Somalia: From Troubled Transition to a Tarnished Transition?

“Political interference and influence, corruption as well as intimidation should stop or expect the ultimate collapse of the transition process” – ICG

By International Crisis Group (ICG),

The term of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Institutions has expired, and there is no new president to take office as envisaged. The current political process has been as undemocratic as the one it seeks to replace, with unprecedented levels of political interference, corruption and intimidation. The end of the transition roadmap process – that is supposed to usher in an inclusive political dispensation – may fail to bring stability

Convening an incomplete parliament and electing a contested, tainted leadership in Somalia’s polarised political environment could easily unravel the painstaking humanitarian, political and security progress made in the past three years. The extremist Islamist movement Al-Shabaab is down but not out, and it is evolving, and plots to take advantage of the resulting chaos to regain power.

To prevent this from happening, the international community should now focus on ensuring the final stages of the roadmap’s implementation are not rigged by its signatories and technical selection committee (charged with vetting individuals nominated for parliament), and that the new leaders and institutions in Mogadishu create a foundation for national unity rather than an acrimonious “winner-takes-all” outcome.

The current political and legal quagmire transpired because the signatories to the “end of transition roadmap” (six unaccountable leaders from the government and regional administrations under the auspices of the UN Political Office for Somalia) controlled and dominated it. For more than ten months, they acted as though they were the roadmap’s sole owners, rather than merely its supervisors. Short-term political expediency – at the expense of legality, transparency and fair play – became the norm. In the rush to monopolise the roadmap’s implementation they ignored the Transitional Federal Charter, bypassed the parliament, sidelined the cabinet, and otherwise manipulated the process in an effort to predetermine who would lead the next Somali government. The adoption of a new “provisional” constitution is their only tangible achievement – though this too was manipulated, heavily criticised by traditional elders and civil society and only promulgated after protracted and disputed negotiations.

Sustained public outcry and intense international pressure forced the roadmap principals to shift two of the most important end-of-transition responsibilities – the selection of the national constituent assembly and parliamentarians – to a council of traditional elders, now sitting in Mogadishu. But this too they corrupted. Some elders foisted on the council were phony and, after two months of incessant delays and brazen politicking, the outcome was anything but dignified. Some elders allegedly nominated uneducated and objectionable individuals, some sold seats to highest bidders, and others even nominated their own family members.

Rather than deal with these issues, three of the signatories are busy electioneering. Puntland’s president, meanwhile, continues to insist on creating an upper house (to represent his state and other undetermined local authorities), even though establishing the lower house alone has become a daunting if not unattainable task. Indeed its formation may bring the whole roadmap to a grinding halt. Another signatory, the region of Galmudug’s president, was recently voted out – a move he refuses to concede – and the TFG president and prime minister are engaged in a public spat with each claiming the other is irrelevant and engaged in unlawful and unconstitutional adventures.

Barring a full-blown meltdown, the selection and ratification of the lower house parliamentarians (however tainted) could still be completed in coming days if not weeks. But then the new body must elect a speaker, deputies and a president. The president also has to appoint a prime minister within a month who must then assemble a cabinet in 30 days, pending approval of the parliament. All these tasks will take time and the earliest Somalia could realistically have a fully working government is late October.

To salvage a botched process and avoid its collapse, the signatories, traditional elders and the international community should ensure that:

  • the transition process concludes in a responsible manner. The TFI’s mandate should not be extended, but nor should artificial deadlines be pursued at any cost. They must be a means to completing the protracted transition, not an end in themselves;
  • neither the roadmap signatories nor the technical selection committee should frustrate the elders’ prerogative to appoint parliamentarians for their constituents. The committee should only transparently screen nominees according to the agreed minimal criteria. Only a court of law should be able to determine who is a warlord and who is a spoiler;
  • both Somali politicians and the international community must resist zero-sum politics; having winners and losers will only undermine what has been achieved, particularly in the security front.
  • the issue of an upper chamber of parliament – whether it represents regions or the traditional elders – should be determined by the new parliament, or an effective constituent assembly, not the roadmap signatories, since these issues are contentious, complicated and require careful deliberation devoid of time pressure and short-term political calculations; and
  • if the roadmap signatories do not resolve their political differences within 60 days, and continue to manipulate the transition process, the international community should recognise Somalia’s council of elders (albeit with some bad apples) as the legal representatives of the Somali people and the depository of Somalia’s sovereignty. They should be asked to form a caretaker government that would ensure continuity of government and more importantly assume responsibility for concluding the end of the transition process and ushering in an inclusive and accountable government.

Time has run out for a smooth end to the current transitional institutions. Any further political turmoil will have an adverse effect on the fragile security and humanitarian gains. The international community, roadmap signatories and the traditional elders should not ignore the impending debacle, but work to find a speedy resolution to the impasse. The process should not be driven by artificial deadlines, but should be fair and free of manipulation, paving the way for a unifying national political dispensation.