On 17 January 2013, the United States Government recognised the Somali Government for the first time since 1991 when Somalia erupted in civil war and its state apparatus disintegrated. The Somalis have not had an effective system of central governance in over two decades. Recognition from the United States is a milestone not only for the Somalis, but also for the nations and international organisations that helped the Somalis succeed in their state-building endeavours.
In 2012, the Somalis held their first democratic elections in decades. They replaced their Islamist president with Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, a relatively unknown university professor and former consultant for the United Nations (UN). Al-Shabaab, a militant group with ties to al-Qaeda, has lost much of its grip over the country. As such, many property owners are returning from exile and rebuilding their seafront villas in Mogadishu, the nation’s capital, due to increased security; thus the city is experiencing a minor property boom.(2) Meanwhile, piracy in the Indian Ocean has diminished.(3) These are all reasons for cautious optimism. While the national government remains weak in its infantile state, the Somalis continue to need international support. Nonetheless, Somalia’s recent successes allow us to hope that the nation has turned a corner and that a new era of Somalia has arrived.
Somalia’s fight to re-establish an effective central government and regain its statehood against militarised clans and terrorist groups is notorious for its duration and intensity. However, many African nations now face some of the same challenges that the Somalis struggled against: the presence of multiple, active militant groups within national borders; a prolonged, strenuous peace process; and the establishment of a corrupt transitional government that jeopardised the entire state-building process.
This paper discusses the strategies employed in Somalia to combat the aforementioned challenges in order to generate valuable insights for other African nations facing similar dilemmas. In particular, this paper considers foreign military intervention in Somalia and the arduous Somali peace process.
Military intervention: Ethiopian forces, UN peacekeepers and American drones
The most notorious military intervention on Somali soil is certainly the United Nations Operation in Somalia II (UNISOM II). UNISOM II was the international community’s first major effort to restore peace and stability in Somalia after the North African nation plummeted into civil war in the late 1980s. After a failed attempt to find and capture the warlord Mohamad Farrah Aidid in Mogadishu ended with the death of 18 American soldiers in 1993, foreign forces began their gradual withdrawal and Somalia fell deeper into war and anarchy.
Over the next decade, the continued presence of militant clans and the prolonged absence of good security impeded the rebirth of a centralised, national government in Somalia. In 2006, Ethiopian forces intervened to oust al-Shabaab, the military wing of the Union of Islamic Courts (ICU). This intervention is certainly less well-known than UNISOM II, but it is significant because it catalysed an international campaign that has resulted in the greatest security Somalia has known in decades. The Ethiopian troops succeeded in ousting the ICU from Mogadishu, but the 2008 Djibouti Agreement called for the withdrawal of the Ethiopians due to historical tensions between Ethiopia and Somalia. The Ethiopians withdrew willingly; the intervention had been costly and deadly.(4)
In accord with the Djibouti Agreement, UN-endorsed African Union (AU) troops would take over the functions of the Ethiopian troops. The UN Security Council had authorised the African Union to create a peacekeeping mission to Somalia in February 2007. Though the Ethiopians had expelled al-Shabaab from Mogadishu, they had failed to stabilise the situation in Somalia to the point where the Transitional Federal Government could begin to strengthen and consolidate.(5) As such, the AU conceived AMISOM as a mission that would foster enough security within Somalia so that state-building could ensue. It mandated AMISOM to provide protection to the Transitional Federal Institutions to enable them to carry out their functions, assist in the implementation of a National Security Stabilisation Programme (NSSP), and provide technical assistance to disarmament and stabilisation efforts.(6) Moreover, the AU mandated AMISOM to assist in reconciliation efforts by supporting dialogue amongst all of the stakeholders and providing protection to all those involved in the national reconciliation process.(7) By the end of 2011, the al-Shabaab insurgency was collapsing and retreating to the south. Encouraged, Ethiopia and Kenya joined AMISOM and invaded from the west and the south, capturing al-Shabaab’s last remaining stronghold in southern Somalia in 2012.(8)
In late 2011, the United States began flying remotely-piloted drones over Somalia (in addition to spending nearly US$ 650 million on the AU force and hundreds of millions more on humanitarian and development assistance for Somalia).(9) The American efforts to target al-Shabaab with drones are part of a larger counter-terrorism strategy in the region as the US continues to pursue groups with al-Qaeda links. The Pentagon’s Africa Command has been focusing on “confronting a new generation of Islamist militants who are testing the United States’ resolve to fight terrorism without being drawn into a major conflict.”(10) In Somalia (as well as Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Yemen), drones are occasionally used to launch lethal strikes against suspected terrorists.(11)
Despite the recent successes of combined international efforts, security does remain a huge concern in Somalia and a large threat to its infantile government. Mere days after President Mohamud was sworn into office, three suicide bombers managed to attack the hotel where he was meeting with a delegation from Kenya.(12) Somali analyst Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamed reported that Somalia’s own national army is still incredibly weak and divided by internal clan divisions. He warns, “If today, God forbid, the AMISOM left abruptly, Somalia would go back to the clanism, clan competitions, warlordism, and so on and so forth.”(13) Moreover, while AMISOM has succeeded in pushing al-Shabaab back, many feel that the militant group is far from defeated, as the militants have switched back to a “deadly, Taliban-style hit-and-run strategy.”(14) The continued presence of foreign peacekeepers is paramount to the success of Somalia’s new government. Without sustained security, the Somali state structures will not be allowed to strengthen to the point of self-sufficiency.
