Foreign Policy Blogs

Somalia, No Political Legitimacy without Genuine Reconciliation


As the old saying goes, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Somalia seems ahead of the curve as the debate over how to ensure a legitimate outcome in the upcoming August 2016 election is already underway. Still, the fact that the whole debate on political legitimacy within the country is limited to the upcoming election in and of itself indicates that little has changed.

The Somali state did not disintegrate because of elections or lack thereof. It disintegrated because of institutional injustice and the chronic meddling of foreign powers. That is why the state imploded and over million people died. It’s also how clan-based balkanization or “federalism” has come to destroy an already ailing state by 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.

Any time that the peripheries resort to entering into international relationships that  first and foremost serve the interests of the elite, haphazardly signing agreements with foreign countries, and building clan militaries, they make the recovery of the state an increasingly impossible task.

What’s on First?

In broken nations, all political issues of contention must be renegotiated and reconciled before the nation can be pieced back together and the healing process can be set in motion. Through such process, trust is cultivated and sustainable peace is achieved. However, the process must be both genuine and indigenous.

Failing to recognize these fundamentals or haphazardly rushing into a power-sharing arrangement only exacerbates the problem. Somalia has a quarter-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 breaking the shackles of foreign dependency.

What Might be a Viable Alternative?

Under the current system, where foreign political actors, particularly from Ethiopia and Kenya, dominate the process, genuine reconciliation is a pipedream. Total transformation of the current system that perpetuates status quo is an imperative. After all, it is not only the Somali state that failed; the international community and those who have squandered Somalia’s resources have allowed the state to fail.

The system at hand has sustained itself by periodically reinventing itself. On the domestic end, by partnering with “leaders” who possess relentless appetites to hoard executive power, the state has locked an entire branch of the government in “on-the-job-training” by annually changing prime ministers and their cabinets.

Regionally, the system has sustained itself by partnering with states — such as Ethiopia and Kenya, who are legally in Somalia as part of AMISOM — bent on implementing their own thinly disguised zero-sum schemes to co-opt Somali political actors in order to expand their spheres of influence. Internationally, the system has allowed the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) to replace the stained United Nations Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS). This change did little to prevent Somalia from being trapped in a perpetual transition. Decisions are dictated; lucrative security projects are sustained; corruption and economic exploitation are facilitated; and shadowy characters are allowed to maintain backdoor entries to keep the cash flowing. The abuses and financial costs placed on the Somali state by the international community and its regional partners far outweigh their benefits.

As I have argued 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 benefits are self-evident, as practically all foreign financed successful development projects in Somalia are the byproducts of nation-to-nation relationships.

Misplaced Focus, Erroneous Outcome

A few individuals have recently proposed a couple election-focused alternatives. 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, while 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 constitutional reform as a priority over 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.

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 proposals agree that an election of some sort will be necessary in August 2016. According to Gurmad’s proposal at least, the current federal parliament should be given a conditional two-year extension, at which point the parliament would have to 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 open to ensure fair participation of any and all candidates who possess fresh ideas to salvage this dying nation.

No More Scotch Tape Solutions

Despite the façade of sustainable recovery, beneath the veneer of Mogadishu’s rapid development is societal erosion rooted in an 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 is a dire priority. But you would not know that from the actions of the current political actors, domestic and foreign. That is why Somalia is caught in that stubborn Sisyphus effect, where we as a nation periodically roll 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 and sporadic hostilities in Somalia is the erroneous claim that the multifaceted Somali political conundrum could be solved by holding an election.

Herded Leadership

The many shepherds herding Somali leadership has been one of the corrosive phenomena that facilitated the systematic destruction of the Somali nation. The current government is just one example. There is the irrefutable failure of its political strategy, its failure to pay its soldiers for over six months, which has caused insecurity to exacerbate, and its reputation as the poster child of corruption. It certainly occupies a infamous and unique space in history.

Granted, the herded leadership — both in the center and the peripheries — as well as those within the civil society who are direct beneficiaries of the current arrangement, may attempt to torpedo any transformative effort that threatens the status quo. Neither of these entities have the necessary public support withstand any type of 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 a 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 desperately need transformational leaders whose vision, strategy, courage and willingness to sacrifice for the common good will help prevent the nation from self-destructing.

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 made up of powwows, artificial communiques, and photo opportunities in banquet halls. Rather, it is a deliberate and a systematic process driven by a comprehensive strategic plan fully understood and implemented by the Somali people.

Reconciliation is necessary as it deflates the hateful narrative that sustains inter-clan distrust and enmity. It opens a new page for negotiating the terms of a social contract that will allow for co-existence. It enables 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

Abukar Arman is a former diplomat, serving as Somalia's Special Envoy to the US. As a widely published analyst, he focuses on foreign policy, Islam, the Horn of Africa, extremism, and other topics.
Twitter: @Abukar_Arman
or reach him via e-mail: [email protected]