West, Africa made big mistake in recognising the inept and corrupt regime in Mogadishu

Somaliland deserves diplomatic recognition and a chance for investment and trade

NEARLY two years ago, US President Barack Obama cited “impressive security and political gains in Somalia” for his decision to grant  diplomatic recognition for the fragile government of Somalia. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the diplomatic recognition of the President Hassan Mohamud’s government a “new chapter” between the two countries.

Unfortunately, with that diplomatic recognition, and with all of its good intentions, Mohamud’s government did little to contribute to peace and reconciliation among warring Somali clans, or to make the war-torn country more secure and stable.

In fact, the prospect for a secure, stable and democratic Somalia looks grim, because of the petty, clannish political infighting among Somalia’s top political leaders over the spoils  of foreign aid or for factional reasons, and the rampant corruption within the Somali government.

The rot spreads

That corruption has spread, according to a new report by the United Nations monitoring on Somalia and Eritrea, which said, “Underlying corruption as a system of governance has not yet fundamentally changed and, in some cases, arguably has worsened.”

Moreover, Mohamud and his closest associates have also been accused of signing dubious contract to recover Somalia’s overseas frozen assets, according to the Wall Street Journal. The contract has cost the poor Somalis millions in US dollars in legal fees and alleged kickbacks, even though the World Bank or the IMF could have offered that type of service for the Somali government free.

And if the western powers and Africa do not change their policies on Somalia of backing one faction of Somalia’s civil war at the expense of other existing stable, functioning political entities—Somalia’s mess will continue.

However, American and United Nations diplomats are saying that Somalia made some gains in security and economic fronts:  the Somali extremist grou, al-Shabab has been driven out most of the major towns in south central Somalia—-including the port of Barawe, with the help of African Union troops. In Mogadishu, real estate prices are rising and construction is booming. And, the over optimistic, United Nations top diplomat for Somalia, Ambassador Nicholas Kay, wrote, “Somalia increasingly looks stable and hopeful.”

Mohamud’s spotted record

But it has been more than two years since the President Hassan Mohamud was selected as leader of Somalia. Yet all Mohamud delivered was only a laundry list of empty plans, but failed putting together anything resembling a state structure, not only for the whole country but also for Mogadishu, the capital, and the surrounding area (The Banadir region).

In fact Mohamud’s government, the first Somali government the US recognised since 1991, is struggling to govern, and its authority effectively does not reach not beyond Mogadishu, despite billions of dollars in financing and training provided to the Somali army and 22,000 troops from eleven African countries by the US, EU and others.

More troubling, the US backed African Union troops gang-raped poor Somali women and  girls as young as 12 and exchanged food for sex, according to a Human Rights Watch report.

Despite all of that, last August, speaking at the African Union protected Mogadishu’s airport (Somalia’s  Green Zone), Mark Lyall Grant,  Britain’s UN Ambassador, said,  “Security Council  were committed  to supporting Somali  government establish independent electoral commission, revise the constitution , and hold referendum on it by the end of 2015.”

The Somali government would also be responsible for holding nationwide elections, to put in place a new President, Prime Minister and a parliament by 2016. A tall and improbable order for Somalia where chaos and corruption rule.

Instead of alienating more Somalis and expending vast resources on the side of a failing regime, the west and Africa might consider the facts on the ground and the recent bloody history of the country.

Somalia plunged into chaos and violence, after the overthrow of its longtime corrupt and repressive dictator, Siad Barre, in 1991. The root causes of Somalia’s anarchy can be traced to Barre’s dictatorship.

Because of 21 years of oppression and misrule, and followed two decades of clan-driven violence, any future Somali government must be highly decentralised.

Troubled roadmap?

But the western backed UN roadmap for Somalia: a political process for recreating Somalia into a federal based system of governance is unraveling. The UN roadmap met strong objections from the Somalis and created tension and conflict among the sub-clans across Somalia (south Somalia) over the formation as well as the boundaries of future federal states.

For example, there are already disputes over the formation of new federal states in Upper Juba, Lower Juba and Shabelle regions, and a plan for the UN to form a new federal state in central regions over a territory already controlled by Puntland (a semi autonomous region in eastern Somalia) that supports a federal system of government.

Moreover, the UN and its western backers failed to recognise that the conflict in south central Somalia is a struggle to grab the fertile, agricultural lands in the Juba and Shabelle river valleys between the less armed farming communities of the Bantu, Digil and Mirifle and the Dir, and the heavily militarised clan based militias from central Somalia.

For instance, just recently in Shebelle region the UN failed to take a stand against the undisciplined soldiers —made up of mainly clan militias from President Mohamud’s Hawiye clan—who terrorise, loot and rape the population, to grab the fertile lands.

The current Somali government in Mogadishu also includes some officials who have been accused of war crimes. For instance, Mohammed Hassan Ismail, who was accused of crimes against humanity, recently was appointed the new Somali police chief. His appointment is a poster child for the culture of impunity in Somalia.

The west and the UN actions in Somalia make peace and justice a mockery and promote a culture of impunity. Unjust peace would only sow grievances, renewed war and more radicalism.

“Stable” Somaliland

To the north of Somalia, there is a stable, functioning democratic Republic of Somaliland, which has a democratically elected president and legislature, and held several free and fair elections since 1991. In May 2001, the will of the people was supported in a referendum by more than 90% of the population. But America and the UN still cling to the fiction of Somaliland as part of Somalia. However, the 4 million Somaliland people unequivocally do not want to be part of the fratricidal fighting and the lack of direction that has plagued Somalia (south Somalia) for the last quarter century.

Somaliland deserves diplomatic recognition and a chance for investment and trade.

For the rest of Somalia, they need a huge grassroots political reconciliation before they need a UN drafted constitution, federal states, president, prime minister and parliament.

And more importantly on the “federalism versus unitary structures of government” issue, Somalis must decide for themselves democratically, without the meddling of the unjust conquest organised by Somalia’s stronger self-interested neighbors—under the guise of fighting extremist al-Shabab.

Moreover, for Somalia’s conflict, the military alone would not defeat al-Shabab. However, al-Qaida ideology (the Saudi Wahabism) in the region could be diminished just for a fraction of what the US has already spent on counter terrorism efforts in Somalia, for instance, if America could provide direct aid for the Republic of Somaliland or Puntand, and fund education, health and water systems. With more assistance, Somaliland and Puntland would become stronger and be able to provide more resources for economic development, which would improve the livelihood of its people.

Ultimately, the best way to guarantee for peace, security and prosperity in the region is to allow the people in north Somalia (Republic of Somaliland) and south Somalia to determine for themselves to split into two nations peacefully and democratically by ballot box. Doing so would save the region from more bloodshed and chaos with no way back.

Funneling more money and weapons to the inept and corrupt government in Mogadishu, neither benefits Somalis who need protection from rape and violence nor promotes western security interest. Instead, it would only sow instability, prolong human suffering, chaos and the mess in Somalia.

- The author is co-founder of the Horn of Africa Freedom Foundation in Lewis Center, Ohio. He can be reached at [email protected]

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