8 June 2012
Why Less Haste Would be Progress for Statebuilding in Somalia
On 24 December 2011, Somalia’s top political leaders signed an agreement proposing new political structures from September 2012 when current transitional arrangements end. Is this progress or are Somalia and the international community stuck on a political treadmill with no end in sight?
Prepared by: Saferworld
Despite the best efforts of many courageous and resilient Somalis, their country is best-known internationally for famine, piracy and war. Although some areas of stability have emerged, the country is divided by numerous conflicts. Most of South Central Somalia is under the control of the rejectionist Al Shabaab Islamist movement. Ethiopian and Kenyan troops occupy border areas to the west and south, while the internationally recognized Transitional Federal Government (TFG) resides in Mogadishu propped up by an African Union peacekeeping force AMISOM.
To date no less than 15 internationally-sponsored peace talks have failed to produce a meaningful peace settlement. Somalis are haunted by peace process after peace process, transitional government after transitional government. In February 2012 the UK Government is hosting a conference on the future of Somalia in London. Another international meeting is expected later in Istanbul. Each of these meetings produces its own round of activity, commentary and announcements, but what progress if any is being made on the bigger questions around peacebuilding and statebuilding in Somalia? With August 2012 fast approaching – the deadline to which all parties have committed to end the transition – decisions need to be made about Somalia’s future.
There are many underlying causes for conflict and state failure in Somalia, but weak political leadership, an entrenched war economy and incoherent international engagement are all sustaining factors. Unfortunately, solving the Somalia conflict often seems to come second to other concerns, be it the careers of individuals, counterterrorism, or maintaining regional stability.
Reflection on past efforts suggests that a new approach is needed to produce a more inclusive political settlement that can enable reconciliation and genuine statebuilding. So what exactly should Somalia’s regional and international partners do differently this time? Here are four suggestions:
1. Less haste
In a country racked by famine and war it may seem strange to question the pace of diplomatic and statebuilding efforts, but past experience shows that all of us in the international community have yet to find the formula for political agreements in Somalia that stick. Instead there is now a damaging political culture in which nothing is permanent and all eyes are on the next move to stay in power. For Somalia’s political class, which is dependent on international support, appointed by outsiders and at war with insurgents, delivering results comes second to survival and re-appointment. These individuals stand or fall not according to their record on the ground but according to their international backing and ability to negotiate around arbitrary political deadlines.
Recent agreements can be interpreted either as limited progress, or as leaders beginning to play international actors at their own game by setting their own deadlines and extensions. Yet the evidence is that successful statebuilding and peace-making takes time. A state can take generations to build; a just and lasting peace is typically inclusive and built through broad-based consultation.
Our understandable sense of urgency at Somalia’s plight and the danger it poses for outsiders should not blind us to the fact that there are no quick fixes when it comes to statebuilding, good governance or settling conflicts. Now more than ever we need to get off the political treadmill and reconsider our approach. International actors should be pushing to end personality politics and short-termism, replacing it with institution building and a state that reaches out.
2. Make decision-making more inclusive
In the unseemly haste to broker speedy deals between leaders, international and local actors are increasingly sanctioning exclusive agreements between individuals with a narrow power base. The recently agreed Garowe Principles and June 2011 Kampala Accord are but the latest examples of this trend. We are in danger of concocting agreements and building a state that reflects our logic and priorities rather than those of Somali society, and one that furthers only sectional interests.
Saferworld’s work with Somali non-state actors shows the importance of listening to a range of Somali voices. Many Somalis still disagree on issues that are fundamental to peacebuilding or statebuilding, from human rights to democracy, from the roles of religion in public life to federalism. This is hardly surprising. After 20 years of conflict and state failure, we cannot reasonably expect that a coastal farmer, a small business-holder from Hiraan, a constitutional lawyer and a professional diplomat based in Nairobi have the same understanding of ‘the state’.
