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[Dehai-WN] Africa-Confidential.com: SOMALIA | BRITAIN -No great expectations

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Sat, 18 Feb 2012 15:00:28 +0100

No great expectations

British Prime Minister
David Cameron’s grand conference will bring together many parties but no one
is forecasting a breakthrough

18th February 2012

After two decades of political mayhem, Somalis and more perspicacious
foreign diplomats are intensely sceptical about high-level conferences. Many
approach the London Conference on Somalia on 23 February with muted hopes of
any political advance and say that its most important contribution will be
to raise the profile of Somalia’s internal political and social crisis,
plagued by intermittent conflict and chronic food shortage. British Prime
David Cameron and his Foreign Secretary William Hague have evidently
succeeded on the promotion front. Thanks to the Foreign Office’s invitations
to Arab countries, it is the first big Somalia meeting in which several
Muslim states are seriously involved.

The challenge to the London conference will be to go beyond the recent
International Contact Group (ICG) on Somalia or the United Nations Security
Council. Both those meetings endorsed policies decided elsewhere and seemed
unable to assess why those policies are not working. Delegates in London
could start the search for a strategy. Announced by Cameron in late November
2011, the London Conference was supposed to offer fresh thinking on
Somalia’s current political dynamics. It promised to broaden the
international representation in efforts to tackle Somalia’s crisis and to
strengthen the role of the UN there. Central to that is Special
Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG), veteran Tanzanian diplomat
Augustine Philip Mahiga.

Mahiga has held the fort in difficult times but is reticent about spelling
out any vision of an eventual solution. He may take comfort from the support
he receives from the East African Community but he is prisoner of a
dysfunctional UN Political Office on Somalia. UNPOS suffers from internal
inefficiencies and rivalries, we hear. The Deputy SRSG, Austrian diplomat
Christian Manahl (who worked in Congo-Kinshasa and Sudan), attempted reform
but was outmanoeuvred and recently recalled to UN headquarters in New York,
says a diplomatic source.

The UN Office is also obliged to pursue a political strategy that cannot
survive the end of the transition period, when the writ of the Transitional
Federal Government (TFG) ends on 23 August. What happens after that should –
but may not – be central to discussions in London. Neither UNPOS nor the
SRSG have spelled out how the future institutions might work nor have they
publicly identified the emerging leaders who could manage the political

The dual-track approach
There seems to be a deep ambiguity about the ‘dual-track’ approach in
Somalia. Pushed strongly by the United States, it involves recognising the
so-called central authority of the TFG in Mogadishu but also showing a
willingness to work with the local and regional entities in Somaliland and
Puntland. Although the devolved authority of those two entities is widely
accepted, UN officials have been slow to engage with them. It is
diplomatically delicate: Somaliland is petitioning the UN for statehood but
cannot get the African Union to recognise it, despite open support from
South Africa and Ghana, and covert support from Ethiopia.

Most critically, the UNPOS lacks a political strategy to confront the Haraka
al Shabaab al Mujahideen and translate recent military advances into
political gains. Nor has it got a clear policy toward the encroachment of
Kenya’s and Ethiopia’s armies in Somalia. Neither Nairobi nor Addis Ababa
saw fit to tell the UN that they were sending their armies into Somalia, and
have no interest in coordinating their plans with the UN.

The London Conference is not going to change any of that. The draft final
communiqué, we understand, is nearly identical in substance to that of the
ICG meeting in Djibouti on 5-6 February. The Conference appears to have been
prompted by concern over the recent famine in Somalia and the Horn of Africa
and by worry about the radicalisation of one of Somalia’s largest diaspora
communities just before the Olympic Games in July. The Conference lacked the
preparatory groundwork needed to generate a new direction for international
policy on Somalia, say its diplomatic critics. As Africa Confidential went
to press, the 53 delegations expected will discuss the future of Somalia up
to August, with little idea of what is to happen afterwards.

There is no strategy on how to confront Al Shabaab beyond the usual military
and security policies. This includes a proposal to raise the number of
troops in the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) to 17,000. Nothing
has been said about the unhealthy polarisation between the West and the
Muslim countries (Qatar, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates) which are
being put forward as new sources of funding. They complain they are under
pressure to endorse strategic priorities that favour Ethiopia and the USA.

Although the preparatory meetings may not produce a groundbreaking
conference, they did table important issues and obliged states to make their
positions clear. The most striking example was the debate on Al Shabaab.
Qatar, Turkey, the UAE and Scandinavian countries favoured engagement, and
Britain and some other European countries looked interested. The USA,
however, firmly opposed any further discussion of the idea, with strong
backing from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD, where
Ethiopia has great influence). As has happened before, Britain immediately
lost interest and the debate closed. Therefore, countries such as Qatar
(which has been accused by UN investigators of covertly arming Al Shabaab
via Eritrea) may be moving towards negotiation but in the absence of any
international framework.

