F.G.’s future that contradicted Mahiga’s January 26 claim that all the stakeholders were at one in agreeing that the T.F.G. would come to an end in August, 2011. Instead, the I.G.A.D. Assembly reported that it had “reached a consensus on the urgent need to extend the term of the current Transitional Federal Parliament while the remaining political dispensation be handled by the people of Somalia.” I.G.A.D., then, had chosen to make a minimum alteration in the T.F.G. by dissoving its current administration, but leaving its institutions and present factions intact; indeed, Sh. Sharif, who had been the focal point of recent criticism of the T.F.G. could be reinstalled by the T.F.P. (presumably standing for “the people”) as president under I.G.A.D.’s plan.

With two starkly contrasting position on the table, the stakeholders held their closed “high-level” meeting on the sidelines of the A.U. summit on January 31. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, A.U. Commissioner Jean Ping, and I.G.A.D. chair, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, convened the session, at which representatives of all the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council were present. According to reports by international media, the stakeholders agreed to extend the term of the transitional parliament and to urge it to broaden the base of the T.F.G., which amounted to acceptance of the I.G.A.D. plan with a rhetorical nod to the U.N. proposal.

It appears from a transcript of his remarks that Ping was the broker, following the U.N. and the Western donor powers in expressing severe dissatisfaction with the T.F.G.’s “non-performance” while at the same time calling for its support. Ki-moon’s remarks contained no mention of a new transitional process and were confined to restating previous positions – encouraging the T.F.G. to “accelerate” reconciliation (including with Somaliland, Puntland, and Galgudmug [presumably Galmudug]), helping it “conclude consultations on the draft constitution,” and formulating and implementing a “security strategy” by the T.F.G. that would eventually make it capable of defending itself domestically. Ki-moon’s remarks, indeed avoided addressing the T.F.G.’s mandate altogether.

The U.S. representative at the meeting, Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg, however, stuck with Mahiga’s original position, as against I.G.A.D.’s, with modifications. Calling for the T.F.G. to “consult widely, including with Somali and all key international partners,” Steinberg insisted that “unilateral action by the T.F.G. on next steps past August [2011] would be unacceptable.” That said, the U.S. was not willing to go as far as Mahiga had on January 26 in proposing a conference to reconfigure the transition: “We also want to avoid starting a new lengthy and costly international political process, especially one that takes place outside of Somalia. We need to avoid a vacuum – but we cannot continue with business as usual.” In other words, the U.S. version of the Mahiga-U.N.P.O.S. plan is doing it on the cheap – the kind of half-measure familiar from Washington that is doomed to failure from the beginning, this time a “dialogue among key stakeholders, including key donors and the UN.” In his press briefing on his statement, Steinberg added the note that “the organization that takes over [from the T.F.G.] should make Somalia more self-sufficient and less reliant on foreign help to tackle Islamic insurgents.” Steinberg did not say where the funds and support for a “more self-sufficient” organization might come from and how it might be brought into being (by August, 2011), especially when the stakeholders themselves are divided on how to proceed. The stakeholders ceaselessly berate the T.F.G. for its “non-performance” and “ineffectiveness,” but can the same not be said about the stakeholders?

Response to the high-level meeting by the T.F.G. was quick and unfavorable, centering on the extension of parliament beyond August instead of extending all the transitional institutions and their personnel. Foreign Minister Omaar called the plan of extending the T.F.P., which he associated with the A.U.’s position, illegal according to the Transitional Federal Charter: “The A.U. has no right to reach [a] decision on issueds concerning the transitional government.” The “final decision,” he said, would be made by “the people and government of Somalia.”

The T.F.P., in contrast, leaped at the opportunity presented by its proposed extension, and, on February 3, voted 421-11-3 to extend its term for three years at Speaker Sharif Hassan’s request. Sharif Hassan told the Guardian newspaper that the T.F.P. would elect a new speaker and deputy speaker at its next session, and told Voice of America that he would seek the post he presently holds. He said that Sh. Sharif would present himself to parliament for re-election as president, if he chose to do so, by July.

The T.F.P.’s move flew directly in the face of Washington’s insistence that “unilateral action by the T.F.G.” on the transition “would be unacceptable,” and forestalled any possibility of a “new organization” replacing the T.F.G. in the medium term. On February 4, Washington responded in a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, saying that the “senior leaders” of the T.F.P. had called into question their “suitability as partners” for the Somali people and the “international community,” and that the T.F.P. should reconsider its “ill-conceived decision” and enter into immediate discussions with “regional partners, the U.N., and key supporters in the international community.”

U.N.P.O.S. quickly followed Washington, with Mahiga issuing a statement expressing “disappointment” at the T.F.P.’s “hasty” decision that had been taken “without consultation.” Mahiga noted that U.N.P.O.S. had begun consultations between Sh. Sharif, Prime Minister Mohamed Farmajo, and Sharif Hassan, but there had been no follow through. Mahiga said that he had already met with the A.U. and I.G.A.D. to “diliberate” on the “outcomes” of the I.G.A.D. plan for Somalia’s transition, and that all the stakeholders had agreed to meet with T.F.G. and T.F.P. leaders “as soon as possible.”

The back-and-forth continued as Great Britain, Italy, and the European Union joined the donor-power chorus condemning the T.F.P.’s initiative. On February 5, the Mareeg website reported that members of the T.F.P. had spoken out against the Western stakeholders, accusing them of interference and calling on them to stop intervening in Somalia’s “internal situation,” quoting M.P.s Abdule Hirsi and Ali Sko to that effect.


The inability of the external stakeholders to (stage-)manage Somalia’s transition to a permanent government indicates a lack of political integration among them – the failure to agree upon a coherent policy and also an incapacity to implement effectively any policy on which they might reach accord. Realizing the disarray among the external actors, the T.F.G. has attempted to take advantage of the situation, with each faction taking its own initiatives in defiance of the coalition of “donor”-powers, international and regional organizations, and regional states; and at cross-purposes with each other. The result of the Washington-U.N.P.O.S. attempt to enforce a political process on “Somalia”/T.F.G. has been even greater political fragmentation than there was before Mahiga announced on January 26 that there was “unanimous agreement both inside and outside Somalia that the transition period has to end in August.” What is one to make of those words in light of what transpired in the following days – the rejection of Mahiga’s plan by the T.F.G. (Sh. Sharif faction), the rejection of Mahiga’s plan by I.G.A.D. and its substitution of one that extended the term of the transitional parliament, the T.F.G.’s rejection of the I.G.A.D. plan, the retreat from Mahiga’s plan at the high-level meeting, the T.F.G.’s rejection of the watered-down I.G.A.D.-based plan at the high-level meeting, the move by the T.F.P. (Sharif Hassan faction) to grant itself a three-year term extension, Washington’s condemnation of the T.F.P.’s action and the former’s revival of a watered-down version of the original Mahiga plan, and Mahiga’s seconding of Washington? If that sequence of events does not indicate an absence of political integration, what would?

Any concerned observer and/or actor who desires to understand the political situation in the territories of post-independence Somalia would do well to reflect on the mini-drama of “deciding” what is to be done in the absence of a constitution to “end” the “transition” in Somalia. Rarely is the multiplicity of divergent interests so clearly on display; rarely do actors parade their incapacity so graphically in a spotlight.

Stasis/deadlock/stalemate is, as usual, the likely consequence.

Report Drafted By: Dr. Michael A. Weinstein, Professor of Political Science, Purdue University in Chicago

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