Somalia’s rough road to peace

Published on Pambazuka News, by Abena Ampofoa Asare, July 28, 2010.

Following the al-Shabaab bombing in Kampala, current plans to send more AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia) troops into Somalia will simply jeopardise the possibility of a new moderate leadership emerging in the country, writes Abena Ampofoa Asare. Observers in the African Union, UN and international community at large would do well to look at Somaliland to the north, the author stresses. Solutions to Somalia’s civil war will not emerge in Kampala, Washington DC or Addis Ababa, Asare contends, underlining that a key lesson of Somaliland’s experience is that ‘effective government must come from within’ … //

… In its March 2010 report, the ICG’s policy recommendations focus on the need for the transitional government to make inroads with Somali people by collaborating with moderate elements in the Islamist movement. It calls for new attempts at outreach and coalition-building. Unfortunately, the transitional government remains unable or unwilling to do this work. 

Plagued by corruption and ineffective diplomacy, the transitional government as recently as March 2010 was requesting more international support and funding to hold its ground against al-Shabaab. In fact, international support is the very last thing that would lead to the government’s success. At the centre of al-Shabaab’s critique of the TFG is the claim that it functions as a Western puppet government. If the TFG has not been able to convert considerable international support into effective governing institutions in the past six years, it is naïve to suppose that pumping more resources into the government’s hands would provide a better result. At this point, the federal government must win the support of the Somalian population on its own terms. If it remains unable to do so, alternative local leadership with greater local support and vision will rise up and fill the void.

The United States and the African Union must leave off nation-building in Somalia. Effective solutions to the Somalian civil war will not be cooked up in Kampala, Washington DC or Addis Ababa. One of the key lessons of Somaliland’s experience is that effective government must come from within. In the words of the former Somaliland president Dahir Rayale Kahin, ‘you can’t be donated power… We built this state because we saw the problems here as our problems. Our brothers in the South are still waiting—till now—for others.’[9]

Somaliland’s national cohesion has been bought at a high price. This territory suffered particularly under the Barre regime. Somaliland is knit together by its history and years of brutal violence and resistance. In 1991, following the demise of Barre, the territory declared itself independent. Although Somaliland’s independence is not widely recognised because of African Union protections of the colonial era’s state boundaries, the Somaliland community has struggled to independently build a national community.

Somaliland successfully demobilised the militia that existed during the Barre region and found a way to absorb these young men into a stable society. It has held multiple national elections, created a constitution and has built a modest economy, supplemented by members of the Somaliland diaspora living abroad. Most importantly, Somaliland has secured a treasured peace on its own terms and by its own efforts. In the past 20 years Somaliland’s struggle has been for world recognition. Yet, ironically, it is precisely the country’s isolation from the international community that has allowed it to develop home-grown peace and stability. Without the dubious direction of international experts and unable to rely on international economic assistance, Somaliland has reconstructed itself with self-reliance, accountability and local investment as its touchstones.

It would be naïve to expect Somalia to simply recreate the history of Somaliland, but it may be time for those who care about peace in Somalia to study the lessons of the Somaliland experiment. Adding more AMISOM soldiers is not the recipe for peace in a country which has recently dealt with foreign invasion. Somalia’s most pressing struggle is to develop a leadership that is supported by the local population and which has the country’s peace and stability at heart. This will not be an al-Qaeda-linked terrorist organisation, but it will also not be a weak ‘federal’ government that can only stand because of the international community’s support.

Rather than dismissing Somaliland as a threat to national integrity and sovereignty, the African Union would do well to support and study Somaliland as a country which offers a unique blueprint of home-grown development and provides an important image of peace in the Horn of Africa. (full long text).

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