Somalia: A new deal for Somalia: How can it work?

The European Union and the Somali government spent months preparing for a conference on Somalia, which was held in Brussels on September 16.

Declared as “A New Deal for Somalia” the one day affair’s purpose was to accomplish two things: Focus the attention of the international community on the progress made in Somalia over the last year; and mobilise resources for the one-year-old Somali regime and assist it in the country’s reconstruction. The conference takes its name after the American Depression era economic plan put forth by President Franklin D Roosevelt to jump start the US economy and get Americans back to work.

Symbolically and rhetorically, the conference set out an ambitious plan for Somalia’s reconstruction with a great deal of pomp. So far, it has been successful in receiving financial pledges to the tune of over $815m. However, these donations are significantly less than what has been promised to similarly war-devastated countries like Afghanistan.

All people of goodwill, and certainly Somalis, hope and pray that the conference is successful in attaining its stated objectives.

The Brussels conference was the third conference of its kind held for Somalia . An earlier convention organised by the British government convened in London in early 2012 .

Generally speaking, the Brussels and London conferences had the same goals as both affirmed their intentions of helping Somalia with financial aid and rebuilding the country’s security organs. Nearly 18 months after the London conference and despite the bombastic original claim of the British, Somalis have yet to see any material footprint in the country that indicates the project’s positive impact on their lives.

The third convention was organised by Turkey and took place in Istanbul in mid-2012. Turkey’s intervention was different in orientation from the London and Brussels conferences as its stated aim was to try and assist Somali “civil society” groups and “traditional elders” find a common political ground before the selection of the new regime in September 2012.

Turkey’s contributions

Despite the goodwill of the Turkish government, its seriousness of purposes, and the support of the vast majority of the Somali people, the deliberation in Istanbul failed to gain traction. This was due to Turkey’s poor understanding of the nature and dynamics of political problems in the country and the ill-informed way the conference was organised.

However, unlike Britain, Turkey has undertaken many tangible and visible projects in the country that has improved the quality of life for many in the country. For starters, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the famine devastated people in Somalia in 2011 with his family and brought with him a large contingent of humanitarian agents who continue to serve the famine-afflicted population three years after his visit. Turkish public and non-governmental sectors have also been very active in rebuilding schools, hospitals, water systems and roads in and around Mogadishu and providing supplies for internally displaced people in the capital. 

Additionally, Turkey has provided scholarships for hundreds of Somali students to study in Turkish schools and universities. Finally, Turkey has offered to help rebuild Somali security forces. Although this project has yet to start many Western powers and their African clients oppose it.

The West’s agenda

By contrast the West’s main investment has been in financing AMISOM, and whatever other assistance they have offered has been considerably consumed by the overhead charges paid to their staff and contractors. This means that little of their aid actually reaches the population. More significantly, little investment has been committed to the establishment and training of Somali security forces in such a way that they could replace AMISOM within a year or two. A symptom of the impoverishment of the Somali security forces is that a year after the post-transition regime came to power the Somali Presidency and the President are mainly guarded by AMISOM forces rather than tested Somali soldiers. One of the exceptions to the invisibility of Western Aid is the solar powered street lights in the main streets of Mogadishu which were donated by Norway.

Because of the limited impact of Western assistance on the livelihoods of the population, many Somalis speculate that the West, including the EU, is not committed to help Somalia stand on its own feet. Previous assistance in Somalia has had limited impact on increasing the capacity of the Mogadishu regime or the population’s ability to conquer their livelihood challenges. Since the old Western deals for Somalia has not done what their rhetoric claimed, would the EU’s “New Deal for Somalia” be any different than earlier projects?

For the past two decades the West’s strategy has been to contain problems in Somalia from spreading to their allies in the region. This was done through a variety of methods. The West used Somali warlords and more recently incompetent but pliant religious or other types of henchmen to insure that an independent Somalia does not re-emerge. They also deployed humanitarian and development “experts”, dubbed the Nairobi Mafia by Somalis, to whitewash the ineptness of their work and intellectually justify their strategy. Finally, the most effective instrument of the West has been the African Union and AMISOM. AMISOM is completely funded by the West without simultaneous and sufficient allocations of resources for the Somali military.

