As the old saying goes, the more things change, the more they remain the same. On one hand, Somalia seems ahead of the curve as the debate on what might be the best process that could ensure legitimate outcome in upcoming election (Aug 2016) is already underway.
On the other hand, the fact that the whole debate on political legitimacy is exclusively confined within the parameters of the upcoming election in and of itself indicates that nothing has changed.
The Somali state did not disintegrate because of elections or lack thereof. It disintegrated because of institutional injustice and chronic foreign meddling. That is why the state imploded, over million people died, and clan-based balkanization or “federalism” became the rapidly spreading cancer that is actively destroying an already ailing state and keeping it in a state of perpetual dependency and subjugation.
Make no mistake, the most serious existential threat facing the Somali nation is the status quo.
In other words, anytime that the peripheries resort to the cultivation of international relationships that are wholly independent of the center, haphazardly sign agreements of serious consequences with foreign countries, and build clan militaries, they make the latter wholly irrelevant and the recovery of the state an impossible task.
What’s On First?
In broken nations where the political system and all essential elements that keep societies function in unison go haywire, all political issues of contention must be renegotiated and indeed reconciled before a nation is pieced back together and the healing process is set in motion. Through such process, trust is cultivated and sustainable peace is achieved. Naturally, the process must be both genuine and indigenous.
Failing to recognize these fundamentals, or, as usual, haphazardly rushing into a power-sharing arrangement, would only exacerbate the matters. Somalia has a quarter of a century long experiment to prove that. Placing the Somali political dilemma within the fallacious framework that election is a panacea undermines the direly needed debate on justice, reconciliation, and how to break the shackles of foreign dependency.
What Might Be A Viable Alternative?
Under the current system where foreign political actors, mainly Ethiopia/Kenya tag-team, dominate the process, genuine reconciliation is simply a fantastic pipedream. Therefore, total transformation of the current system that perpetuates status quo is an imperative prerequisite. After all, it is not only the Somali state that failed; the steam engine of squanderance or the international community model has also failed.
By default or otherwise, the system at hand has sustained itself by periodically reinventing itself. Domestically, by partnering with ‘leaders’ who possess relentless appetite to hoard executive power by keeping an entire branch of the government on an ‘on-the-job-training’ by annually changing prime ministers and cabinets.
Regionally, by partnering with frontline states, such as Ethiopia and Kenya, who are legally in Somalia as part of AMISOM while in reality implement their own thinly disguised zero-sum schemes to co-opt Somali political actors in order to expand their spheres of influence.
Internationally, by bringing in UNSOM to replace the stained UNPOS, but still act the same- keep Somalia in a perpetual transition where decisions are dictated, lucrative security projects are sustained, corruption and economic exploitation as in Soma Oil and Gas are facilitated, and shadowy characters are allowed backdoor entries to keep the fire burning and the cash endlessly flowing.
Despite what they were initially intended for, currently, the abuses and financial costs of the international community and its regional partners far outweigh their benefits.
As I have argued in a number of articles before: it is time to cut this umbilical cord of dependency. It is time to focus on bilateral strategic partnerships in which parties could hold each other accountable. The benefit is self-evident. Practically all foreign financed successful development projects in Somalia are the byproducts of nation to nation relationships.
Misplaced Focus, Erroneous Outcome
Currently, a few election-focused alternatives were proposed by a few individuals. The most prominent of said proposals argues, in essence, that political legitimacy requires sidelining the federal parliament, empowering regional actors and their clan exclusive parliaments, arbitrarily keeping political parties with any Islamic identity at bay. This proposal, needless to say, considers reconciliation before power-sharing as irrelevant, the Somaliland issue as an independent problem, and that constitutional reform should take place before any reconciliation.
While these may satisfy certain domestic and foreign actors and special interests groups who may see benefit in another four years of transition, they, by no means, ensure legitimacy as these authors argue.
By contrast, Gurmad Movement underscores the importance of reclaiming Somalia’s right to independently shape its political future and craft its own strategy to pull the nation out of its current subservient dilemma. Real legitimacy, according to Gurmad, could only be attained through a Somali-led process that is negotiated in the interest of the collective good. Not by drive-thru legitimization process that may or may not be motivated to maintain the status quo.