We therefore need to support public and civil society involvement in decision-making, through dialogue and awareness-raising work, and through support to Somalia’s traditional, local-level decision-making structures. Only in this way can we ensure that a critical mass of Somalis participate in decisions about their future and understand complex issues such as a constitution-making process. And only then will we be able to secure a political settlement that is more than a one-off agreement between elites.
3. Champion broad-based reconciliation
Reconciliation and peacebuilding are firmly embedded in Somali traditional culture, particularly at the local level, within and between clans. In addition, Somalia’s TFG is mandated to lead a national reconciliation process, and outsiders are promoting the idea of reconciliation efforts between the new local administrations which have emerged in recent years.
Reconciliation is indeed a priority and the TFG should be supported to carry out the reconciliation work allotted to it under the Transitional Charter and accompanying roadmap for implementation. But while the TFG and international actors have an important role to play in reconciliation and peace processes, it would be a mistake if these efforts marginalised traditional processes or were undertaken purely for ‘stabilisation’ purposes. In the Somali context government must not impose peace and reconciliation at lower levels but create a secure and conducive environment for traditional actors to do what they do best. The focus of central government therefore should be to reach out to Somalis across the regions, build trust in government where it has collapsed, and foster a broad dialogue on the vision for the country. Civil society should also be enlisted in these efforts, acting as a bridge between government, elders and wider society.
4. Combine statebuilding and peacebuilding intelligently
In most contexts (such as Timor Leste or Sudan), international actors have a workable if imperfect peace agreement to guide them. Statebuilding can be situated within this settlement, bringing an overall logic and sequencing to bear. The situation is different in Somalia where a transitional government has the trappings of statehood – and significant international support – but a comprehensive peace settlement has proved elusive. Attempts have therefore been made to use statebuilding, whether in the form of military training or constitution-making, to consolidate an unconsolidated political process. Unfortunately, history shows that privileging statebuilding over peacebuilding is counterproductive and harmful in Somalia. But given the country’s strategic importance, international statebuilding (and counterterrorism) initiatives are set to continue. Flexibility in approach and thinking is needed so that appropriate forms of statebuilding can continue alongside peacebuilding efforts without doing harm. Above all, ‘bottom up’ solutions that fit the Somali context need to be found and supported.
If the solution lies in a combination of smarter statebuilding, broad-based reconciliation, and inclusive peace- and decision-making, what immediate steps can outside actors take to further these objectives? Here are four suggestions:
Take a long-term approach to statebuilding. First, lay the foundations for statebuilding through sustained dialogue and awareness-raising efforts across civil society and between civil society and the emerging state. Use every opportunity to do this including, for example, the Constitution Development Process, which should be seen more as an opportunity for Somalis to discuss the future than as a time-bound legal initiative that must conclude with an agreed constitution by a set date. Simultaneously plan for long-term institution building and all that entails – capacity building, technical assistance, training and investment.
Talk to Somalis and listen seriously to their responses. This means consultation with a wide range of Somali state and non-state actors that is meaningful, not just tick-box exercises and meetings in Nairobi. For example, working documents need to be translated simultaneously into Somali; meetings should be held in Somalia as a matter of course; participants need to have time to prepare and should be given feedback on how their inputs impacted the final policy. Most importantly, perhaps, reach out broadly beyond the usual suspects to include religious leaders, elders, the diaspora, women’s groups, business leaders and the media as well as NGOs.
Start investing in broad-based reconciliation initiatives. In the current Somali context this means encouraging government authorities at different levels to reach out to the people, and to each other, in order to build trust in something more than a stabilisation agenda. Traditional peace-making mechanisms and civil society should be part and parcel of these efforts, however, not just subject to them.
Commit to a principled and nuanced approach based on sound analysis. Outside actors can play a supportive role in Somalia, but to make a positive difference these efforts must be based on an analysis of local needs, dynamics and incentives. Better analysis should allow us to think intelligently about how to combine the different instruments at our disposal - the political, security and development – in ways that fit locally and incentivise elites to become more accountable to the people they purportedly serve rather than just to international donors.
For additional reading on this topic please see: