Commentary: United Nations is getting Somalia all wrong … again!

By Joakim Gundel - The UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia, Augustine P. Mahiga, and head of United Nations Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS) appear in need of a serious reality check. The latest statement by his office in which he is “congratulating the Somali people and the TFG on the inauguration of the Traditional Elders in Mogadishu on May 5” is disappointing to say the least.
Commentary: United Nations is getting Somalia all wrong … again!

This statement issued from Mahiga’s office made assumptions about the transitional process and the convening of traditional elders in Mogadishu – an act which stood in absurd contrast to the reality on the ground. It also reflected a complete oblivious attitude to the possible damaging effects of the ongoing de-facto top-down process of the transition and poses potentially disastrous consequences.

I will here emphasise how the statement is getting Somalia wrong:

The statement says: “The Elders, representing the full spectrum of the Somalia society, will nominate and select the National Constituent Assembly and a new Parliament, paving the way for the end of the transitional period on 20 August 2012.”

Wrong:The assembled did NOT and does not represent the full spectrum of the Somali society. An assembly of elders should be all inclusive of all the Somali sub-clans. However, many clans are not represented in this assembly either because they do not wish to because they are against the premises of the meeting and the promise, or have been excluded because they have not been taking the bribes to support the Speaker of Parliament, Shariff Hassan and President Sheikh Shariff. Instead, sub-clans have been manipulated, bribed to send new alternative elders – who thus can NOT claim to be traditional elders according to the Somali tradition. A curious indicator is that the traditional outfit of Somali elders, the Kofi and [amani] have sold out in Mogadishu as many of these ‘new elders’ coming to the meeting need to acquire this outfit to appear as elders. Furthermore, the assembly of elders is exclusively male dominated.

True:Yes, this assembly of elders convened in Mogadishu will nominate both an 825-member constituent assembly, and a new parliament, but:

Wrong:This will not pave the way for the end of the transition by 20 August 2012. For the above reason, the assembly of elders do NOT represent the Somali society fully or equitably, which potentially will have disastrous effects in terms of dividing the Somalis even further. This means that the constituent assembly also will be biased and will be unable to generate the wide support it requires to have a stabilising effect on Somalia. It will also mean that the new parliament when defined by an agreement on a new constitution will be biased, and hence not fully accepted. Furthermore, this is a gross devaluation of the initial road map that talked about general elections for parliament and president – instead we appear to have a manipulated top down selection of parliamentarians. This is exactly what happened during the Mbagathi process that created the present TFG outfit which structurally has proven unable to solve the Somali crisis. 

Mahiga’s statement then claims that “This is a moment of optimism for all Somalis”. He further  emphasizes the paramount importance of ensuring that  “the processing of convening the Traditional Elders now in Mogadishu is accountable, legitimate, transparent, participatory, inclusive and, most importantly, Somali-led.”

Wrong: The meeting, the circumstances around it, and the way the participant elders have been identified has so far created pessimism, upsets, grievances and anger in Somalia – with a potential effect of morally strengthening Al-Shabaab and other Islamist groups in Somalia. Somalis in South Central Somalia and Mogadishu are now talking about possible assassinations of elders, and war.

Wrong: The process has NOT been accountable to Somalis. The TFG and Puntland leadership have issued bribes to sub-clans, MPs, and elders to convene supporters that can provide them with the following they need to remain in power after the transitional process ends. It is NOT legitimate, as the Garowe consultation by the wide spectrum of Somalis is considered an agreement hijacked and dominated by the President of the TFG, Puntland and Galmudug, and the Speaker of the TFG Parliament. Most parts of southern Somalia as well as the civil society find themselves excluded from the process. There is also not much transparency, as the public does not know about decisions before they have been made. The process is definitely not participatory, as participation largely has been limited to the above mentioned leaders and their followers – hence it has also not been inclusive. Has the process been Somali led – if the President and the Speaker represents the Somalis, then yes… but it appears that UNPOS has a heavy hand in driving this process.

Still, the Special Representative of the Secretary General is capable of claiming that “the authenticity and credibility of those chosen will have a profound effect on the constitution-making process and the selection of the new legislative body. I call on all parties to ensure that this is done in a timely, consultative and efficient manner. This is an essential first step on a long path ahead, and it is critical that we get it right.”

Wrong:Yes, it will have an impact – but hardly for the good, because as mentioned the ‘chosen’ lack authenticity as well as credibility. Only sub-clan assemblies can identify their true elders from a bottom up perspective. This is not how it happened. Wide consultation did not happen, they have been confined to the dominance of the UNPOS and internationally supported leadership of the TFG.

Then SRSG Mahiga asserts that “I encourage the elders to use this time before the convening of the Constituent Assembly to continue consulting among themselves to ensure general representation of their people. I urge them to give us the best representatives to both the Constituent Assembly and the Parliament. We from the United Nations and the international community will give our full support to this process for the successful ending of the transition and eventual lasting peace and stability to Somalia.”

Wrong:This would be valid if elders were representative. But with a biased representation of sub-clan and the Somali people this will hardly become successful. I am afraid that the full support from the United Nations and international community will come down to money and resources provided to the sub-contracting businessmen, who will be contracted to host these big and expensive meetings that are to take place; unsurprisingly, businessmen with links to the same TFG political leadership.

The only way to ensure representation in Somalia is to carry through a process from the bottom up, convening ‘Shir Beeleediyo’ (all sub-clan meetings) by district and regions in which conflict reconciliation and true representation can be achieved. It is through such a process that the self-declared Republic of Somaliland in northern Somalia achieved its political stability.

So, is the failure the fault of the United Nations? Not really. The UN is nothing more than what its member states make it to be. At the end of the day, the failure of a UN approach is the failure of the UN member states, the Security Council members in particular. Hence, if this process led by the UNPOS office fails, it is also the failure of the leading member states of the so-called international community by letting a failed approach happen. Of course, the Somalis have to take the main responsibility for failure but then again, as long as there are external resources and support that tips the internal Somali power balance in favour of the key spoilers to peace – the prospect of peace in Somalia and the entire Horn of Africa regions is indeed meagre.

Joakim Gundel, is a senior analyst about Somalia issue, and co-director of KATUNI, a consultant company based in Nairobi.

Editorial 29 April 2022 13:51

Somalia is on the move. It is pushing for foreign investment, and large infrastructure projects are changing the face of its scarred capital city, Mogadishu. These developments could promise better fortunes for Somalis as the country emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic