Interview with Augustine Mahiga, Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia

Augustine Mahiga, Secretary-General Special Representative for Somalia. UN Photo/S. Price

17 August 2012 – After decades of warfare, Somalia has been undergoing a peace and national reconciliation process, with the country's Transitional Federal Institutions implementing the so-called Roadmap for the End of Transition, devised last September.

The Roadmap spelled out priority measures to be carried out before the current transitional governing arrangements end on 20 August, including the establishment of a Parliament and the drafting of a provisional constitution.

These political developments have come about amidst gains on the security front, with Somalia’s army, supported by the UN-backed African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), having made progress in its efforts to defeat the militant Al Shabaab group, which previously held sway over even greater swathes of the country.

The UN News Centre spoke with the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Political Office for Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, about the end of the transitional period and what the future holds for Somalia.

News Centre: What direction do you expect Somalia to take after 20 August?

Augustine Mahiga: The 20th of August will be the date to end the transition. And that will be the watershed between transition and transformation. By transformation, I mean: stabilization of the country, new leadership, new plan, new ideology, new institutions and a direction towards greater democracy in Somalia.

The politics of transition will give way to the politics of greater inclusiveness that transcend clan and regional loyalties into political parties, into a new parliament and, eventually, direct elections for both local and central governments, by im[20 August] will be the watershed between transition and transformation. By transformation I mean, stabilization of the country, new leadership, new plan, new ideology, new institutions, and a direction towards greater democracy in Somalia.plementing the current, recently adopted constitution.

After 20 August, I expect Somalia to be more peaceful, more stable and more established in terms of democratic governance. With their constitution in place, this will be the basis for creating new institutions of governance [as well as] institutions that will guide the establishment of other important sectors, such as security, social and economic development.

There will be the possibility of the Government to engage in the provision of basic social services to many parts of the country beyond Mogadishu. At the same time, it will be an opportunity to stabilize the areas that were unstable under the insurgents, the Al Shabaab, which has now been pushed [into] parts of South and Central Somalia.

I do expect, also, that after August, the new Government will be able to establish a policy that will be able to address key challenges that have faced Somalia – such as piracy, the economic exploitation of natural resources – and policies that will address the issue of food, in order to deal with the persistent challenge of famine in that country.

Over the past 12 months, residents of Mogadishu have enjoyed the longest period of relative peace in their city for 20 years. A semblance of normal daily life is returning to the now busy streets as businesses and neighbourhoods begin to rebuild. UN Photo/Stuart Price

News Centre: What does 20 August represent for the international community?

Augustine Mahiga: For the Somalis, it is a major achievement and the beginning of a new opportunity. For the international community, it is a sigh of relief and it is also an accomplishment, because it has been helping Somalia to reach a stage that will give a solid forward movement into peace-building, state-building, and nation-building.

So this is a date that is of significance as the beginning of a new era for the Somalis, and an opportunity for the international community to enter into new engagement of partnership and cooperation and assistance for the Somali Government that will come after 20 August, and for the Somali people who will be rallying around this new Government.

News Centre: Why have you been so adamant that the parties must stick to the 20 August timeline to end the transition?

Augustine Mahiga: Because of the history of postponement. This transition was supposed to end in 2008, after it started in 2004. Then it was extended two years to 2010. Then it was again extended to 2012. And, over the past 10 months, we have been fighting against attempts to extend and to maintain the status quo, so one of the ways to make sure that this transition ends is to put a fixed date, that is an achievable date, and 20 August is exactly one year after we extended last year.

Special Representative Mahiga (third from right) meets with Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali at the Traditional Elders conference in Mogadishu. The 135 Elders, representing the clans and regions of Somalia, had gathered to produce the list of 825 delegates of the National Constituent Assembly and the 225 names of the New Federal Parliament. Photo: UNPOS

News Centre: How will the new constitution affect people's lives in Somalia?

Augustine Mahiga: The new constitution, which has been adopted, is still provisional. It will have to be deliberated on an ongoing basis, both in Parliament, and in various fora that will include people from the grassroots throughout the next period after the end of this transition.

