Despite humanitarian crisis, optimism for political progress in Somalia
The world’s attention has turned to the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Somalia, as the country is again gripped by famine. The tragedy has exposed terrible suffering, but has also brought attention to recent progress in the Somali Peace Process. The situation remains fragile, as recent attacks underscore, but this remains the best chance for peace in a generation.
During a visit to New York in September to brief the UN Security Council and attend the Ministerial Mini-Summit on Somalia, Augustine P. Mahiga, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia, expressed what he termed “realistic optimism” about the country’s prospects for peace, pointing to recent security improvements and the adoption of a roadmap on ending the transitional nature of Somalia’s political institutions. The former Tanzanian diplomat heads the United Nations Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS), which provides support to the peace process, including facilitating political dialogue and reconciliation, assisting with the development of the security sector, promoting human rights, and outreach to the Diaspora.
In the past few months, the strategic political and security context in Somalia has changed dramatically. The Kampala Accord, signed in June in Uganda, injected a new momentum into the process. The breakthrough followed months of political deadlock in Mogadishu and paved the way for the appointment of a new cabinet.
The international community was able to capitalize on the momentum generated in Kampala. At a consultative meeting held in the Somali capital Mogadishu in September, the roadmap on ending the transitional period was agreed by all political actors. The roadmap focuses on four priority areas: security, constitutional reform, reconciliation and good governance. Critically, the roadmap provides for a series of agreed upon benchmarks, timelines and compliance mechanisms to end the transition on 20 August 2012 and the international community has made clear that future assistance will remain conditional on successful implementation of these key tasks. The process is also Somali owned. The current Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is called upon to lead the process of the implementation of the roadmap, working with the Transitional Federal Parliament (TFP), regional entities, and all sectors of society, including women, the business community, religious leaders, elders and youth.
Concurrently, the Somali capital Mogadishu is experiencing relative security for the first time in 20 years. Over 95 percent of the capital is now controlled by the Transitional Federal Government. The militant group, Al-Shabaab, after being almost in control of the capital two years ago, largely withdrew in August under pressure from Somalia government forces and AMISOM, the African Union peacekeeping mission. Despite this remarkable turn of events, the security situation in the capital remains tenuous, with Al-Shabaab resorting, as had been predicted, to terrorist tactics. A suicide bombing against ministries in Mogadishu on 4 October claimed the lives of scores of civilians.
Addressing the security challenges requires the adequate resourcing of AMISOM and Government forces to respond to the new security threat around Mogadishu and beyond with “agility, enhanced mobility, expanded surveillance and greater tactical capability”, Mr. Mahiga told the UN Security Council. “The international community must provide resources to the Transnational Federal Institutions and other implementing parties to ensure we capitalise on the substantial political investment that has earned us all this moment of optimism and hope”, he added.
The humanitarian crisis has also served to weaken the grip of Al-Shabaab over parts of the country. SRSG Mahiga reported that the famine has seen “people walking away from Shabaab controlled areas where Western aid groups have been prohibited from entering. These actions have undermined the Shabaab and along with infighting and desertions, Al-Shabaab has been substantially weakened.”
In conjunction with AMISOM, UNPOS continues to play a critical role in the stabilisation of Somalia. “While considerable work has already begun to implement the roadmap, more work lies ahead”, Mr Mahiga said. UNPOS has been a neutral actor on the Somali scene, facilitating improved dialogue between Somalis and assisting them to find political common ground. Most recently, UNPOS aided in an agreement between the regional states of Puntland and Galmudug after days of fighting at a common border. Examples such as this demonstrate the capability of UNPOS to bring parties together and encourage them to bridge differences for the benefit of all Somalis.
After more than 15 attempts to form a unified government over the past 20 years, for the first time, there is a convergence of factors that gives the best opportunity for lasting peace and stability in Somalia. “The situation remains fragile and dangerous but we have a golden opportunity to end the transition and stabilise Somalia…the seeds of hope and progress have begun to sprout, but they will need to be carefully and generously nurtured”, Mr. Mahiga said.