This week, Somali Parliamentarians endorsed the formation of a new, smaller cabinet government, including the first female Foreign Minister for the country. Last month, they ratified Abdi Farah Shirdon as the new Prime Minister of Somalia. With the end of a tortuous transitional period earlier in the year, a more technocratic President, a draft Constitution, and waning Islamic militancy, Somalia looks to be on course for a bright, secure and stable future.
Little could be further from the truth. Recent events remind us that the new national government’s authority is heavily contested, hardly extends beyond the urban surroundings of Mogadishu and is often widely rejected due to its association with only one of at least a dozen major clans of Somalia, the Abgaal. As the first shoots of security appear to break out around Somalia now is exactly the time to remember Somalia’s history and redouble efforts
Although the United States’ dual track policy for Somalia looks indecisively superficial or even absurdly contradictory, it may provide the bones of a pragmatic way forward. For the people of Kismayo, Somalia’s second city, which was recently wrested back from Al Shabaab hands, it offers them an opportunity to build long-term stability through locally-driven governance.
Since the policy was announced two years ago, the United States has been pursuing two parallel but, perhaps until now, seemingly separate goals in Somalia; of standing up a central government in Mogadishu while also supporting peace-building, security and development prospects led by administrations and local regions of a country culturally adapted to diffuse power. Moreover, after decades of destruction, with scarce physical, social, political or economic structures binding the parts of Somalia to its capital, a devolved, bottom-up approach is universally acknowledged to be Somalia’s best hope for long-term peace.
The United States dual track policy is a brave acknowledgement that most successful peace-building efforts in Somalia, notably but not uncritically in the regions of Puntland and Somaliland to the north, have been locally-owned and regionally driven. It is also born out of frustration. Repeated attempts to build central government institutions through grand peace deals at conferences outside Somalia have repeatedly failed.
A locally-driven, adaptable solution to building stable governance among the pastoralists and farmers in the southern reaches of Somalia, in and around Kismayo, is just as important as is it is among the nomadic northern clan people of Somaliland. In the north they have established one of the most stable examples of democratic regional government in the Horn of Africa, albeit not internationally-recognized. On the other hand, government institutions in Mogadishu are remote, and often viewed as either irrelevant or predatory.
Since the administrations of Puntland and Somaliland formed their relationship with the center has been either tense, or outright hostile. At the same time, for Somalis to do everything from travel the world – which they do a lot of – enjoy secure borders, and take a seat at the United Nations and other international bodies, they need the workable, internationally-recognized central government which has just been formed.