Somalia conference and rivalry of civilizations
London recently hosted the 'Somalia Conference 2013'. What did it teach us?
A few days before the “Somalia Conference 2013” held in London on May 7th, a foreign journalist friend of mine sent me an e-mail asking what my thoughts were regarding the upcoming conference hosted by Prime Minister David Cameron. I replied: “My heart's belief in miracles outweighed my mind's interest in the pursuit of objective analysis.”
I am as optimistic as I was then, but hardly quixotic.
While the conference's Final Communique outlines specific acknowledgements and directives that could have various effects on various actors, the most important messages were asserted in the implicit, or by way of omission.
The communique acknowledges improved conditions such as the security sector, drastic reduction in the number of pirate attacks, receding famine, and the large number of the diaspora returning home. Likewise, it acknowledges challenges such as al-Shabaab’s hit-and-run campaign of terror and the fact that the provisional constitution is an incomplete document that fails to address some of the most serious issues of contention.
On the political front, the communique welcomes the Federal Government’s plans “to resolve outstanding constitutional issues, including the sharing of power, resources and revenues between the Federal Government and the regions….” It continues:
“We welcomed the dialogue on the future structure of Somalia that has begun between the Federal Government and the regions. We welcomed progress on forming regional administrations and looked forward to the completion of that process. We encouraged the regions to work closely with the Federal Government to form a cohesive national polity consistent with the provisional constitution.”
The message seems clear; however, there is one thing missing – the term “Federal State”. Though the concept is prominently established in the constitution, oddly it is replaced with terms such as “regions” and “regional administrations” in the communique. Throughout the communique the term is sidestepped seven times.
Was this the result of collective amnesia, or was it a deliberate action articulated in a carefully crafted language? If I were a betting person, I’d go with the latter.
As a newly rebranded coalition mandated by a new resolution, the international community has a new plan and initiative that will most likely be much different than the discredited version outsourced to the hegemon of the Horn – Ethiopia. Hegemons tend to grant themselves the right to roam around freely and randomly exploit any ventures they deem expedient to their perceived unilateral self-interest.
Despite the fact the US dual-track policy still has a de facto presence on the ground, this new language seems to have been injected to indicate rejection of the prevalent domestic clan-centric political order. Who can ignore the stubborn fact that, in current day Somalia, “federalism” means nothing other than legalized clan domination? The Alfa Clan, or the most armed, mainly gets the lion’s share and subjugates others while crying wolf.
The writing is on the wall: Somalis must renegotiate the form of government and indeed governance in a way that decentralizes power, leaves space to accommodate Somaliland, and brings the nation back together. The international community has been receiving an earful of grievances from various clans, such as those from Sol, Sanaag, Ein and Awdal who inhabit Somaliland and say they are facing existentialist threat from the current arrangement, and, as such, are invoking their rights to stay in the union.
But, mortifying this may be to some actors, reason should prevail. Staying the old course is a recipe for renewed civil war and perpetual instability. Somalia is too war-weary, and too important to let it drift back into chaos again.
Contrary to the common perception, Somalia is perhaps the most important political theatre in the 21st century as it is where geopolitical, geoeconomic and georeligious dynamics intersect and interplay. And it is where two old empires (British and Turkish) are positioning themselves for global influence. Meanwhile, the curtains are slowly opening to unveil the covert rivalry of civilizations, instead of the clichéd “clash”.
According to Jamal Osman of UK Channel 4, “Western nations are uneasy about the rapid growth of Turkish influence in Somalia, and the UK government's initiative is seen as part of the West's agenda to counter it.”
Whether or not this latest high profile conference would prove “a pivotal moment for Somalia” would depend on two particular factors. First, on how soon the Somali leadership comes to understand that without reconciliation, improved security, public services and development cannot be sustained. Second, it would depend on how key international partners avoid the political temptation of zero-sum gains.
Competition of civilizations can be healthy so long as the key actors cooperate, collaborate and negotiate ways that would not take away from each other. But it’s no secret that the difference between a pre-Erdogan and post-Erdogan visit of Somalia is day and night, and that Turkey has been quite humble about the life-changing provisions it has made available for the Somali people and nation.
At the end of the day, what tips the scale and wins the hearts and minds of people are the tangible direct services provided to them at their most dire moment. Everything else is considered a costly symbolism. “There are two kinds of people, those who do the work and those who take the credit”, said the late Indira Gandhi. “Try to be in the first group; there is less competition there,” she added. This, of course, is even more pertinent to the Somali government.
While improvement of security apparatus, finance systems and rule of law are indeed issues of high priority, the federal government would have to provide substantive public services far beyond Mogadishu. More importantly, the government must strategically balance the ways, means and ends at its discretion to achieve its objective of a secure, reconciled and cohesively functioning Somalia. That is what Somalis yearn for, and that is what the international community wishes to assist Somalia with.
Abukar Arman is a former diplomat and a widely published foreign policy analyst. Follow him on Twitter @AbukarArman
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