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After more than two decades of insecurity, Somalia has made important progress towards the realisation of peace. Apart from the great successes in extending security beyond Mogadishu, a number of commendable strides have been made on the political front as well. This is characterised by the successful swearing-in of more than 200 parliamentarians on 20 August 2012 following the adoption of a provisional constitution by the National Constituent Assembly and the subsequent selection of a Speaker and deputies for the House. Apart from signifying the resolve of various stakeholders to make sure that the transition process is not extended once again, the overall gains made signify the collective resolve of the Somali people to part with decades of instability and to chart a peaceful future. Additionally, the businesses springing up in Mogadishu and the reconstruction efforts also indicate what the Somali people are capable once the threat of insecurity is sustainably dealt with.
While we wait for these achievements to be capped with the election of the president and the imminent ‘liberation’ of Kismayo, it is important that caution is exercised in ticking the final boxes so as not to undermine and derail the progress made. Currently, three important issues require a great deal of deliberation as they are important determinants of post-transition peace and the sustainability of ‘gains’ made in the country.
First, grievances emerging from the imperfections of the on-going peace process have to be dealt with. The selection of the 135 traditional leaders, the composition of the Constituent Assembly and nomination of candidates from the various clans for the new parliament, allegations of seat-buying, intimidation of elders, and the rejection of certain preferences and nominations by the Technical Selection Committee (TSC) have all caused discontent among certain stakeholders. Apart from the tussle over replacing rejected nominees, ensuing attempts to seek redress by raising the issues in various corridors of power, including the courts, speak to the entrenched interests and emerging discontent that must be dealt with. If these simmering tensions are not dealt with, the chances of their leading to the emergence of bitter losers in the upcoming elections are very high.
Related to this is the perception of the ‘referee/player syndrome’ that has bedeviled the political process. This is the situation whereby the primary stakeholders in the transition process are also competitors in the political playing field. Consequently, some individuals are not just officials of the game but also players whose political destinies are intertwined with the outcome of the transition process, with the result that their neutrality is undermined. There were reports of leaders within the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) using the selection process as their campaign grounds and in essence hijacked the transitional process for their own political ends. The involvement of then-President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, and the Speaker of Parliament, Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden, in the selection of the traditional elders has been raised as a concern. There is a perception that their involvement placed them in a unique position to control the process and select elders who support their cause. This has given rise to concerns over an uneven playing field in the run-up to the presidential election, by creating a contest between those enjoying incumbency and those without it. This is notwithstanding recent reports of massive corruption by elements in the TFG and allegations of the misappropriation of funds.
The second important issue relates to dealing with losers in the transitional process, particularly the presidential elections. Like every presidential election, the 10 September contest in Mogadishu will produce losers and winners. In this peculiar case, the losers matter the most. If care is not taken in addressing emerging grievances, the elections will most likely produce bad losers who are capable of sabotaging the peace process. Related to that is the move to try and rid the emerging government of everyone with a shady past or links to armed groups. Laudable as the idea is, it falls into the trap of the unending debate about the timing of transitional justice processes and consolidation of peace. The question is whether Somalia needs to bring on board all actors in the interest of peace or deny some actors participation in the name of maintaining the integrity of the process. While this remains a crucial debate, there is a need to be mindful of the thorny nature of choices made around this crucial question in the quest for sustained gains in Somalia.
The third issue is the need to plan for a post-transition Al-Shabaab. While the capture of Kismayo is both eminent and likely, there is no guarantee that its loss and the associated loss of funding imply an end to Al-Shabaab’s operations and influence in the country. A large part of the country will remain ungoverned for a long time and will continue to provide safe havens for the operations of the group, for example the bases of the Galgala militia in northern Somalia. This needs to inform the choices of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and its allies so as to prevent the current security challenges from being exported to other parts of the country, or even the region.
A defeat in Kismayo might imply a change in Al-Shabaab’s tactics from its current hybrid of guerrilla and conventional attacks to purely Boko Haram-style guerrilla attacks, employing hit-and-run tactics capable of making the state ungovernable. It could also imply a miniaturisation of its bases and presence as a means of cutting expenses, but also as a guerrilla tactic. It might try to capitalise on the mistakes and failures of the new government and by its presence put a lot of pressure on the government to deliver on security and other government services. Whichever way the group might choose to reinvent itself or evolve, there is a need for post-transition political and security dynamics to factor its existence into consideration, if any sustainable peace is to be achieved.
The walk and work towards peace in Somalia is a long way from over. The presidential election will be another important milestone in the incremental progress that is being made towards achieving peace. To sustain the gains made so far, stakeholders need to be meticulous in their choices in addressing the emerging issues so as not to derail the process.
Written by Andrews Atta-Asamoah and Tarryn Warries, Senior Researcher and Intern, Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis Division, ISS Pretoria