A Joint Summit with Members of the European Parliament and US Congress on Africa
US House of Representatives
June 8, 2007
Somalia: Prospects for Lasting Peace
Remarks by David H. Shinn
Elliott School of International Affairs
The George Washington University
I thank the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health for inviting me to address prospects for lasting peace in Somalia. I also commend the members of the US House of Representatives and the European Parliament for organizing a joint summit on developments in Africa and especially the Horn of Africa.
It is a cliché to say that the situation in Somalia is at a crossroads, but it is. There is still an opportunity to restructure the government in Somalia in a manner that will permit the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to complete successfully its mandate. But time is fast slipping away. It is essential that both the TFG and its opponents seize the opportunity now and make the necessary compromises that will serve the Somali people rather than the interests of current politicians and aspirants for power. The focus today and over the past year and a half has been excessively on maintaining or gaining personal power both by the Union of Islamic Courts and the TFG.
TFG Tenure Is Winding Down
In the relatively brief time that remains in its mandate, the TFG could perform an enormous service to the Somali people by creating a true government of national unity that paves the way for a popularly elected parliament in 2009. The Transitional Federal Charter states that the Transitional Federal Parliament shall remain in office for five years. The tenure of parliament commenced from the date of taking the oath of office, which occurred in September 2004. The current parliament will finish its term in September 2009.
The Transitional Federal Charter also states that the President shall hold office for a term of four years beginning from his date of swearing-in, which occurred in October 2004. This means that President Abdullahi Yusuf will complete his tenure in October 2008. Parliament elects the president by secret ballot on the basis of two-thirds of its members supporting the winning candidate. Presumably parliament could reelect Abdullahi Yusuf, but the TFG still ends in September 2009. In any event, the TFG has just over two years left in its tenure unless it extends itself.
US Interests in Somalia
I approach this issue from the standpoint of what I believe is best for US policy based on American interests in the region. These interests include the establishment of a stable and peaceful Somalia with a widely accepted national government that re-establishes the rule of law, a functioning economy, and cordial relations with its neighbors. From an American perspective, political stability in the region is essential. It is also in the interest of the US to see that humanitarian disasters in Somalia are eliminated or, at least, minimized. This is not only good for Somalis, but it puts fewer burdens on the American taxpayer who provides much of the emergency assistance. Finally, the US seeks to counter extremism and terrorism that has, on occasion, been aided and abetted in Somalia. In the past, terrorist acts with links to Somalia have directly impacted US interests in Kenya and Tanzania.
My remarks are based on several assumptions. The TFG is the only Somali government recognized by the United Nations, African Union, Arab League, and international community generally. It is important to help the TFG succeed so long as it is willing to become a truly inclusive government. So far, it has not demonstrated that it is serious about significantly broadening its base. The TFG remains weak, is not sufficiently representative, and continues to be highly dependent on the presence of Ethiopian troops for its survival. I strongly doubt that any Somali government will succeed unless it includes representation from virtually all elements of Somali opinion and society. This will require sharing power at the highest levels of the TFG with some persons who are now excluded. From my perspective, the only groups that should be excluded from a Somali government are those that:
--urge war or support terrorist acts against neighboring countries;
--have indisputable links with terrorist or criminal organizations; and
--hold views so extreme that they will prevent a national government from functioning successfully and peacefully.
I also assume that Islam has become an even more essential component of Somali society in recent years and that what is sometimes called political Islam is now a permanent feature of Somali politics. Even the Transitional Federal Charter says that "Islamic Sharia shall be the basic source for national legislation." Somalia's neighbors, the US, and the West generally must learn to live with this situation and be supportive so long as Somali Islam remains tolerant and seeks to solve problems peacefully. The Sufi beliefs in Somali Islam have resulted in a tradition of moderation. In spite of some recent radicalization among a small minority, usually encouraged by foreigners, this continues to be the case.
Somali Links to Terrorism
A comment on Somali links to terrorism and al-Qaeda is in order, particularly since countering it has become the focus of American policy in the region. The Harmony Project Combating Terrorism Center at West Point recently completed a massive study that relied heavily on declassified al-Qaeda documents, most of them from the mid-1990s. The evidence is overwhelming that al-Qaeda worked hard in the 1990s to establish operatives in Somalia. Al-Qaeda did achieve some success, especially by sending foreigners to the region who subsequently took refuge in Somalia. Al-Qaeda also recruited a small number of adventure-driven, young Somalis who had largely abandoned allegiance to their clans.