The Somali peace process
The peace process in Somalia has been long and arduous, marked by few successes until relatively recently. Efforts at political settlement began in 1991, shortly after the outbreak of hostilities. From the beginning, reconciliation proved immensely difficult due to the sheer number of warring parties involved. The first attempts at reconciliation in 1991 failed, followed by failures in 1993 and early 1997. By late 1997, 28 signatories came to an agreement that provided Somalia with a 13-person Council of Presidents, a prime minister and a national assembly, but it left the country without a national leader.
In 2000, the peace process opened up to include members of civil society. It involved extensive participation from “unarmed civic leaders—intellectuals, clan and religious leaders and members of the business community.”(15) Interestingly, this peace conference was much more successful than its predecessors, culminating in the formation of a Transitional National Government (TNG), “the first Somali Government since 1991 to secure a measure of international recognition, enabling Somalia to reoccupy its seat at the UN and in regional bodies.”(16)
As the TNG’s mandate neared expiration, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) launched a new national reconciliation process. In 2003, at the 15th National Reconciliation Conference, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) was formed, not only with the support of IGAD, but also the AU, the Arab League and the UN. In August 2004, the Transitional Federal Parliament was inaugurated and a president was elected.
The slow-moving progress was further compromised with the war against the ICU in 2006. In 2007, a National Reconciliation Conference convened by the TFG in Mogadishu saw more than 3,000 people from all of Somali’s regions and clans. However, sections of the ICU gathered with the TFG’s opposition leaders in Eritrea where they organised the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) to fight the TFG. Subsequent peace conferences then had to include the ARS. The diplomatic backbone of the current peace is the Djibouti Agreement, signed by both the TFG and the ARS in 2008. The agreement expanded the life of the TFG and augmented parliament to include members of the ARS and civil society. The TFG transferred power to Somalia’s current government in August 2012.
The TFG survived as a system of centralised national government in Somalia, a laudable achievement given the extremely hostile environment and ongoing civil war. However, the TFG had little legitimacy or support within Somalia, little cohesion within its structures, and little control over its various security forces — the national police, the army, the Mogadishu city police, and the national security service.(17) During the TFG’s reign, Somalia topped the Failed States Index for three years in a row (18) and was considered one of the most corrupt governments in the world.(19)
Perhaps, then, the TFG lived out its terms and avoided plunging the nation into deeper civil war because the international community supported it as the legitimate government of Somalia. Despite its weakness and corruption, the international community continued to affirm that the TFG was “the only route to peace and security in Somalia.”(20) Many Somalis did not agree with that sentiment, and they succeeded in their own state-building ventures without the military support or monetary aid of the international community. In the north of the country, Somali elders and businessmen succeeded in establishing a functioning democratic state (the Republic of Somaliland) as well as an effective self-governing region (Puntland).(21)
The hope is that the new Somali Government will be less corrupt than the last. Continued support by the international community will be paramount to the success of Somalia’s new government, though President Mohamud and his team most importantly will have to prove themselves to the Somali people.
A deeper look into the Somali state-building process has uncovered that Somalia’s recent state-building success is qualified. Though the United States Government has recognised the Somali Government for the first time since 1991, the Somali Government is still incredibly weak and far from self-sufficient. It relies on foreign peacekeepers to maintain security in the nation and provide protection for government structures. Moreover, opposition to the government and divisions within the country remain strong; it seems that the strongest support for the Somali Government may be from the international community itself.
Nonetheless, American recognition is still a milestone for the Somalis and it remains important to understand how the Somalis succeeded in this state-building venture in order to gain valuable insights for other nations undergoing state-building ventures in similar circumstances. This discussion has gleaned that security is paramount to state-building; if the national government cannot create a secure environment, help from the international community is vital. Second, international support for infantile governments is also paramount, especially if there is internal opposition to that government. However, despite this success, two important questions remain: How will the current Somali Government wean itself off life support? And how will it garner more support from the Somalis themselves?
(1) Contact Leigh Hamilton through Consultancy Africa Intelligence’s Conflict and Terrorism Unit
(2) Ferguson, J., ‘Somalia: A failed state is back from the dead’, The Independent, 13 January 2013, http://www.independent.co.uk.
(4) Dersso, S., ‘The Somalia conflict: implications for peacemaking and peacekeeping efforts’, Institute of Security Studies Paper No. 19, September 2009, http://www.issafrica.org.
(6) AMISOM website, http://amisom-au.org.
(8) Ferguson, J., ‘Somalia: A failed state is back from the dead’, The Independent, 13 January 2013, http://www.independent.co.uk.
(9) ‘Hope, and lessons, in Somalia,’ The New York Times, 25 January 2013, http://www.nytimes.com.
(10) Schmitt, E., ‘Militant threats test role of a pentagon command in Africa’, The New York Times, 11 February 2013, http://www.nytimes.com.
(11) ‘The strategic effects of a lethal drones policy’, American Security Project, http://americansecurityproject.org.
(12) Joselow, G., ‘Security challenges await Somalia after historic year’, Voice of America, 25 December 2012, http://www.voanews.com.
(14) Ferguson, J., ‘Somalia: A failed state is back from the dead’, The Independent, 13 January 2013, http://www.independent.co.uk.
(15) AMISOM website, http://amisom-au.org.
(17) Dersso, S., ‘The Somalia conflict: Implications for peacemaking and peacekeeping efforts’, Institute of Security Studies Paper No. 19, September 2009, http://www.issafrica.org.
(18) Fund for Peace Website, http://www.fundforpeace.org.
(19) Transparency International Website, http://www.transparency.org.
(20) Dersso, S., ‘The Somalia conflict: Implications for peacemaking and peacekeeping efforts’, Institute of Security Studies Paper No. 19, September 2009, http://www.issafrica.org.
(21) De Waal, A., ‘Getting Somalia right this time’, New York Times, 21 February 2012, http://www.nytimes.com.