Therefore, it will first of all give an opportunity for more democratic participation and decision-making on the constitution itself. The constitution also provides for other institutions to be established in the political area, in the security area, in the reconstruction area and in the social realms.

And this will give a sense of a direction for the Somali people to be able to partake, not only in the political process, but in reconstruction and development. Also, this will have an impact on the lives of ordinary Somalis because it is taking place at a time when the whole country is almost liberated from the insurgents.

It gives an opportunity for the country to open up. It gives more freedom for the people to move, and enlarges the opportunities for people to engage in the reconstruction [of] social and economic activities. This is the basis of a future that is different: a past that was gripped by fear and insecurity, and a future which is much more secure – a new direction towards a new Somalia, based on people’s participation in the reconstruction and recovery of the country.

Special Representative Mahiga comments on the impact a new constitution will have for Somalis. Credit: UN Webcast

News Centre: Can Somalia be considered to no longer be a failed state?

Augustine Mahiga: With the adoption of a provisional constitution and the prevalence of peace well beyond Mogadishu to other parts of the country, there is an opportunity for the next Government to establish territorial control which has never existed before.

But also, there is a blueprint around the constitution which will now begin to build the state from what it used to be: a failed state, which means a non-functioning state.

Around the constitution, you begin to put the basics of an ABC on the functioning of the Government. What are the ABCs? It is capacity-building. It is institutions of governance. It is people’s participation. It is political outreach and control throughout the country. I think these are the essentials of a state, of a functioning state, which didn’t exist before in Somalia.

Somalia has transcended from politics to transformation and transformation means the basics of a functioning state. First of all, the Government will have a constitution to give a sense of direction of where it is going and to permit democratic participation in decision-making and in the future direction of the Government.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon meets with Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, President of the Transitional Federal Government of the Somali Republic, at UN Headquarters in New York. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Secondly, the Government is now able to reach out to the whole country beyond Mogadishu, including the areas that were under the Al Shabaab in Central and Southern Somalia. But also, the Government is now able to provide law and order, as well as the rule of law in general, including the establishment of a functional police force, but also of a judiciary. And what really is qualitatively different is what the government is able to provide: basic services to the people.

And that is the nexus between a government and the people, through basic services – such as water, medical, education, and food – which has been one of the major challenges in the past years, with repeated droughts and famines as we witnessed in recent months.

Since the Al Shabaab withdrawal from the capital's in August 2011, the frontlines have been pushed back to the city's surrounding area. However, the use of roadside bombs, grenades and suicide bombers still take place, as do armed clashes. UN Photo/Stuart Price

UN News Centre: Despite the political progress, Somali authorities are still dealing with the Al-Shabaab. Where does the militant group fit in the picture that you are describing?

Augustine Mahiga: The Al Shabaab is definitely being pushed out of key strategic regions and towns. In the major areas where they were in southern Somalia, they have been pushed out of all the major cities. The major remaining city is Kismayo.

AMISOM [the UN-backed African Union Mission in Somalia] is poised to take Kismayo any time now. If the security [situation] is addressed, then it gives an opportunity for the new Government to reach out to these new areas and to engage in a process of political reconciliation and inclusion of the population into the political mainstream of the country.

It is also an opportunity to begin to establish institutions, which would be the basis for creating political parties and transcending regional and clan politics. It is an opportunity, as well, for neighbouring countries to see a future Somalia that is at peace with itself and at peace with its neighbours.

A delegate of the National Constituent Assembly of Somalia peruses the country's draft Provisional Constitution in the course of the Assembly’s session. The Assembly ended its meeting, held on 1 August, with the adoption of the document Provisional Constitution. UN Photo/Robin Gary

UN News Centre: What is being done to prevent spoilers trying to block Somalia’s political progress?

Augustine Mahiga: There have been various categories of spoilers that we have been having to deal with over the past 10 months. There were those who were deliberately obstructing change so as to make sure that the status quo is maintained and extended. There were those who have been seeking to put people in place in the Government and to seek policies of sectoral and narrow interest.