Nevertheless, the frustration these foreign terrorists experienced in contacts with Somalis was palpable. Al-Qaeda clearly wanted to establish a franchise in Somalia and assumed it would be a low cost recruiting ground where disaffected people in a failed state would readily join its ranks. For al-Qaeda, Somalia seemed to be another Afghanistan. The Harmony Project concluded that the reality was quite different. Al-Qaeda underestimated the cost of operating in Somalia. Poor security in the country increased its costs and al-Qaeda constantly experienced extortion from Somali clans and losses when bandits attacked their convoys. Al-Qaeda failed to understand the importance of traditional Sufi doctrine in Somali Islam. In some cases, al-Qaeda operatives appeared stunned at the depth of resistance they received from Sufi clerics. Nor did al-Qaeda appreciate the Somali attachment to clans and sub-clans. Al-Qaeda overestimated the degree to which Somalis would become jihadis, especially if there was no financial incentive. Developments in the past several years suggest that al-Qaeda has had somewhat more success, but there is still a tendency by al-Qaeda, the TFG, the US, and Ethiopia to exaggerate both al-Qaeda's role and its influence in the country. This only plays into the hands of al-Qaeda.
Role for a Peacekeeping Force
The TFG, African Union, United Nations, and the international community are attaching considerable importance to the standing up of an 8,000 member African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia to maintain law and order. So far, only about 1,600 Ugandans have arrived in the country and there is no indication other African contingents plan to come anytime soon. More importantly, I think the peacekeeping mission misses the point. It can achieve very little unless there is first major progress on a political settlement in Somalia. Once there is general agreement among Somali clan leaders, business representatives, moderates from the Islamic Courts, civil society, and even the warlords, an outside peacekeeping force can then make a positive contribution. While this is happening, there must be an effort to train Somalis to take over the functions of the police and security forces. Even a peacekeeping force that is much larger than 8,000 will not be able to maintain order if key opponents of the TFG continue to oppose it.
The 69 th meeting of the African Union Peace and Security Council issued a communiqué on 19 January 2007 which stated that the AU peacekeeping force shall be deployed for six months "with a clear understanding that the mission will evolve to a United Nations operation that will support the long term stabilization and post-conflict reconstruction of Somalia." The Ugandan troops arrived in Mogadishu in early March. Although the full 8,000 member AU force never materialized, the Ethiopian troops filled the void. Arguably, the AU commitment is about half finished with its six month term and, in the view of the AU, the UN should be readying its force to replace the Ugandans in early September.
The UN never agreed, however, to take over the peacekeeping operation after six months. Security Council Resolution 1744 adopted on 20 February 2007 did "take note" of the communiqué of the African Union Peace and Security Council of 19 January 2007, which stated that the African Union shall deploy for a period of six months a mission to Somalia that will evolve into a UN mission. The UN did not explicitly state that it would take over the AU operation and it clearly is reluctant to do so. The April 13 UN staff report to the UN Secretary General on the situation in Somalia stated that "it is difficult to offer a definite recommendation at this point with regard to the possible deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping operation in support of the peace process." The report commented that UN personnel in the region expressed concern about deployment of a force and that it would encounter significant logistical challenges. The Ugandan and Ethiopian forces can certainly vouch for that.
The UN seems to have no intention of establishing a peacekeeping force in Somalia by early September. This leaves either the Ugandans and/or the Ethiopians stuck in Mogadishu. Other than the TFG, most Somalis have made it clear they want the Ethiopian force to leave. It is also obvious that 1,600 Ugandans are not able to provide security in Mogadishu.
Role for Ethiopia
I suspect that even the government of Ethiopia would like to remove its soldiers from Somalia. It is creating a financial burden and probably having a negative impact on military morale. If the Ethiopians departed immediately, however, that would leave only the Ugandans and the TFG militia in Mogadishu. Even a weak opposition force on its home turf could defeat this combination. In a March 24 al-Jazeera interview, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi stated that Ethiopia had completed the first phase of its troop withdrawal from Somalia and he added the second phase will take place in a few days, leaving less than a third of the original contingent in Somalia. It has never been clear to outsiders how many troops Ethiopia had in Somalia originally. Hence, it is impossible to say whether Ethiopia has met that schedule. But I doubt it. The security situation in Mogadishu is just too tenuous for Ethiopia to draw down two-thirds of its original force. Although there has been no major fighting in recent weeks and most of the conflict remains confined to the Mogadishu area, violent incidents including suicide attacks and roadside bombs continue on a regular basis.
An Ethiopian scholar in Addis Ababa, Medhane Tadesse, who supported the sending of Ethiopian troops into Somalia and on occasion has advised the Ethiopian government, was quoted in the Washington Post in late April that Ethiopia's military victory in Somalia "was not complemented by a political victory." He added that "long-term stability in Somalia requires a long-term social strategy, but Ethiopia and the US only had a military strategy." That conclusion is worth thinking about.
