SOMALIA 2011—Light at end of the tunnel or business as usual?
From a certain perspective, it is all too easy to write Somalia off as an intractable problem. The country remains fragmented and divided, much of it occupied by hardline extremists who in 2011 would have probably taken all of Mogadishu if it were not for the African Union Peacekeepers protecting the still fragile Transitional Government.
On the humanitarian and development side, the situation in Somalia remains desperate. A massive drought turned into a famine in 2011. Tens of thousands have died, millions are threatened and entire populations are on the move across borders, threatening to destabilize the region. The Government and donors alike have begun to respond effectively but delivery of assistance is further complicated by insurgent groups that refuse to allow traditional aid agencies to operate in some of the hardest hit areas.
But amidst the suffering, there is a moment of opportunity.
The signing on 9 June 2011 of the Kampala Accord ended a five month political stalemate between the Executive and the Legislature. By deferring the elections for one year and providing for the establishment of a Roadmap, the Accord charted a clear course and set the process in motion to end the transitional period on 20 August 2012.
In early September the Consultative Meeting on Ending the Transition in Somalia met in Mogadishu to approve the Roadmap. The meeting brought together high-level representatives of the Transitional Federal Institutions, including the President and Prime Minister, the regional states of Puntland, Galmudug, as well as Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama'a, and international partners. The Roadmap, which they signed, clearly sets out a series of tasks; benchmarks; timelines; and monitoring and compliance mechanisms on critical issues such as constitution making, governance, political outreach and reconciliation and security sector reform.
That the Consultative meeting was able to be held in Mogadishu, and with such high-level participation, would have been unthinkable just a few months before. These developments represent perhaps the most tangible progress on the political side in years. Here, UNPOS has a unique role to play. Much of our work is quiet, behind- the-scenes political engagement and facilitation. Process-work never grabs the headlines and is never particularly appreciated. It is complex, risky, frustrating and entirely indispensible to the process.
But we need to remain realistic about the Roadmap. It is a hugely ambitious plan attached to a tremendously challenging timetable. Coordination between all international actors is at the same time vitally important and exceptionally difficult. It is critical that the entire donor community understand the centrality of the Roadmap to the political process and support its implementation with the necessary resources. At the same time it should be made clear to the Somalis that future assistance will depend on them playing their part.
These remarkable political developments have been underpinned by a major improvement in the security situation, which shifted radically when Al-Shabaab withdrew from Mogadishu on 6 August. This was a remarkable achievement and has led to roads being repaired, homes rebuilt and markets reopening. If Somalia—and indeed the international community—is to capitalize on these gains, and at the same time address the emerging challenges, then boosting AMISOM's capabilities, especially in the areas of personnel, logistics, mobility, intelligence, aviation and disposal of unexploded ordinance, will be critical. The Mogadishu Stabilization Plan addresses key reconstruction issues that will be central to ensuring political buy-in from ordinary Somalis in Mogadishu.
And the conflict affects the entire region. In October, Kenyan armed forces moved across the Somali border to confront Al-Shabaab elements. The Kenyan engagement highlights both the importance the region attaches to the issue but also underscores the risk of broader regional destabilization if the insurgent threat is not effectively contained. At a recent meeting in Addis Ababa, the regional community spoke with near unanimity on the centrality of the Roadmap in advancing the political process.
Somalia remains the most challenging issues on the international community's radar. One thing is certain - only sustained engagement by all stakeholders at the local, regional and international levels will ensure that this rare moment is fully exploited.
* *** *