The announcement of a conference in Istanbul in June to focus on development
issues is a small consolation prize for interested Muslim governments. It
risks being as irrelevant as the spring 2009 conference organised by the
then SRSG, Ahmedou Ould Abdallah. Conferees were planning the reconstruction
of Mogadishu in a five-star hotel in Istanbul as bloody war blazed in the
Somali capital.

As daily clashes demonstrate, security in Mogadishu and towns liberated from
Al Shabaab may not improve enough to allow ambitious reconstruction. The
timing is also problematic. Western states, led by the US and Britain, seem
to be rerunning their policies of early 2007 when they celebrated the
Ethiopian intervention and the return of the TFG to Mogadishu. Then, Western
states were not inclined to consolidate the TFG’s return with the economic
help which might have provided it with a sliver of legitimacy. If progress
is to be made, the population needs to see quickly that economic benefits
will follow any defeat of Al Shabaab. Complex institutional and political
developments will not enthuse Somalis: after two decades of mayhem, they
want financing for schools and clinics, as well as jobs.

After Al Shabaab
At the preparatory meetings for London, Amisom’s recent military successes
were celebrated but European diplomats did not hide their concern that there
was no credible plan to fill a political vacuum left by a defeated Al
Shabaab. The expansion of Amisom may result in more targets for the enemy
than in more security, as in Afghanistan.

IGAD countries have already divided south-central Somalia into zones of
influence with little consideration for history or Somali views: military
planners do not factor in such niceties. Kenya will hold sway over Lower and
Middle Juba, where the Ogaden clan is dominant, as it is in Kenyan Somali
politics. Gedo is associated with Bay and Bakool and would constitute the
best possible buffer zone for Ethiopia. Apart from Beled Weyne, which is
currently allocated to Amisom’s Djiboutian contingent, the least warlike of
them, the Central Region will not benefit from an increased Amisom presence.

The proxy forces there get substantial support from Ethiopian and Western
security services. Kenyan troops’ inability to take over Kismayo or even
Afmadow, plus the many clashes in Beled Weyne, could encourage a fight-back
by Al Shabaab. If it successfully takes on the Kenyan and Ethiopian forces,
together with their local proxies, Al Shabaab could regain some of the
popular support it has lost.

As for the TFG, the sole option offered for discussion is a new
constitution. In any other country, the presence of four foreign armies, an
ongoing civil war and the lack of a legitimate government – many see the TFG
as a gang of looters – would not be the best moment for a highly polarised
population to discuss a constitution. The SRSG and UNPOS downplay such
limitations. Yet the institutional framework limits interaction with any
Somali actors apart from the TFG. The question of who will enforce this new
dispensation is unresolved, too. By making the constitution the only option
available, the international community risks becoming hostage, again, to a
chaotic constitutional process that cannot succeed in such a short time.
This will also offer new opportunities to Islamist militants.

The London Conference will announce sanctions against spoilers intent on
derailing the processes and corrupt officials. This is likely to fail and
will trigger anger in Somalia, since the main targets are the more than 300
members of parliament who sacked the Speaker, Sharif Hasan Sheikh Adan, last
December, although UNPOS still invites him to all international gatherings.

For years, the international community has threatened to take action against
corrupt TFG ministers and MPs. None have ever come before a court although
many pay tens of thousands of US dollars into their bank accounts in Western
countries (especially Britain and the US) and buy property. Some of the
spoilers may not be Somali but regional states. While IGAD presented itself
as unified in the preparatory meetings, beyond the 1964 mutual Defence Pact
against any Somali aggression, Ethiopia and Kenya do not share the same view
of solutions. Will other governments sanction Addis Ababa or Nairobi because
they put their own clients in charge in their ‘liberated areas’ instead of
genuinely local representatives?

The Somaliland government is invited but will face bitter criticism if its
delegates return with the usual set of pledges and counter-terrorist
cooperation projects. Somalilanders and their backers in the UK, may resent
that Galmudug (South Gaalkaayo) is ranked in protocol at the London
Conference with Somaliland. In her excellent new book, Getting Somalia
Wrong, BBC journalist Mary Harper points out that international conferences
on Somalia ‘have produced a succession of weak transitional governments
which have paid lip-service to federalism but have tended to be highly
centralised. They lack popular legitimacy because Somalis tend to see them
as entirely foreign creations.’ The London delegates will struggle to buck
the trend.


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