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Department of Political Affairs

Countdown from Mogadishu

Decades of strife and humanitarian tragedy have earned Somalia the unwelcome epithet of a “failed state.” Yet the Somali people and the international community have remained stubbornly determined to change that – and recent efforts are paying off.  Major security improvements against insurgents combined with political progress under a year-old transitional “roadmap” have created a rare sense of hope and opportunity to move toward peace and stability in Somalia.

Special Representative Mahiga DPA E-News spoke about Somalia’s prospects with Augustine P. Mahiga, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia.  In January of this year, the Tanzanian diplomat became the first UN envoy since 1995 to be posted on the ground in Mogadishu. The move reflected recent successes by African Union peacekeeping mission, AMISOM, in pushing insurgents out of the Somali capital, as well as the need to work more closely with the country’s political leadership. Intensive efforts are now underway to meet a 20 August 2012 deadline to conclude a lengthy period of transitional administration, and to institute in its place an inclusive new government and provisional constitution drafted by and for the Somalis.    

  Video: Political Transition in Somalia - The Roadmap



You are the first UN head of mission to be based in Mogadishu in 17 years. Can you give us a picture of how things look today on the ground in Mogadishu and tell us how the move to Somalia is helping the UN to advance peace and security in Somalia?


Augustine P. Mahiga: I think the decision by the Secretary-General to deploy UNPOS was a bold and timely SRSG Mahiga arrives in Mogadishu, January 2012decision. It came at a time when there were significant developments in the security situation in and around Mogadishu. It also came at a time when the political process was becoming promising and needed an on-the-ground push from all the different interlocutors. Politically, it has become one of the most forward looking decisions because it puts me in direct contact with the stakeholders on a day to day basis, and allows us to know first hand what is happening socially, politically and how all these trends interact.  Equally significant is the opportunity to work closely with AMISOM's Force Commander and with the AMISOM civilian office as well as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and a number of diplomatic missions, including the Turks and the Ethiopians, who are already deployed here. So, this adds to the pool of knowledge and political contacts at a time when these kinds of daily consultations are required.

AU patrol in Somalia


How has Mogadishu changed since Al Shabaab was pushed out of the city?


Two years ago, when I first visited Mogadishu and travelled from the airport to the presidential residence Villa Somalia, the streets were not only deserted, but it was a ghost town. There were hardly any activities going on, except the occasional cart pulled by a donkey. But in two short years, the population has increased manifold. The street is jostling with people moving back and forth. The population has really come back in great numbers, and there is a lot of economic activity going on. This is not only to support the daily selling and buying of food, but also the reconstruction that is going on throughout the main areas of Mogadishu. People have come back to invest and they are mainly investing in the reconstruction and building of residential buildings. There are several hotels coming up and guest houses coming up. There are also the beginnings of some cottage industries that have been revived and both social and economic activities are vibrant. One of the most noticeable areas is along the waterfront where you see not only fishermen bringing in their fish but also women buying and selling in markets that have been established with the help of the Turkish Government. There is also mega infrastructures going on, singlehandedly at this stage, undertaken by the Turks who are renovating the airport. They are constructing 100 schools; they are putting together an impressive package of assistance to generate energy and generators to clean the streets, but also to build some of what are going to be the biggest hospitals not only in Mogadishu and Somalia, but in the region. Between the daily life, the renovation of residential buildings and the putting up of hotels, and this significant investment in infrastructure, Mogadishu has changed dramatically in two years.

 Mogadishu, Somalia, 2012

The UN has said that the security gains are there in Somalia, but now the political process has to catch up. What are the key steps that have to be taken now to complete the transitional period by 20 August 2012?  


Indeed, security is improved with the expansion of AMISOM beyond Mogadishu; new territories are opening up as the Shabaab is being pushed out. There is an encouraging development that the population from these recovered areas are eager to join in the political process where previously they were not participants. So, the political process now is entering the most critical stage and there are several tasks that need to be achieved. 


The first one is to make sure that the principal signatories remain together and connected to the population. This has come through two critical meetings--Garowe I and Garowe II—as well as another meeting called the Galkayo where we defined the institutional processes required to end the transition.


In addition to keeping the leaders together, we are now entering a phase where we need a legitimate selection of people who will form the core of the new institutions after the transition ends. They are, in the absence of direct elections, traditional Elders. They will perform two significant transitional tasks; one is to select and nominate a Constituent Assembly which will approve a provisional Constitution. I underline the word "provisional" because this is not the end of this process. This process will have to continue beyond August until such a time that the Constitution is finished and subjected to a countrywide referendum. 

 Somali Elders

The second task the Elders are going to perform is to dissolve the current parliament and elect a new parliament, one that will be leaner in terms of size, reducing its membership from 550 to 225. Between June and July, the Constituent Assembly will have to adopt the provisional Constitution. The new Parliament will elect a new President who will nominate a Prime Minister subject to the approval of the new Parliament. Then, in August, just before the end of the transition, the Prime Minister will form a new government which has to be approved by Parliament. Hopefully, on the eve of August 20, this new Cabinet will be sworn in and this will signify the end of the transition and the beginning of a new dispensation with a completely different road map, a different mandate.


That is a very tight timeline with many politically significant steps along the way. What are the main challenges to getting all of this done by August?


There are many challenges. One is the challenge that comes with change. We are making fundamental changes, not only in the mindset, but in the leadership and in the institutions. In 21 years, many have developed vested interests from a political perspective, including various clans, the business community and various ideological groups. Some of these interest groups are not keen to see change. So, we have to work to promote inclusivity by the committed principals and make significant inroads to get political support from the key social and political groups.  This has required continuous political outreach and reconciliation and an aggressive public relations campaign with messages emphasizing that there is something to gain with change.


The other challenge is, of course, resources. We have to bring all the important political players to Mogadishu, many of them coming from areas that are way beyond Mogadishu, in a country where the infrastructure has been severely degraded and the only way to travel is by air which is not cheap. Additionally, when you are bringing people to a city that is still subject to asymmetrical attacks by the retreating insurgents, you have to make sure that their security is taken care of. So, there is a real need for resource mobilization and support from the international community.


If the transition is concluded as planned, will this mean that Somalia is now on the road to building the kind of stability it has lacked for decades?


I think the underlying words there are “on the road”.  It will not be the end state, but on the road to greater stability and peace because it will have new leadership that is selected with a much more representative criteria. It will have new institutions, especially as the draft constitution will continue to be the basis for dialogue in the post August transition. To refine it, and to address some areas that are for the moment bracketed, such as Federalism and the role of Sharia law and issues of citizenship and even the idea of bi-cameral parliament which did not exist there.  These are propositions that will have to be refined post-August dispensation. But, more important is capacity-building and creating institutions of government. 


There are also other offshoots of this crisis in Somalia such as piracy, human trafficking and trafficking in resources such as charcoal, which need to be addressed much more systematically and comprehensive in the post-August dispensation.


What happens post-August is an issue that would require a collective rethinking and a discourse among the key stakeholders. And, in the case of Somalia, it is not only the transitional institutions, but it is the United Nations, the African Union, the IGAD countries and the rest of the international community. 


It cannot be just an effort of the Somalis themselves. We value their leadership and ownership of the process but in a country that for 21 years hasn’t had a centralized authority or institutions, it can only succeed if it is fully supported by the international community.

 DPA E-News, July 2012

Related Links

More about the UN's political work in Somalia

Website of the UN Political Office in Somalia (UNPOS)

Somalia's Window of Opportunity for Peace, DPA E-News February 2012