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Breaking Bad in the Most Fragile Country


Breaking Bad in the Most Fragile Country

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A Conversation with Somalia’s Chief Peace maker and Constitutional Framer

“Do people actually live here?” I recall asking myself as I made the torturous journey through the streets of the bullet-riddled ruins of Mogadishu in the back of a noisy, slow and filled-to-capacity, open-top military utility truck. It is difficult to imagine a place on earth more desperate and wretched than Somalia in the 1990s. I vividly recall my first day there in 1993 – a day in which my senses were ambushed by jarring sights, smells, and sounds that would help form the framework of my understanding of a failed state.

According to the Fund For Peace’s Failed States Index 2013, Somalia wins the gold medal for being the most failed state on the planet. Indeed, by almost every human security measure, Somalia is at the bottom. But this country, most known in the West for famine, piracy, a persistent civil war, and recently the terrorist group Al-Shabaab, is not alone amongst countries many in the West would rather forget. Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Pakistan (tribal zones) all have equally great shots at winning silver and bronze medals in the failed states Olympics. Like Somalia, they all have vast zones that are so ungovernable as to be ideal hangout, training and fighting sites for the expansionist-minded jihadi globe trotters. Indeed, failed states present a real security risk to an already volatile international order and continue to be focal points for the application of Western soft and hard power. I was fortunate to chat with the man who believes that Somalia’s newly fostered political inclusivity and fresh-off-the-press constitution is the prescription to cure the persistent illness that has tortured the Somali body for decades

Ambassador Augustine P. Mahiga served as the former head of the United Nations Political Office for Somalia and was also the special representative of the Secretary General for Somalia from June 2010 to June 2013.  His role was to lead the international community in seeking a renewed effort to push forward the peace process in Somalia, which had broken down and was stalled for 20 years.  Below is the first part of a two part interview with Ambassador Mahiga. During our exchange, Somalia’s constitutional Framer in Chief shared his optimism about the country’s future, thoughts on Al-Shabaab and even why Western corporations should consider investing in Somalia.

Ambassador Mahiga

Ambassador Mahiga

What is the status of the peace process in Somalia?

We have succeeded. Of course by saying “we,” it was not me alone. It was the Somalis themselves and also the regional states and organizations like the neighboring states of Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, the African Union and other partners from the international community. We succeeded to put together, for the first time, a government that was more legitimate and more representative than anything that had been tried before, through a series of agreements which made a real breakthrough in the peace process after 15 failed attempts to create a peace process in Somalia.

What makes this iteration of peacemaking different from the previous 15 attempts?

This government has a new legitimacy before the people of Somalia, but also before the international community. There is, for the first time, a new provision of the constitution that was approved by a constituent assembly of a broad representation of the Somali people. There was a new parliament. Both these institutions were of course not directly elected, but selected by all the major traditional elders representing the major clans and sub-clans who were really the source of legitimacy to select the constituent assembly and the new parliament. Then the new parliament elected the president within the full glare of the international community and it was one of the most democratic processes in Africa. I also personally witnessed the election of the speaker and the president who are now in charge in Somalia.

What about the factions that have chosen not to participate – won’t they be an obstruction?

This process that I set in motion was probably the most inclusive, with the notable exception of Somaliland, which already declared its own independence or breakaway immediate after the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in 1991. The second notable exception was the Al-Shabaab – a militant group that at the time we started the peace process was controlling a sizable patch of South Central Somalia. It refused to join the peace process.  Not only refused, but did everything to undermine with violence and military campaigns the process.  Fortunately, by the time we begun the inclusive political process, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), and the African Union troops from Uganda and Burundi, had created a space within Mogadishu that could be used to stage the peace process.

What are the major security challenges for Somalia?

First of all, they need a visionary government and leadership.  Leadership, the right kind of leadership, is very important. The second is that this government should be empowered to be able to put in place capable government institutions that are not only accountable, but are able to put in place a functioning government.

The third requirement is that this government must work to restore the shattered confidence of the Somali people and to restore their pride. What is this “shattered confidence” to be restored? To make sure that there is trust in the government through the provision of basic services, which include rule of law and security.  Also, the provision of basic services must be in the context of re-establishing administrations beyond Mogadishu and especially areas newly recovered from the Al-Shabaab. This will create allegiance and a compact between the government and people.

And lastly, of course, it is very important to find a way of dealing with the extremist elements of the Al- Shabaab who have refused to join the peace process because they have an ideological conviction that any future dispensation in Somalia must be based on their own ideological template, so to speak, the Jihadi agenda. The security aspect of it is so challenging that Somalia alone, which is just beginning to build its own security institutions, has not been able challenge Al-Shabaab – an organization that is internationally supported by many Jihadist groups. While we are building the Somali forces at a very slow pace, Al-Shabaab is consolidating and capable of still contacting terrorist groups inside Mogadishu and in Somalia, and, as we witnessed recently, outside the boundary of Somalia into neighboring Kenya. 

What do you believe is the appropriate role of the West to support Somalia in achieving development? 

In 1995 after the downing of the helicopter (the Black Hawk Down incident), the international community developed a phobia for Somalia.  Even the United Nations moved out of Somalia and relocated to Kenya for almost 20 years.  Also, the Somalis had a very negative perception of the West. With the Djibouti agreement of 2008, and the latest efforts which I was privileged to lead, the West has come back and has been helpful in resuscitating the peace process by giving support to the United Nations. I think the West has still more to do.

First is to help AMISOM continue to create the territorial space that is needed for the political process and the reestablishment of this government’s present administration. I think more needs to be done, especially in the provision of critical equipment to be able to allow AMISOM to expand. Also, the Security Council might consider authorizing a 10,000-troop increase from the current 17,785 troops, as per the African Union request.

What is the most critical support that the West could provide?

The most urgent issue that the West can help to deliver is to address the Al-Shabaab challenge, not only from the military standpoint, but also how they can assist the disengaging combatants. There are many fighters, young people, who are defecting from the ranks of the Al-Shabaab.  These young people are not only departing for ideological reasons but they are looking for alternative sources of employment.


In the second and last part of this interview, to be posted next week, Ambassador Mahiga shares his thoughts on what other actions are needed to help Somalia. Please stay tuned.



Oliver Barrett

Oliver Leighton-Barrett is a multi-lingual researcher and a decorated retired military officer specializing in the inter-play between fragile states and national security matters. A former U.S. Marine, and Naval aviator, Oliver is a veteran of several notable U.S. military operations, to include: Operation Restore Hope (Somalia); and Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan and Philippines). His functional areas of focus include: U.S. Diplomacy; U.S. Defense; and Climate Change. His geographic areas of focus include: Latin America and the Caribbean and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).