We started with the warlords, and once they were contained, we saw some parliamentarians who were trying to seek to extend their own [terms] – in doing so, they are obstructing the people process. But currently we have seen elements trying to dilute, obstruct and even compromise the integrity of the process of ending the transition, through intimidation, through bribery and peddling of influence. We categorize these as spoilers.

The international community, and especially the regional actors – the African Union and the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development – have passed several resolutions addressing the issue of spoilers and have suggested various ways, in combination with what the Security Council has been repeatedly reminding Somalis, that sanctions can be evoked for those who are definitely identified as spoilers.

We have sent warnings, but they are definitely going to be followed by actions which are backed by resolute resolutions and decisions of [one of] the highest bodies in the region and in the world – that is, the Security Council.

Four suspected members of Al Shabaab, the Islamic insurgent group, are escorted through the grounds of Mogadishu Stadium. The militants were captured during joint security operation by AMISOM and Somali security services and were found in possession of various weapons. UN Photo/Stuart Price

UN News Centre: Previously, some have described the Somali Government as a “government on paper” only and “prone to bickering.” Are those days behind Somalia now?

Augustine Mahiga: They are definitely behind – “the bickering… on paper” is a cliché. There have been moments when Mogadishu was described as the two-block city of an authority that couldn’t go beyond two blocks!

But certainly this situation is now changing because the makings of a new Government with authority way beyond Mogadishu and into the rest of the country are here through the ending of the transition and the establishment of a new Government on 21 August.

The Government “on paper” now is on a piece of paper that is a constitution, which is a product of discussions and inclusiveness that took time to prepare and to get the endorsement of the entire country’s representatives in the Constituent Assembly. That is not only a piece of paper – it is an expression of the will and of the aspirations of the people.

Since late May, AMISOM and Somalia troops and their allies pushed into the Afgooye corridor, outside of Mogadishu, and also gained control of the town of Balad, located within an important agricultural area near the capital. AMISOM forces are reportedly close to capturing the port town of Kismayo, an important stronghold of the Al Shabaab. UN Photo/Stuart Price

In terms of government, it is a constitution-based Government that didn’t exist before. Or, if there was anything, it was just a temporary transitional charter, which has now been replaced by the constitution. It is a Government of action. It is a Government that is now prevailing in an environment of peace. It is a Government that has a solid backing of the international community around preferred and prioritized objectives.

Certainly, this Government will have to come with a blue-print, which is a basis of inclusive, participatory and accountable government, but also a blue-print that gives a sense of a direction of what needs to be done beyond creating political institutions, but putting the foundations of socio-economic development and reconstruction after 21 years of civil strife.

UN News Centre: Where do you see Somalia on 20 August 2013?

Augustine Mahiga: A year is a long period in politics. If I compare where Somalia was on August last year to where it is now, it has been a quantum leap – in politics, in the process, and in the peace that Somalia is enjoying. I am confident that in another 12 months, not only will the constitution be the basis for creating new institutions, but it will also provide a sense of direction on policies and plans of the country.

Ugandan police officers serving with AMISOM’s first formed police unit during their introduction to the Somali Police Force (SPF) at a police station in Mogadishu's Yaaqshiid District. The United Nations and its partners are supporting efforts to develop the operational capacity of the SPF. UN Photo/Stuart Price

There will definitely be more secure areas, because of the pushing-back and, hopefully, containment and hopefully also inclusion, of elements from the Al Shabaab. But we expect a year from now, there will be the beginnings of a new political system that is based on political parties, that is laying the foundation for direct elections, both local elections and national elections.

A year from now, I am very confident that not only [will there be] the reconstruction among the Somalis, mainly driven by the Diaspora, but there will be an opening of private investment from other parts of the country. I also believe that once the Government is in place, the areas of security that have remained challenging, like piracy, will be addressed more decisively through law and order, and the rule of law. But also to address the humanitarian challenges that have always been one of the areas that have challenged the Somali people, and the transitional Government and the international community.

It’s going to be an all-around change, and judging from what we have experienced over the past 12 months, in an environment that has a sense of direction and a new leadership and a secure environment – it will be a very different Somalia. And way ahead of what it has been today or what it has been over the past 12 months.