Somalia: The Transitional Government on Life Support
Somalia: The Transitional Government on Life Support
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Somalia: Making the Most of the EU-Somalia Joint Roadmap
Somalia: Making the Most of the EU-Somalia Joint Roadmap
Report / Africa 4 minutes

Somalia: The Transitional Government on Life Support

If Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) – incompetent, corrupt and hobbled by weak leadership – does not reform within six months, the international community should withdraw support and concentrate on more effective local administrations.

Executive Summary

Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has squandered the goodwill and support it received and achieved little of significance in the two years it has been in office. It is inept, increasingly corrupt and hobbled by President Sharif’s weak leadership. So far, every effort to make the administration modestly functional has come unstuck. The new leaner cabinet looks impressive on paper but, given divisive politics and the short timeframe, is unlikely to deliver significant progress on key transitional objectives, such as stabilising Somalia and delivering a permanent constitution before August 2011, when the TFG’s official mandate ends. Although the Transitional Federal Parliament unilaterally has awarded itself a further three-year-extension, urgent attention needs to be given to the government’s structural flaws that stymie peacebuilding in central and south Somalia. If the TFG does not make serious progress on correcting its deficiencies by August, the international community should concentrate its support on the more effective local entities, until a more appropriate and effective national government is negotiated.

To blame the TFG or Sharif solely for the continued catastrophe would be unfair. At the core of Somalia’s governance crisis is a deeply-flawed centralising state model. The international community has not yet learned the lesson that re-establishing a European-style centralised state, based in Mogadishu, is almost certain to fail. For most Somalis, their only experience with the central government is that of predation. Since independence, one clan, or group of clans, has always used its control of the centre to take most of the resources and deny them to rival clans. Thus, whenever a new transitional government is created, Somalis are naturally wary and give it limited, or no, support, fearing it will only be used to dominate and marginalise them.

The logical alternative is a more decentralised system of governance, but despite serious attempts, since 2004, to push transitional governments to devolve power away from Mogadishu, the political class – and much of the international community – has remained instinctively wedded to re-establishing a strong central government. The current TFG is even less willing to share power than previous transitional administrations, which explains the recurrent tensions between it and self-governing enclaves like Puntland, Galmudug, Ximan and Xeeb and local grassroots movements like Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a (ASWJ). Not surprisingly, many are going their own way. Indeed, Somalia today is experiencing a multi-faceted, chaotic, clan-driven and virtually countrywide revolt against the centre.

Nothing highlights the general ineptitude of the TFG in forging political alliances and achieving wider reconciliation better than the botched power-sharing agreement with the ASWJ. Originally, an alliance of clans seeking to protect their traditional version of Sufi Islam, ASWJ is the only group in south and central Somalia able to oppose the extreme Islamist movement Al-Shabaab effectively. It was a natural ally of the TFG but was only brought into a formal power-sharing agreement under tremendous pressure from regional and other international allies. That accord is now in tatters, though officials in Mogadishu insist it still officially holds. The movement is itself deeply fragmented, and no one knows which of the plethora of emerging splinter factions speaks for the “old” ASWJ. The TFG appears in no hurry to save what is left of the deal.

The level of corruption within the TFG has increased significantly, and many local and foreign observers regard the current government as the most corrupt since the cycles of ineffectual transitions began in 2000. A cabal within the regime presides over a corruption syndicate that is massive, sophisticated and extends well beyond Somalia’s borders. The impunity with which its members operate and manipulate the system to serve their greed is remarkable. They are not fit to hold public office and should be forced to resign, isolated and sanctioned.

TFG military prospects are not good, despite gains in Mogadishu since the end of Ramadan in late September 2010. The army is ineffectual, and the government’s survival is entirely dependent on some 8,000 troops of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the international community. The modest Western-led Security Sector Reform (SSR) initiative to train thousands of soldiers and revamp the army can only be meaningful and ultimately successful within a larger political plan and in concert with a TFG leadership that is able to imbue its soldiery with a sense of loyalty, patriotism and direction. The current government seems incapable of providing that.

AMISOM has in recent months extended its military positions in Mogadishu, and there are indications of an impending major military campaign to retake the city and then fan out to areas in central and south Somalia. Any offensive would undoubtedly put Al-Shabaab under considerable pressure. However, it is not clear how much planning or preparation has been dedicated to formulating a political strategy for holding and stabilising “liberated” areas. Some clan elders may be secretly supportive, but without adequate political preparation, assumptions of a groundswell of support for the invasion in the south may turn out to be overly optimistic, notwithstanding that Al-Shabaab is increasingly unpopular. As history demonstrates, Somalis tend to reject foreign military interventions, even those that may, potentially, be best for their long-term interest.

Yet, the situation is not as bleak as it may seem. Some parts of Somalia, most notably Somaliland and Puntland in the north, are relatively stable, and as the ill-fated Union of Islamic Courts demonstrated in 2006, it is possible to rapidly reestablish peace and stability in central and south Somalia if the right conditions exist. Contrary to what is often assumed, there is little anarchy in the country. Local authorities administer most areas and maintain a modicum of law and order. Somalis and humanitarian agencies and NGOs on the ground know who is in charge and what the rules are and get on with their work. The way forward needs to be a more devolved political and security structure and far greater international support for local administrations. Furthermore, if by August, the TFG has not made meaningful progress in coping with its internal problems and shown itself genuinely willing to work and share power with these local authorities, the international community should shift all its aid to them.

Nairobi/Brussels, 21 February 2011


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