A Roadmap to Nowhere

Posted on 24/09/2011


On September 6, the three-day “Consultative Meeting on Ending the Transition in Somalia” (C.M.), held in Mogadishu, concluded with the signing by the participants of a “statement” and their adoption of a “Roadmap” with elaborate and interlocking timelines and “benchmarks” specifying the stages to be gone through and the responsibilities for negotiating them in consummating Somalia`s move to a permanent constitutional government by August 2012.

The C.M. is the first step in the latest attempt by the Western great powers (United Statesand European Union) and their agent, the United Nations, to put the territories of post-independence “Somalia” under a functioning central government. At present, “Somalia” is represented internationally by the Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.), which was formed in 2004 and was supposed to have executed the “transition to permanent statehood by August 2011. By the beginning of 2011, it had become clear that the T.F.G. was too divided and was not sufficiently motivated to carry through the “transition” if it was left to its own devices. The Western powers would have to take the initiative if any progress was to be made.

In February 2011, the U.N.`s special representative for Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, announce that the U.N. would sponsor a meeting in Nairobi, Kenya of domestic and external stakeholders in “Somalia” in order to get the “transition going. The effort was a failure due to divisions among and opposition to the “transition” process by Somali factions, particularly within the T.F.G., that the Western powers were unwilling to overcome by using their financial and diplomatic power. As a result, the Western powers ended up by spring 2011 – after tortuous twists and turns – acquiescing in an extension of the mandates of the transitional institutions until August 2012.

Knocked back, the Western powers and the U.N. picked themselves up and started all over again in the summer of 2011, setting up a new meeting – the C.M. This time, they seem to have realized that facilitating a meeting of Somali factions would not be enough; the Western powers would have to impose a plan. They have done that with the “Roadmap” and its “benchmarks;” it remains to be seen whether or not they will have sufficient resolve and will to marshal the necessary resources to implement it.


The Western powers want to get the “transition” over and done with. They bankroll the T.F.G. and the African Union peacekeeping mission (AMSOM) in Mogadishu that props it up militarily. Faced with their own financial crises and the growing global challenges, especially in the Middle East, the Western “donor`-powers want to reduce their commitments in “Somalia,” have a permanent government there with which they can make agreements and deals, and have more reliable collaboration in pursuing their major interests in the Horn of Africa: conducting their anti-terrorism and anti-piracy campaigns. Reducing their commitments overrides all their other interests.

A Roadmap to Nowhere

At present, the Roadmap is a series of directives on the instrumentalities for accomplishing the major “transitional tasks:” security, finalizing a constitution, reconciliation of Somali factions (inclusiveness), and “good governance” (curbing corruption and achieving transparency). In the “donor”-powers/U.N.`s ideal scenario, by August 2012, “Somalia” would have a permanent government established according to a constitution that would be granted legitimacy and support by major Somali factions and that would be able to defend itself. The Roadmap does not specify what the constitution will be; that depends on committees that have yet to be established. In all respects, the Roadmap is a framework that has not been filled in. The level of the “donor”-powers/U.N.`s financial support for the transitional process has not yet been specified, although support has been made contingent on the T.F.G., which has been charged with primary responsibility for executing the design, meeting the benchmarks. As the T.F.G.`s prime minister, Abdeweli Mohamed Ali (Gas) said on September 8, quoted by Reuters: “A roadmap without resources is a roadmap to nowhere.”

A possible insufficiency of resources (the escape hatch from the plan for the Somali players) is not the only reason that the Roadmap is likely to lead nowhere. It is conceivable that “Somalia” will have a constitution by August 2012, but it strains belief that it will have broad legitimacy. Indeed, the entire transitional exercise borders on fantasy, given “Somalia`s” extreme political fragmentation and many-sided conflicts. The territory of post-independence Somalia is parceled out between the self-declared independent republic of Somaliland in the northwest, the provisionally autonomous and self-governing state of Puntland in the northeast, the Galmudug authority directly south of Puntland, the several administrations of the AhluSunnawal-Jama`a (A.S.W.J.) movement in the center, the administrations of the armed revolutionary Salafist-Islamist Harakat al-Shabaab Mujahideen (H.S.M.) that hold most of the south and central territories, and the multitude of mini and would-be administrations that dot the territories of post-independence Somalia, including Somaliland and Puntland. The T.F.G./AMISOM controls Mogadishu, some of it tenuously. NeitherSomaliland nor H.S.M is part of the “transition,” the mini-administrations and would-be administrations have been excluded from it, and the signatories to the Roadmap – theT.F.G., Puntland, Galmudug, and part of A.S.W.J. – have competing interests that have been far from resolved.

When one focuses on the official statements about, meetings concerning, and documents issuing from the “transitional” process, one falls prey to the illusion that they represent something real; when one opens one`s eyes to the situation on the ground, one realizes that the “transitional” process is not a genuine effort at nation building, reconciliation, and peace, but a way of getting to the point at which it will be possible to pretend that “Somalia” is a political community/state. That result seems to be the best that the “donor`-powers can hope for, given their “benchmarks.” It appears to be what they are willing to accept; it is difficult to believe that they believe that their ideal scenario is anything but rhetorical cover.

The distance between rhetoric and reality – what is aspirational and what is operational – is a consequence of the failure of any of the domestic and external actors in “Somalia” to do the work and preparation necessary for a transition to an effective, functioning, and legitimate government. That would take time – perhaps years – and the “donor”-powers/U.N. have sat on their hands until recently – and now they are in a headlong rush to impose a solution. Seemingly unconscious of the irony of his words, Mahiga said on September 2: “In one year, we want to achieve, literally, what has not been achieved for over seven years.”

