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Somalia: Government Must Downsize Its Vision over Democracy Project and Vision 2016 – Abdihakim Ainte

September 17, 2013

Somalia: Government Must Downsize Its Vision over Democracy Project and Vision 2016

By Abdihakim Ainte

September 16, 2013

This week, Somali government and its international donors are coming together in Brussels under the rubric of The New Deal vision to set in motion the massive amount of money and machineries required for reconstructing and rebuilding the country. In case you are unfamiliar, the NewDeal is new global framework that allows fragile countries to own their fate, build confident and prepare for responsible transition to democracy.

Somali tops the list of fragile countries.

Last week, Somali federal government, for its part, organized a preliminarily conference in Mogadishu in which it gathered legislators, civil society organizations, diaspora representatives, academics, and regional authorities. The goal of the conference was to debate the future of the country beyond 2016 under the title of transition to democracy vision. In the absence of framework on transition to democracy, delegates offered sketchy, but rather casual recommendations to transform Somali from scratch.

At the end of the conference, delegates agreed on national vision, dubbed vison2016: Transitioning towards Democracy

At the heart of vision is to transform Somalia from transition to a democracy and paves the way for an independent – one man-one-vote election – sort of Jeffersonian representative democracy in the year of 2016.

As with every vision, the question is how you can turn it into a realistic plan?

The short answer lies in understanding the gap between the vision being outlined by the delegates and the means available to reach the vision’s goals. Looking ahead, the means available to achieve the vision is far less than what the delegates had hoped to achieve in the conference.

But that does not mean the vision is inevitably doomed. Going forward, there are symbolic signs of optimism like 1millionchildgo2school initiative, the modicum stability, the return of investment and the renewed interest from the international community.

But there are equally, if not more graver signs of pessimism that could potentially threaten and undermine the vision.

State of the Government – and the Country
For starters, the government’s own survival acutely depends on 17,000 fully armed African-led peacekeeping troops – operationally known as AMISOM, who comprise a battalion from Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti and Sierra Leone.

Additionally, its own national troops – roughly 18,000 – are grossly underpaid, poorly trained, lack organizational coherence, and largely function as ethnic and private militiamen, rather than a national, unified, disciplined army. It’s no secret that some elements of its national troops are riddle with rape and other forms of sexual harassment, extortion, and kidnapping and often-complicit insider attacks.

In addition, its logistical infrastructure – things like airpower, medevac, aerial surveillance, equipment and, even as basic as troop sustenance are almost all nonexistent.

To top it off, the bulk of its citizens have either little faith in the legitimacy of government institutions, or are deeply dissatisfied with government’s inability to provide basic services, questioning its legitimacy beyond Mogadishu city.

Moreover, it has only a few donor-imposed and donor-financed institutions, chiefly the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Defense, and the National Intelligence Agency. As one scholar recently put it at the national de-radicalization conference in Mogadishu: Still Al-Shabaab has the monopoly of the fear, kill and suicide people at their will, and even assassinate government officials and, as result, has become the only feared institution in the country.  

Put differently, the government doesn’t have the legitimate means to control the violence of its own backyard — Mogadishu – let alone in the rest of the country.  

Secondly, insecurity remain an imminent threat, and its the gravest challenge that could potentially hamper future planning – weather its Vison2016 or the President’s six pillar nation-building strategy.

In the days leading up to the conference, al-Shabaab carried out a deadly suicide attack at a local restaurant that is literally a block away from the presidential place, leaving a death toll of more than 20 people, and injuring two journalists.

Even more worryingly, two major humanitarian organizations — including MSF –, have completely withdrawn from the country due to deteriorating security – complicating the worsening humanitarian condition. Clearly, this will have a severe impact not only on the humanitarian crisis, or aid workers, but also the 1.5 million internally displaced people.

While there has been a remarkable security achievement over the course of the year, yet the campaign against al-Shabaab has become somewhat muted, allowing al-Shabaab to regroup and strike back in more lethal asymmetrical warfare. Furthermore, the government’s strategy against al-Shabaab appears to be: whenever al-Shabaab stage attacks, they respond with roadblocks, sweeping home-searches, and detaining dozen of youths, boxing themselves on defensive side. Further, the absence of national strategy on the part of the government and lack of coherent coordination among its international partner has provided al-Shabaab an opportunity to reemerge and infiltrated in the government institutions.

Thirdly, and to make matters worst, key government branches – legislative, judiciary and ministries are institutionally weak, and unable to carry out reforms or support the vision2016 going forward. These institutions are often advanced patronage networks, fueling corruption and cronyism at the national and local level. Worst yet, there is no electoral infrastructure in place, and political parties are utterly absent.  

Fourthly, trust between government and regional administrations have profoundly eroded as result of the constitutional crisis, lack of confidence and clan enmity. Although the government has attempted to reach regional authorities, it has not defined an inclusive strategy that accommodates regional administrations, prompting some regions to cut ties with government unilaterally, and others threaten to follow.

Moreover, this highly centralized authority, governing vertically from Mogadishu, complicates efforts to reconcile and reach out to the competing regional administrations and, as result, fuels the hostile atmosphere. 

Fifth, and perhaps the most critically of all, the government faces economic challenge. For more than three decades, the country has almost exclusively dependent on outside assistances and diaspora remittances. Further, the government has been unable to generate local revenue to cover its budgetary sheets and private sectors operate in unregulated and un-tax market. A recent UN commission study finds massive corruption and misappropriation of public funds at the government level and accused government officials for theft and public embezzlements. 

Maintaining the Fragile Gains

While it is highly silly to paint a democracy project in Somalia at this stage, it would be equally foolish not to envision one. And the government deserves huge credit for taking the initiative, and setting the wheels in motion.

But rather than standing behind the vision, and cajoling donors in Brussels, the government needs to downsize its ambition, and start debating the real course of the menu.

That starts with debating on how to sustain and strengthen the fragile gains that government, and its international partners, have achieved over the last years, and creating environment in which those gains can take root, and hold firmly.

At this fragile moment, the government needs to be focus on its legitimacy, becoming relevant institution and, most important of all, maintaining the fragile gains.  

Dropping a liberal democracy into a country that lacks experience of rule of law, constitutional constraints and system of governances, and expect to take it root is confusing priority. Keeping that in mind, Somali’s donors need to abandon their zealous advocacy of painting elusive democracy in that unhappy country.

Its worthy pointing that rapid projects of transition to democracy in fragile situation like Somali is often perilous and very expensive. A more modest, fully developed short-term projects like stabilization or building a coherent framework is probably needed.     

Maybe the next conference’s title should be: “ how to strengthen and sustain the gains achieved?

Abdihakim Ainte is Somali political commentator. He tweets @Abdikhakim

This article was first published in African Arguments.

The link to the original article is:

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