At the end of the transition period, Somalia is going nowhere – slowly

Image: United Nations
Image: United Nations

With a two-decade long history of instability, upheaval and violence, Somalia has become the poster child of the failed state.

With the end of the country’s transition in sight on August 20, the country should now find itself on the precipice of democracy. Instead, it is no nearer functional statehood than it was in 2004 when the Transitional Federal Government (TGF) was established under the leadership of Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed. The current roadmap agreed on by parties in September last year has been hailed as the best chance thus far for the country to make progress towards conditions of stability.

The End of Transition roadmap provides deliverables against the benchmarks of security, a constitution, reconciliation, and good governance. The TFG has achieved little and has developed a reputation for corrupt and weak leadership. The TFG and Parliament are entangled in a web of factionalism and rivalry that prevents movement on important issues. This is squandering of the goodwill offered by the international community.

Many of the achievements made to date, particularly in the realm of security, have resulted from the efforts of external actors. Given that the cut-off date for this process looms uncomfortably near, the same old question arises: will this process bear any fruit?

Unfortunately, this appears unlikely. Parliament has not been operational for a number of months owing to the removal and replacement of the speaker, Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan.

This has resulted in a stalemate which has reinforced the lack of legitimacy of Parliament and the TFG. Notwithstanding criticisms on the draft constitution, it remains unclear how the TFG intends to go about the most difficult job on the to-do list: electing a new government and parliament.

The ideal choice for the TFG would be an election that would grant the process the legitimacy it so sorely needs, and provide it an opportunity to increase local ownership. Nonetheless, pulling off a general election would be a feat, given the very real security concerns.

Notable gains have been made by Amisom forces against Al-Shabaab, and levels of piracy have decreased due to the presence of international naval forces in the Gulf of Aden.

But serious threats to security still remain. Kenya’s role will be crucial, as Nairobi will adamantly continue in its bid to take Kismayu, as a strategy to cut Al-Shabaab off from their base. If this happens, Al-Shabaab will likely refocus their energies on the use of guerrilla tactics, thereby remaining present as a threat to the country and regional stability. Moreover, a number of other challenging issues that have the potential to stoke the flames of tensions remain.

Firstly, political structures in Somalia are formed by a small group of people, known for their lack of political will and whose interests are divested from the success of the political process.

Secondly, territorial dynamics do not consolidate the transition either. Puntland and Somaliland will have to be engaged in an inclusive manner, particularly as Puntland will only return to its role as a sub-state within a federal system once a legitimate government is formed.

Somaliland, on the other hand, still fancies itself an independent state, having declared unilateral independence in the early 1990s and having managed to uphold relative peace under a democratic dispensation since.

Nonetheless, it remains unrecognised by any member of the international community. The current transition process looks to be on no stronger a footing than those that have preceded it.

Going forward, Somalia will need to couple the efforts from its regional neighbours and the support of the international community with a genuine will to get things done. In so doing, it must engage all the stakeholders involved such that a legitimate process of transition can take place. This will need to happen alongside a programme of stabilising the country. Until then, it seems that Somalia will continue to be going nowhere slowly.

10 Aug 2012