All said proposals agree that an election of a sort would be necessary in Aug 2016. But, according to Gurmad’s proposal, the current federal parliament should be given a conditional two year extension at which point said institution would complete, among other things, the establishment of the Constitutional Court and National Reconciliation Commission, and elect (an interim) president for that duration.
The election process must be widely open for a fair participation of any and all candidates who possess fresh ideas to salvage this dying nation.
No More Scotch Tape Solution
Despite the façade of sustainable recovery, beneath the veneer of Mogadishu’s rapid development is societal erosion rooted in innate hopelessness perpetuated by lack of genuine reconciliation.
Against that backdrop, the need for indigenous discourse and a process to repair this broken nation and inspire its demoralized and beaten psyche out of seemingly perpetual cynicism is a dire priority. But, you would not know that from the current political actors, domestic and foreign. And that is why Somalia is caught in that stubborn Sisyphus effect where we as a nation periodically roll up the bolder of peace to the top of the hill only to helplessly watch it roll back to the bottom.
One of the most prevalent fallacies that prolonged the status quo of distrust, division, sporadic hostilities in Somalia —not to mention hopelessness and chronic dependency—is the erroneous claim that the multi-faceted Somali political conundrum could be solved by holding an election, and in pigeonholed ways that are entirely independent of one another.
Herded leadership of many shepherds has been one of the corrosive phenomena that facilitated the systematic destruction of the Somali nation. The current government is just one example, though considering the irrefutable failure of its political strategy, failure to pay its soldiers for over six months and as a result causing insecurity to exacerbate, and for its earned reputation as the poster child of corruption, it certainly occupies a unique space in history’s pages of infamy.
Granted, the herded leadership—both in the center and the peripheries—as well as some within the civil societies who are direct beneficiaries of the current arrangement, might attempt to torpedo any transformative effort that threatens the status quo. However, neither of these entities have the necessary public support to sustain their immanent resistance.
At this do or die moment, Somalia needs more than random political belches from its so-called leaders. Granted, at all times, leaders ought to be judged, not by what they promise, but by what they deliver. It needs leaders who would govern ethically and justly, who would lead the nation in the best interest of Somalia and its people.
Difficult as it may seem, history attests to the fact that when the human will is driven by good intention and willingness to compromise for peace, it can beat all odds and overcome all obstacles. Failure is not a permanent status unless those who experience it opt to make it so!
It goes without saying; the Somali people and nation desperately need transformational leaders with vision, strategy, courage and willingness to sacrifice for the common good and help pull the nation off the current tracks of self-destruction.
A Necessary Foundation
Reconciliation is the foundation that is yet to be built for sustainable peace to materialize. Somalia is a broken nation that is handicapped by a generation long bloodshed and trauma.
Contrary to the conventional wisdom of Somalia’s political elite and power brokers, reconciliation is not the express powwows, artificial communiques, and photo opportunities orchestrated by regional actors or international community in banquet halls. It is a deliberate and a systematic process driven by a comprehensive strategic plan implemented by Somalis who are not blinded by the musical chairs of being appointed for symbolic governmental posts or in the clan-based political dirty fights.
Reconciliation is necessary as it deflates the hate narrative that sustains inter-clan distrust and enmity. It helps open a new page for negotiating the terms of permanent social contract and indeed for coexistence. It will enable the center and the peripheries to recognize their interdependence. It plays a significant role in teaching future generations that impunity and the habit of sweeping problems under rugs only makes matters worse. It sets in motion a genuine process of repairing our broken nation.
Finally, reconciliation is a critical post-conflict element necessary for healing and trust-building; it is a noble objective and a process that takes time. Neither its pace nor its broad impact could be rushed for political expedience.
Abukar Arman is a foreign policy analyst and a former diplomat. On Twitter: @4DialogSK [Disclosure: This author is one of Gurmad’s founding members, though this piece is an independent viewpoint]
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