Hiil Qaran Response to the London Conference on Somalia

March 14, 2012 – (MMG) – The question that remains in the minds of many Somali people is: Did the much heralded London Conference on Somalia live up to its expectations? 

In his opening remarks, British PM David Cameron, called the Conference “…the largest gathering of countries and organizations around the world and the most influential”. The Conference and the momentum that led up to its preparation created high expectations and raised the hopes of the Somali people. Many saw this new attempt, though late in the game, as an unprecedented and serious effort by the international community to move from a “Containment Policy” of the past 17 years to a policy of genuinely helping the Somali people solve their problems.

Although the final Communiqué contained several positive proposals and had the support and the commitment of prominent world leaders, it was a disappointment to most Somalis for two crucial reasons:

On one hand, the Communiqué repeatedly re-iterates that the international community recognizes that Somalis must themselves resolve their differences and solve their problems yet the despised political arrangements such as the Road Map, Kampala Accord, and Garowe Principals (I & II) are lauded as commitments among Somalis and were held as a model for political dispensation of the post dissolution of TFIs on August 20, 2012. 

The Somali people view the Road Map as a project driven by certain elements within the international community and the Kampala Accord as an agreement between two individuals (President and former speaker Sharif Hassan) who in an effort to save their positions and influence were willing to compromise Somali Sovereignty and the Transitional Federal Charter – the very law that gave them the “legal” basis to govern. Moreover, the Garowe Principles cannot be construed as legitimate Somali agreement when, in addition to the Kampala Accord signatories, only two regional administrations and an armed militia group were invited to partake by the international community.

The signatories of the Garowe Principals envision selecting a Constituent Assembly with highly questionable legitimacy to impose a federalism system of governance and a national Constitution that the UNDP claims to have spent $60 million and five years, while the nation still being claimed and counter-claimed along clan-based regional administrations, armed groups, and foreign forces.

As history would attest, nations and their people neither accept forced form of government nor a Constitution that they did not collectively endorse.  The conspicuous patronizing undertones of the Communiqué in this regard are appalling and the overreliance on flawed political frameworks that lack legitimacy from the Somali people are doomed to fail and bound to ruin the goodwill and the reputation of the members of the international community that genuinely want to help Somalia to stand on its own feet.

Another troubling aspect of the UK lead initiative is the decoupling of the central government and the regions as separate entities that the international community will engage with and fund. The proposal of directly funding stable regions is akin to the US Dual-track Policy and the UN and Ethiopian backed Building Blocks initiative of the 90s.  Doubling down on such failed policies will likely lead to more political contentions among Somalis, prolong the suffering of the Somali civilians, and fail to stop piracy and transnational terrorism. 

The idea of incentivizing regional entities to promote political representations and good governance makes sense on the surface, but such a policy will lead to fragmentation of an already fragile society. The lack of space for civil society groups and the general public to participate in political discourse in meaningful ways and the dynamics of clan politics will invariably allow undesirable strongmen to carve territories for themselves and their henchmen, thereby seeking bounty from well-intension but ill-advised donors. The US Dual-track Policy encouraged the proliferation of new regions with Presidents, foreign ministers, defense ministers and full cabinets, each projecting itself as an independent village or a region State of its own. Needless to say, under such condition, rekindling sense of nationhood and a unified polity is almost impossible.

The international community expressed in the Communiqué its readiness to assist Somalia and challenged the Somali people and their leaders to take responsibility for their own security and their political, social, and economic fate. It is now up to the Somali people and their leaders to accept this challenge. To that end, we offer several recommendations to the whole Somali stakeholders and the international community leaders:

The Somali leaders must;

1.      Recognize the era of group hegemony and zero-sum gain is over. Negotiate with your brethren in good faith to reconstitute the Somali state. In a war-torn nation with ensuing armed struggle, winner-takes-all attitude will not work, so let us compromise

2.      Seek legitimacy from your people at the national, regional, and local levels

3.      Agree to use the 1961 Constitution on interim basis until such a time when the nation is secure and at peace. There is no compelling reason to rush into a new Constitution when the nation is in the midst of war. The form of government (Unitary, Federal, etc) should be debated in context and in time as part of the Constitutional dialogue

4.      Set aside the Garowe principals and renegotiate an inclusive Somali owned and Somali found principles. Insisting on the Garowe Principals will alienate more people and make the implementation of those Principals in impractical.

5.      Do away with the 4.5 clan-based power-sharing formula. Indeed, there are better         ways to align the real interests of the people with political representation.

6.      Press the international community to make the building of the Somali security forces one of the highest priorities on the security agenda and insist on withdrawal timetable for the AMISOM forces

7.      Negotiate with all of the opposition groups, both armed non armed

The International Community should:

1.      Uphold their commitment to allow Somalis frame their own reconciliation terms and format.

2.      Keep the front-line countries and other foreign interest groups from interfering with the process

3.      Help rectify the overreliance of current political frameworks and the shortcomings of proposed regional framework. They are obstacles to regional peaceful coexistence rather than Somali-owned agreements that can be basis for future dialogue in the eyes of many Somalis.

4.      Gauge the authenticity of the Somali-owned process by its willingness to recharge civic sentiments and collective belonging. The key to this includes revival of tolerant Islamic and political culture; and the creation of a legitimate national government and efficient civil service.

5.      Support a constituent assembly made up of 100 distinguished and carefully vetted Somalis. This process would be supported by a small but capable secretariat. The assembly’s mandate will be for two years, during which it should draft a new Constitution (based on the 1961 model) as well as procedures for electing a new parliament. The draft constitution must be ratified by the people in a national referendum.

6.      Help establish a highly competent government with a cabinet that is both qualified and experienced (with no more than a dozen critical portfolios) to lead the reconstruction.

7.      Help establish and support professional, well-trained, and equipped national security forces of up to 30,000.

8.      Commit to a long-term international attention and investment in the reconstruction of basic infrastructure, and the crucial sectors such as agriculture, fishing, health, education, etc.

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