The Dividends of Strong National Government: A Policy Shift Towards Somalia
The United States Government and other global actors have finally recognized
that the support of legitimate strong Somali State offers the best opportunity
to address the mounting security and development challenges in the country. As a
result, the UN and other international organizations have shifted their
engagement with Somalia. This new policy ends the previous dual-track approach
that treated regional-clan-based actors and the Somali national leaders as
equals in all affairs of Somalia. The dual-track tactic has proven to undermine
the emergence of national authority due to the erroneous assumption that the
Somali conflict was based on clan violence. As one expert noted, regional
observers and so-called experts on Somalia had based their solutions on the
assumption that “Somalis are killing one another due to age-old clan rivalries”.
Such fallacy didn’t only “distort” the nature of the violence, but it also
misspeaks about the Somali history. Given the fragmented nature of the warring
factions in Somalia that were fanning the violence during the civil war, one
could easily see that different militias from the same clan were killing one
another, leading to only one conclusion: the conflict was about power and it
“revolved around personalities who use kinship, money, and food to form a
patronage network with militia and neighborhood gangs”.
Clearly, the Somali people share common language, history, and culture. Had the
focus been the restoration of the rule of law and strengthening of the
institutions of the Somali State to “provide security and governance” as
Tulumello has rightly argued in his book, “Rethinking Somalia’s Clanism”,
thousands of lives could have been saved and international security threats
The current international policy change rightly proposes the strengthening of
the national institutions of Somalia and a single-door approach where all
international organizations are expected to respect the sovereignty of Somalia
and deal with Somalia through its national government in Mogadishu. This
strategy has received positive response inside Somalia and provides the new
government with the opportunities to advocate for the interest of all Somalis.
However, it also faces constraining internal conditions as well as persistent
On the internal front, poverty, piracy and extremism are not the only obstacles
facing the Somali government to assert its power. Clannish politicians and
militia leaders continue to resist the emergence of strong national government
as it undercuts their political status and power.
The government has already been challenged by militia leaders who are backed by
neighbouring States, namely Kenya and Ethiopia, in terms of the formation of
Jubbaland administration and the continuing political crisis in that region.
This has been a litmus test for the Somali government and frankly it exhausted
all its options to resolve this peacefully as a result of the meddling role of
Kenya and Ethiopia.
So far, a minority faction in Lower Jubba (Jubbaland) with backing from Kenya
unilaterally went ahead with its plan to elect its militia leader, Sheikh Ahmed
Madoobe as a regional leader without consultation with the Somali government.
Rejoicing this disorder, the Puntland leader, Farole promptly supported this
mayhem as his expressed political interest aligns with the militia in that
region more than with the Somali government. The behavior expressed by these
clannish politicians can be characterized as one of “spoilers” because they view
the failure of the national government as a victory.
Moreover, a weak central government provides the best shield for spoilers
because rogue clan administrations can serve as a Trojan horse for maintaining
the disorder that supports their power base. A case in point: the Somali
Minister of National Resources, Mr. Mohamed has recently reiterated the “race to
lay claim on resources risks triggering wider conflicts” when regional
authorities insist to manage the national resources against the terms of the
national government, as previously done by Puntland authority with Western oil
corporations. Recently, Galmudug authority has taken similar measures by
inviting oil corporations to resume geological surveys on “its territory”,
claiming similar rights as Puntland. However, it seems that this attitude is
shaping up the relationship of regional authorities with the national government
because of the inherent clannish approach by regional leaders that insists on
clan territorial sovereignty. These regressive political ideas continue to
foster tension among the Somali people.
On the external front, considerable challenges remain to be tackled. IGAD as a
regional body lacks the credibility to sort out the Somali issues. On the one
hand, Ethiopia and Kenya resist the emergence of strong central Somali
government despite the marginal cooperation they have shown in the past few
months with respect to the vision outlined by the Somali government on restoring
rule of law. They continually aggravate the internal political tension in
Somalia by providing weapons and political support to any spoiler in Somalia. On
the other hand, the current international modality can’t afford to disregard the
role of these two states in Somalia because of the fragility of the situation.
Without political pressure, recent security gains may evaporate in the face of
the emerging international approach to Somalia.
Such dilemma largely defines the complexity of the Somali conflict which
necessitates a shift in policy and commitment on the part of the international
community to ensure Somalia’s external challenges are not left unattended,
especially in the case of Ethiopia and Kenya. What is at stake is more important
than the narrowly defined interests of both Kenya and Ethiopia. Therefore, the
International Community should express concern about any activity that
undermines the huge blood and toil spent already on stabilizing Somalia.
For the Somali Government to succeed, it should understand the motives behind
the external and internal threats to its newfound status. It should assert its
leadership in restoring its sovereignty and align its strategic foresight with
its international obligations and its national interest; ultimately its
legitimacy will depend on the performance and services it provides to the Somali
public at large.
Abdi Dirshe is a political analyst and is also the current President of the
Somali Canadian Diaspora Alliance. Contact Abdi at:
Faafin: SomaliTalk.com | May 24, 2013