A genuine process of state formation in Somalia would take hard and pain staking work on the parts of all those involved in it. Difficult choices would have to be discussed and made; for example, the fate of Somaliland, the status of H.S.M., the territorial dispute between Puntland and Somaliland, the role of clan and sub-clan in political organization, the role of religion in the state(s), the degree and type of political centralization-decentralization, territorial delimitation in the southern and central regions, and adjustment to more powerful neighboring states such as Ethiopia and Kenya – and those are only the beginning and the most obvious issues. The overall geopolitical situation was frozen during the years that the “donor”-powers/U.N. pretended that the T.F.G. represented “Somalia,” and then spent their time trying to resolve endless factional disputes within the T.F.G. Now that they have decided to broaden the actors and interests involved in the “transition” process and have taken the dominant role in that process, they have brought all the conflicts into the open and it falls to their leadership, if they exercise it, to reconcile those conflicts sufficiently to achieve a political order. They have shown that they are not ready to do the work by trying to do what they neglected to do for seven years in less than one year. The “donor”-powers/U.N. appear to be willing to trade the patchwork “Somalia” of today for the possibility of a weak “state” – perhaps similar to contemporary Yemen. One wonders how much of an improvement that would be over the present situation from the viewpoint of the “donor”-powers/U.N.`s interests.

The “Statement on the Adoption of the Roadmap” that issued from the C.M. and that declared the “principles” for implementing the Roadmap systematically mischaracterizes the “transition” as it has been orchestrated by the “donor”-powers/U.N. The “Statement” insists on “Somali Ownership” of the “transition,” whereas it is actually “owned” by the “donor”-powers/U.N. The “Statement” insists that the “transition” be inclusive, when it includes only some of “Somalia`s” established administrations, which are expected to reach out to other factions and groups within the society. The Roadmap came out of a preparatory committee in which the “donor”-powers/U.N. played the leading role, and there was no time to debate it and amend it in the three-day C.M., the first day of which was devoted to introductory speeches, the third day of which announced the “results,” and only the second day was taken up with “work” (the formation of committees). Indeed, the C.M. was not “consultative” at all; it was a rubber stamp for the “donor”-powers/U.N.`s “benchmarks.”

The “transition” has little, if anything, about it that is Somali owned. That is evidenced not only by making “donor”-power/U.N. support contingent on “the implementation of the priority tasks in the Roadmap,” but also by the establishment of a “Technical Committee” composed of domestic Somali actors and regional organizations, the E.U., and the U.N. (the U.S., following its present policy of retraction of overt commitments, remains a formally absent presence), that is tasked with facilitating “cooperation and collaboration among the Somali parties and with its international partners to implement the Roadmap.”

In a moment of candor, Mahiga made the “donor”-powers/U.N. “ownership” of the “transition” plain in his briefing to the U.N. Security Council on the C.M. on September 14, in which he urged the “international community” to “redouble engagement with the Somali leadership, while striking the delicate balance between inducement and compulsion.” The “donor”-powers/U.N. have the carrots and the sticks, and they are to employ them in a “delicate balance.” What leverage do the domestic Somali actors have in this process? They or some of them can, of course, torpedo the process by disagreeing with each other and failing to perform the “tasks” on time or at all. Then what will the “donor”-powers/U.N. do? Will they leave Somalia alone after August 2012? Will they move to Balkanization – treating the various entities that compose “Somalia” separately? Will they start the “transition” over again for the third time?


Another meeting is scheduled for October in Garowe, Puntland`s capital, in which social actors such as civil society organizations are to take part, and the constitution is to be discussed. If the constitution is debated seriously at that meeting, then the “donor”-powers/U.N. will have to wade into the swamp of Somalia`s political differences – and if they want the “transition” to proceed as they have planned, they will have to get into the thick(et) of high Somali domestic politics and take sides, because the Somali factions will not reach a consensus by themselves, especially when the “donor”-powers/U.N. are looking over the Somalis` shoulders and playing back-seat driver, and sometimes sitting next to them and taking over the wheel.

A closed source reports that the “donor”-powers want to impose the draft constitution that was formulated in Djibouti under the auspices of the U.N. The “Djibouti Constitution” is a satisfactory starting point for Puntland, since it incorporates a definition of federalism that gives constituent entities wide autonomy; centralist forces in the southern and central regions are opposed to it. What will the “donor”-powers/U.N. do when it comes time for them to impose a political formula onSomaliaagainst deep opposition?

The C.M. is only the beginning, the sketch of a process that will be made concrete or will simply die through lack of political will. It would be rash to predict the future of the new round of the “transition,” although in light of “Somalia`s” political fragmentation the prospects for any more than a weak, imperfectly representative, and deficiently legitimate “state” are dim.

It is likely, however, that the C.M. has established a pattern for how the process will go on – the “donor”-powers will cajole and threaten the Somali participants to meet the “benchmarks” and “end the transition,” and the Somali factions that are part of the process will assert their particular interests, and those that have been excluded or have decided to remain outside will oppose the process.

The “donor”-powers/U.N. have stepped into the edge of the swamp; the deeper into it they venture, the more compromised they will become.

Report Drafted By: Dr. Michael A. Weinstein, Professor of Political Science,PurdueUniversityinChicago

Source: http://www.biyokulule.com/view_content.php?articleid=3935