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February 23, 2013

Revisiting the UN Arms Embargo on Somalia

February 11, 2013 by

Kenyan soldiers of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) are pictured inside their armoured personnel carrier on the grounds of Kismayo University, southern Somalia. Stuart Price/UN

Due to the civil war and chaotic conditions in Somalia over the last two decades, the UN imposed an arms embargo on Somalia in order to mitigate the conflict. Somalis need to appreciate the reasons for the embargo and while progress has been made in security wide swaths of the country more needs to be done.

The warlords who are vying for power have been the main source of the conflict. And as a result, the embargo, though it was intentionally violated by some frontier countries in the past, was intact in Somalia. Now is the time to consider removing the two decades old UN arms embargo on Somalia for a variety of reasons.

Free from Warlords

If the main reason for the arms embargo in Somalia was to minimize the misuse of weapons and civilian casualties by the hands of warlords, Somalia is now free from warlords. Warlords cannot claim popularity in the new political dynamics of Somalia as their power was severely diminished in 2006 by what was then known as the Islamic Courts Union (ICU).

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Politicizing Somalia’s Human Rights Debate

February 6, 2013 by

A Djiboutian officer serving with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) speaks into a radio as a convoy returns to base camp. Stuart Price/UN

Former Somali prime minister, Omar Arteh Qalib, had a habit of saying “Somalis will sort out their differences under a tree”, in reference to the traditional shir (meeting) to which disputes are referred for adjudication by elders of two clans.

When he made the now-famous “under the tree” speech Somalia had not fully slipped into anarchy. What is striking about Omar Arteh Qalib’s prescription for conflict resolution is that he viewed the war to have been not between government loyalists and armed opposition groups but among clans. He instructed remnants of Somalia army to surrender to armed opposition groups— in the north to the Somali National Movement; in the south to United Somali Congress, Somali Salvation Democratic Front and Somali Patriotic Movement.

Omar Arteh was a member of The Reconciliation Committee (Guddiga Suluxa) appointed by the military dictatorship before it has been overthrown by the opposition, and foresaw the impending power struggle between United Somali Congress’s Rome and Ethiopia wings as well as possible armed opposition response to United Somali Congress’s unilateral decision to form a government in Mogadishu without consultation with other armed opposition groups.

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Clan Federalism and Somalia’s Future

February 5, 2013 by

Colors of the Kulmiye Party in Somaliland in 2010. Photo by Charles Roffey/Flickr

Secession. Clan-based federalism. Unitary decentralized politics. These independent natures that permeate clan rivalries inside Somalia have ruined the trust and moral principles among its people. Creating a formidable obstacle to recovery of the lost nation, the separation of clans on key issues threatens to divide Somalis who share a common culture, territory, and religion. African federalism has shown to fail due to a lack of commitment to democratic values and obstruction of the central government authority. The signs of many problems associated with clan federalism like violent minority dissent against a dominant clan are now visible in territories such as Puntland. Rather than solving the problems of bad governance, clan federalism expands the state’s flaws, frustrates national reconciliation, and annuls citizenship rights and obligations.

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Somali Piracy: Is the International Community Complacent?

January 28, 2013 by

A masked pirate stands by a washed up Taiwanese fishing vessel in the once-bustling pirate den of Hobyo, Somalia. The crew were released after a ransom was paid. Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP via Conflict & Security

One of Somalia’s most prominent pirates, Mohamed Abdi Hassan alias Big Mouth, has announced his retirement. After eight years of capturing ships and their crews and demanding millions of dollars in ransom he also encouraged other pirates to give up this “dirty business”.  “We decided to give it up. We have been in it for a long time. We firstly need the world to stop looting us, as we gave up piracy. Secondly, we need the world to stop hunting us.”

Moreover, it has been announced that the pirates’ leadership will support the Somali Government in warning the youth about the risks of living a life as pirate.  This step is indeed commendable, but does this announcement mean an end to piracy in the eastern part of the Indian Ocean or is it too precipitous to speak about the end of Somali piracy?

In recent months it was repeatedly reported that the number of attempted captures decreased significantly. The presence of EU, NATO and other naval forces did not completely solve the problem of piracy, but reduced the risk for ships significantly. As of now 4 ships and 108 hostages are still under the control of the pirates.

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Somalia: Symbolism of American Diplomatic Recognition

January 22, 2013 by

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton with President of Somalia Hassan Sheikh Mohamud in Washington, D.C.

January 17, 2013 was a memorable day for Somalia. It was the day the United States abandoned its misguided policy towards Somalia and formally recognized the central government after 22 years. Going forward, two challenges that need to be addressed are the mobilization of an international aid package and within Somalia the overcoming of internal divisions based on clan loyalty, past injustices, collective mistakes, and fear of the future and a tendency for Somalis to look out for political self-interest.

