The chance for peace in Somalia
The chance for peace in Somalia
Somalia, Somaliland and the Explosive Port Deal
Somalia, Somaliland and the Explosive Port Deal
Op-Ed / Africa 2 minutes

The chance for peace in Somalia

The international response to the failed state of Somalia to date has been tepid and insufficient. The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) ministers meeting in Nairobi this week has a chance to change that, but only if they adopt a new approach.

Over thirteen years after the collapse of the Siad Barre regime, Somalia remains the only country in the world without a government. It is 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.

The principal focus of international efforts to save Somalia thus far has been the peace process sponsored by IGAD, led in this instance by Kenya. Unfortunately, talks have been stalemated since early this year, when the Safari Park Declaration signed at State House seemed to start falling apart even before the ink was dry.

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 Somali leaders invited to Nairobi, and half the signatories have since disowned the agreement.

Deep and persistent rivalries among regional states have undone the peacemaking and aggravated 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 that it will re-engage 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.

IGAD is now eager to move ahead to the third and final phase of the talks, with IGAD foreign ministers meeting this week to decide next steps, but unless these fundamental flaws are addressed first, failure is certain. By pushing the process forward without correcting its problems, IGAD and its partners are only 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 US and EU must re-engage more energetically and at a higher level, both in helping to resolve regional differences and in supporting a reinvigorated process more directly. Somali leaders must return to reinvigorated talks with greater commitment.

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 process, and creating a realistic budget and timeline for the remainder of the conference.

Only when all these strands come together will it be possible to restore a functioning government.

Up to now, the IGAD process has been perceived as a forum for political struggle rather than reconciliation and compromise. This, too, has to change. If the talks are to realise their promise of peace, they must achieve a negotiated settlement and avoid at all costs the surrender of any group.


Former Project Director, Horn of Africa
Former Program Co-Director, Africa

Subscribe to Crisis Group’s Email Updates

Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.