Power Sharing is the Key
Most observers agree that political reconciliation among Somalis is the most urgent task. The recent G-8 resolution on Somalia makes this point. The April report to the UN Secretary General said there is a broad agreement within the international community that without an all-inclusive political dialogue and reconciliation process, no peacekeeping force is likely to bring sustainable peace to Somalia. Prime Minister Meles acknowledged in the al-Jazeera interview that large numbers of peacekeepers in Somalia are not the answer. He said progress will be determined by "the reconciliation process among the Somalis." The situation cries out for an urgent political solution.
The question is how one achieves reconciliation. Plaintive calls for political dialogue, which are common in Western capitals, will not result in a solution. Somalis will dialogue the process to death. The initial TFG solution was a 3,000 member conference for political dialogue in Mogadishu. The idea of holding the conference in Mogadishu is admirable, but the security situation there probably precludes it. The TFG has postponed the conference several times and now reduced the number of participants to about 1,300 persons, allegedly because the international community has not provided adequate funding for the larger event.
Hawiye Abgal leader Ali Mahdi Mohamed is in charge of the conference. Other Hawiye clan elders in Mogadishu recently said three conditions must be met before they will participate. The demands included a ceasefire between insurgents, on the one hand, and Ethiopian and TFG militia, on the other, so that there is no more killing of civilians. Second, they called for the deployment of the full 8,000 member AU peacekeeping force and the withdrawal of all Ethiopian troops from Somalia. Third, they demanded the sharing of the conference chairmanship with a representative from opposition groups. None of these conditions will be met quickly, if at all. In addition, Sheikh Sherif Sheikh Ahmed, former chairman of the executive committee of the Council of Islamic Courts, and Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden, former speaker of the Somali Transitional Federal Parliament, both of whom are now in exile in Asmara, called for a boycott of the conference. The current scheduled date for the conference is June 14—six days from now. The situation hardly seems ripe for a reconciliation conference. It will likely be postponed again.
While it is true that large conferences and months of discussion are part of Somali culture and tradition, the current situation calls for something different. Time is running out and I doubt that anyone has the patience to wait for a reconciliation conference that may never happen anyway. It is time for the TFG to reach out to its moderate opponents and bring them into the government. It may be possible to convince enough of them to accept responsible positions so that the political factions in Mogadishu can then begin the real process of reconciliation and the isolating of hard-line spoiler groups.
While I agree that the departure of the Ethiopian troops would enhance the prospects for a successful power sharing arrangement between the TFG and moderate opponents, this would pose a security challenge, at least in Mogadishu. It probably means the Ethiopian force will have to remain until there is some progress on the political front. Ethiopia could announce a schedule for the departure of its troops from Somalia. This would put pressure on the TFG seriously to begin the process.
Dealing with the Spoilers
The spoilers in Mogadishu—the extremist remnants of the Islamic Courts, the Shabaab militia, and whatever is left of the foreign jihadis—would see a schedule for Ethiopian withdrawal as an opportunity to simply wait out the departure of the Ethiopians. But Somali clan leaders and moderates from the Islamic Courts in Mogadishu, if the TFG has seriously begun the process of making them an important part of the government, may well decide this is an opportunity to participate in a government of national unity. If they follow this course, which admittedly is a gamble, they are in a position to neutralize the spoilers. There is no way to convince the spoilers that they should serve the interests of the Somali people. They have their own, selfish jihadi agenda. The only way to deal with them is to take steps that will encourage most Somalis, especially clan leaders, to isolate the extremists and eventually remove all foreigners with a political agenda from Somalia.
The Bottom Line
Achieving a satisfactory solution to the current crisis in Mogadishu will not be easy even if all the major Somali parties finally agree to act in the best interest of the Somali people and put their personal ambitions aside. But a good result is not impossible. The first step should be the immediate initiation by the TFG of serious power-sharing with elements now excluded from power. As soon as that process has begun, the Ethiopian force should quickly begin its final and complete departure from Somalia. In the meantime, the UN, not the African Union, should be organizing a peacekeeping force consisting largely of African units. It should be ready to move into Mogadishu as it becomes clear that the political reconciliation process is working.
None of this will happen, however, until the TFG engages in serious power sharing with disaffected Somali parties. If the TFG fails to begin this process, there is no reason why the international community should support it other than to provide emergency assistance to the Somali people. In fact, lack of TFG willingness to share power should cause the international community to signal the TFG that the time has come to leave it to its own devices. Ethiopia, because of its military support of the TFG, has more leverage over the TFG than any other country. TFG actions in recent days are not encouraging following the closure of three radio stations and the arrest of several important Hawiye clan leaders. The TFG is narrowing the political space in which Somalis can operate and reducing, not expanding, its potential support among Somalis.
If, on the other hand, the TFG makes an immediate and sincere effort to share power and its political opponents refuse to reciprocate, then it is up to the Arab League, its members, and other friends of the opposition like Eritrea to pressure them to do what is right for Somalia.
Back to top