Somalia should be grateful for the decision of the Obama administration not only to liberate Somalia from Al Shabaab and lead an effort to combat piracy in the Gulf of Aden. This historical move must be a vindication for Michael Zorick, a former US State Department Political Officer for Somalia, who was removed in 2006 from his position after he dissented from the Bush administration’s counter-terrorism policy towards Somalia and late congressman Donald Payne who challenged Ethiopia’s involvement in Somalia.

The announcement is also a triumph for Professor Michael A. Weinstein of Purdue University who has consistently argued for the best interests Somalia, and for John Prendergast who wrote in 2006, Our failure in Somalia, for The Washington Post.

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Somali-Turkish Relations: Opportunities and Challenges

January 22, 2013 by

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his wife Emine Erdogan visit a camp for displaced people in Mogadishu August 19, 2011. Umit Bektas/Reuters via Al Jazeera

Since the end of “transition” last year, the world seems willing to be engaged in Somalia once again after twenty years of meaningless chaos and conflict. This has happened because of many factors on the ground: al-Shabaab is becoming a non issue, there is sound leadership with clear vision on how to rebuild Somalia, and engage the world, and most importantly, the Somali people are ready for peace and governance although there are still some obstacles.

With that in mind, however, the visit of Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Somalia in August 2011 was a turning point that opened Somalia to the world, and shaped renewed relations between Turkey and Somalia. Since the visit, Turkey has shown an interest in Somalia by opening the doors of cooperation between the two countries.

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Foreign Powers Dictate Somalia’s Foreign Policy

January 21, 2013 by

President Barack Obama drops by a meeting with President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud of Somalia and Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. Pete Souza/White House

Consistent with his goal of speaking in the best interests of Somalia, Professor Michael Weinstein of Perdue University, Indiana, has tried one more time to reason with the Somali elite and the international community about the problems hobbling the Provisional Federal Government (PFG). Weinstein eloquently explains the structural weaknesses, responsible for the PFG’s slow performance.

By adding the adjective “provisional” to the Federal Government’s name, Weinstein reminds the Somalis that despite all the rhetoric, in the eyes of the international community, the present government isn’t any different from the previous transitional governments in legal, diplomatic and political terms. In short, without defending the competence and integrity of PFG leaders, he underscores that the donor-powers’ decision to starve the PFG, unless PFG leaders accept a kind of Trusteeship Administration for the next 20 years, is more ominous for the revival of Somalia.

The truth is that Somalia is trapped in an abusive relationship with the international community. The role of Somalia’s government is to rubber stamp international decisions on Somalia. The international photo-ops and red carpets granted to Somali leaders and the frequent three-hour visits of foreign dignitaries in Mogadishu mask the unequal power and foreign driven policies imposed on Somalia. It’s hard to miss the contradictions between the public statement and the official policy actions of donor and neighboring countries in dealing with the new government.

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Justice and Reconciliation in Somalia is a Casualty due to Clan Morass

January 5, 2013 by

AMISOM soldier in Mogadishu, Somalia. Stuart Price/UN

The setting up of local public administrations in the regions of Gedo, Lower Jubba and Middle Jubba which have yet to be entirely liberated from the Al Qaeda affiliated Al Shabaab has generated passionate debate for four reasons.

First, as result of clan based federalism, it stirred up the majority and minority struggles between communities in those regions at village, district and regional levels.  Second, it brought to the front the divergent interests and goals of the multiple foreign, national and local actors claiming stakes in the process.  Third, it represented a special significance for the federal government since it defines the values and meaning of the post-transition political dispensation and implementation of the Provisional Constitution (PC) on territorial jurisdiction and citizenship supremacy. Fourth, the ban by the UN Security Council on the export of charcoal in the area adversely affected the local economy.

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Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia’s Future

December 17, 2012 by

Somali woman sells bread at the Jawahar market in Middle Shabelle. Stuart Price/UN

In implementing their recently concluded regional security cooperation agreement and reaffirming their indefinite military occupation of Somalia, both Ethiopia and Kenya have left open the possibility of annexing Somalia under the cover of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD). Since only Ethiopia exercises uncontested power within the IGAD, on December 6, 2012, IGAD Joint Committee of Ethiopia and Kenya under the auspices of former Kenyan Minister, Mr. Kipruto Arap Kirwa, IGAD Facilitator for Somalia Peace and Reconciliation (IFSPR), issued a statement and Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Grand Stabilization plan (GSP) for South and Central Somalia.

