Overcoming Somaliland’s Worsening Political Crisis
Overcoming Somaliland’s Worsening Political Crisis
Report 79 / Africa

Biting the Somali Bullet

Over thirteen years after the collapse of the Siad Barre regime, Somalia remains the only country in the world without a government, a classic example of the humanitarian, economic and political repercussions of state collapse, including a governance vacuum that terrorist groups can take advantage of for safe haven and logistical purposes.

Executive Summary

Over thirteen years after the collapse of the Siad Barre regime, Somalia remains the only country in the world without a government, a classic example of the humanitarian, economic and political repercussions of state collapse, including a governance vacuum that terrorist groups can take advantage of for safe haven and logistical purposes. If peace is to be attainable, the regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) must end its own internal divisions. The U.S. and EU need to provide more active support to heal the regional rivalries or they will continue to fuel a low-intensity conflict and ensure that no functioning government comes to power.

The international response to date has been tepid and insufficient. The principal focus has been upon the peace process sponsored by IGAD, led in this instance by Kenya, but talks have reached a critical stage, stalemated since January 2004, with foreign ministers to meet soon to decide next steps. Unless they and their passive Western partners act collectively the process will die, causing tensions in Somalia to intensify and any semblance of functioning governance to be deferred indefinitely.

A successful strategy will have to allow time for harmonising divergent approaches of neighbouring states, addressing structural issues, bringing international leverage to bear on the relevant actors, dealing with the debt incurred by the peace process, and creating a realistic budget and timeline for the remainder of the conference.

IGAD is eager to move ahead to the third and final phase of the talks, but unless these fundamental flaws are addressed first, failure is certain. After nearly a year and a half of Byzantine negotiations, it is far from clear what has been agreed and by whom. The transitional charter -- signed on 29 January 2004 and which ostensibly provides the legal framework for forming a transitional federal parliament and government -- was signed by only eight of the 39 leaders invited to Nairobi, and half the signatories have since disowned the agreement. Several faction leaders have returned to Somalia and threatened to launch a parallel conference while hundreds of Somali delegates languish in Kenyan hotels at public expense, running up large bills.

Deep and persistent rivalries among regional states have undone the peacemaking and done much to sustain and aggravate the Somali crisis. Djibouti briefly suspended its participation in the talks in September 2003. Ethiopia, noticeably cool and accused of acting as a spoiler since November 2003, has only recently indicated to Kenya (and ICG) that it will reengage fully in support of the process. Kenya lacks leverage to bridge the regional differences, and the U.S. and others have barely lifted a finger in support.

Violations of the UN Security Council's 1992 arms embargo and the October 2002 Eldoret cessation of hostilities agreement continue to go unpunished. Italy, a former colonial power with an uneven record of engagement, is the sole Western donor with an envoy at the talks. Washington's inaction increases the risk its interests and allies in the region will be victimised by terrorism. In the absence of member state engagement, the EU (Commission) is shouldering the greatest financial burden for humanitarian and rehabilitation needs.

By pushing the process forward without correcting its flaws, IGAD and its partners are setting the stage for yet another stillborn Somali peace accord. To save the talks IGAD must first overcome its own internal divisions and ensure wider participation and Somali ownership of the process. Its member states must show genuine leadership in enforcing the arms embargo and take the initiative in establishing a targeted sanctions regime aimed at spoilers of the process. The U.S. and EU must reengage at a higher level both in helping to resolve regional differences and in supporting the process more directly. And Somali leaders must return to reinvigorated talks with more commitment. Only when these strands come together will it be possible to restore a functioning government.

Nairobi/Brussels, 4 May 2004

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