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Foreign Policy for Somalia Needs a Boost

November 8, 2012 by

Mogadishu is experiencing unprecedented economic activity. Tobin Jones/AU/UN

On November 4, 2012 Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman visited Somalia and met with President Hassan Sheikh Mahamud, government leaders, military leaders, UN representatives, community and business leaders. A State Department release noted, “Under Secretary Sherman is the highest ranking U.S. official to visit Somalia in more than twenty years, and her visit underscored the U.S. Government’s commitment to Somalia’s stabilization efforts.”

In 1991 the U.S. Embassy in Mogadishu was closed, leaving a diplomatic void. In the chaos that followed secular and Islamic warlords fought for control of the country. Had we stayed, we could have helped guide them through the democratic governing and election process. Instead we returned two years later on a humanitarian aid mission, and became embroiled in trying to capture a local Islamist warlord. In the process our military killed a number of innocent clan leaders. In a subsequent battle we lost eighteen of our soldiers. Ever since we have tried to undermine the Islamists, and establish a democratic style of government.

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Repudiated Principal Agent Relationship with “Fragile States” Persists in Somalia

October 31, 2012 by

Two girls help to prepare food for builders constructing a school in Wadajir district, Mogadishu. Tobin Jones/UN

Somalia adopted a UN-drafted Provisional Constitution, formed a new national parliament representing the entire population of the country and elected a national leadership for ending 12 years of a chaotic transition period and established a permanent, representative and accountable government eligible for substantial Official Development Assistance (ODA).

Majority of Somalis believed that the international community would treat the post-transition government as a sovereign authority primarily representative of and accountable to its people.

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Security, AMISOM, Governance, Al-Shabaab and the Future of Somalia

October 14, 2012 by

A Kenyan soldier with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) looks out the driver’s window of his military vehicle in the centre of Kismayo, in southern Somalia. Stuart Price/UN

After years of political stagnation and little meaningful change in the security situation, Somalia has finally reached a point where its new government has the possibility of breaking out of an era of torpor and putting itself on track to achieve widespread national support. The challenges remain immense but improvements in the security situation, a weakening of al-Shabaab, and a relatively fresh slate of political leaders open the door for positive change.

This progress will come to an abrupt end, however, if the new leaders fail to crack down hard on the culture of corruption that has permeated the Somali political system. It is also important for the international community to give the Somalis more leeway to determine their future while responding favorably to legitimate requests from the Somali government and reputable civil society organizations.

I have followed, albeit not constantly, developments in Somalia since writing my master’s thesis in 1963 on the Pan-Somali movement. The early 1960’s were a period of stirring optimism for the development of “pastoral democracy” in Somalia. Within a decade, the optimism began to wane and the trend has been generally downward ever since. Several well-intentioned but false starts involving both the Somali and international communities since 1991 have resulted in big disappointments.

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Somalia’s Conundrum: How to Fix a Broken Nation?

October 4, 2012 by

Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, Somali’s newly elected president. Image via Globe and Mail

For quite some time, the narrative heralding Somali politics has been one wielded by a few leaders arguably driven by the tendency of prioritizing personal interests over public interests. Now that narrative seems to be in its death throes. Or so jubilant Somalis would like to tell us, citing substantive new developments that have recently unfolded in the country.

Somali lawmakers have elected Hassan Sheikh Mohamud to lead Somalia, to what is hoped, a better future. Although the new leader is described as a political novice, he has managed to eke out a landslide victory over politicians believed to have possessed unequivocal political leverage and unequaled assortments of networks.

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Can AMISOM Protect Somalia’s Sovereignty?

May 9, 2012 by

For more than two decades, Somalia’s sovereignty has been in limbo- or in an utterly defunct status. Though there are many causes, a particular one stands out exponentially: volatile security. For no nation can claim, or (like in Somalia’s case) reclaim its sovereignty while dependent on another country, coalition, or a peace-building force for security.  And though road-based security has been a top priority, it has been an objective made difficult by the many hurdles along the way!

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Assessing the Consequences of the Failed State of Somalia

July 16, 2011 by

A woman and her baby at the Badbado refugee camp. Stuart Price/UN

The United States announced in October 2010 a dual track approach toward Somalia.

Track one called for continued support of the Djibouti Peace Process and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), including security sector assistance to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the TFG National Security Forces.

Track two called for expanding outreach with self-declared independent Somaliland, semi-autonomous Puntland and regional and local anti-Shabaab groups throughout south and central Somalia.  Track two included encouragement of grass-roots support for stability in Somalia and reaching out to the Somali diaspora in the United States.  The policy is essentially sound. Unfortunately, the TFG is in many ways dysfunctional.

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