It is undeniable that AMISOM has succeeded in pushing the terrorist group al-Shabab out of Mogadishu and some parts of southern Somalia, but it appears that there is no rush to equip and resource a reliable and effective Somali military that can replace AMISOM. Consequently, AMISOM is both an asset and a liability for Somalis, but as long as AMISOM is there the Somali government will remain hostage to others and will be unable to push the limits of prevailing politics to inspire its citizens.

Steps to success

For the New Deal to succeed where earlier EU and Western projects have failed, it must bring a no nonsense agenda to the table. First, it must heavily invest in rebuilding the necessary Somali public institutions whose design and orientation is determined by Somalis. Second, it must significantly reduce the number of overpaid expatriates employed in these projects and replace them with capable Somalis whose integrity is beyond reproach. Third, it must set aside at least $270m annually, for five years, to fund the establishment of a credible national security force loyal to the country and the people and that can replace AMISOM, Kenyan and Ethiopian forces in two years.

Fourth, and for the first time, the EU must use its diplomatic and economic muscle to condemn the tribal-based political formula currently framing the so-called federal political system as inhumane and unworkable. Such a stance will give an enormous boost to the civic minded Somalis who have been, at best, ignored and often dismissed as unrealistic by Western authorities. Fifth, The EU and others who claim to want to help the Somali people should challenge the regime in Mogadishu by being forthright about what must be done. Sixth, to help Somalia via the New Deal, the EU must alter its standard operating procedure pertaining to aid and consider adopting what some Islamic charities have done in Somalia. The latter’s approach involves progressive reduction of assistance as Somalis increasingly gain capacity to shoulder their responsibilities. The EU’s standard cookie cutter formula doesn’t work for anyone except for the contractors and the bureaucrats that get fat from the largesse. 

The EU alone cannot be blamed for the failure of Western assistance in Somalia; the regime in Mogadishu must take increasing responsibility for the mess in the country. Previous Somali transitional regimes in the last decade or so were corrupt, sectarian, and most significantly incompetent. Because of the character of these regimes, the country has sunk deeper into a political black hole. Getting it out of that hell is going to take a wise and courageous leadership that is not intimidated by the donors, but inspired by the tenacity of the Somali people.

A year into its four-year tenure, the regime has lost most of its original glow which came with the change of national leadership, and has yet to provide any policies or practices that can kindle civic mobilisation. Incompetence and tribal political gamesmanship rule Mogadishu’s high hill and the authorities seem completely oblivious to the rut that has set in. Such a system cannot be a productive and progressive partner for the EU if the “New Deal for Somalia” is to produce livelihoods and political order that can move the population.    

The New Deal for Somalia appears to be stillborn unless five fundamental changes are affected by the EU and the Somali government:

1- It is essential that the EU radically rethink its old ways of doing aid and adopt new strategies that put the needs of the Somali people first. Among those needs are the establishment of a national government of their own that is accountable to them and not to the Western world. This will require a greater attention to helping Somalia rebuild its governmental institutions in order for the Somali government to manage the affairs of the country as a sovereign.

2- There is a need to shift resources away from AMISOM and dedicate that to the professionalisation of the Somali military and police force.

3- If the EU delivers on its financial pledge, then it should concentrate on three major problem areas, including employment generation, for the effort to have the necessary catalytic effect. It’s worth noting that the new EU pledge is less than the remittance diaspora Somalis annually send to their relatives. 

4- The regime in Mogadishu has lost whatever currency it had with the people when it came to power. Consequently it cannot cleanse the rut unless it begins a systematic journey of building national institutions. For a start, the country needs a credible and capable new prime minister and cabinet that can measure up to their constitutional responsibilities.

5- A new believable political engagement with the population is of utmost urgency in order to earn their trust and support. Without these combined reengineering of EU and Somali agendas, it is highly likely that the “New Deal for Somalia” will be successful.

Abdi Ismail Samatar is President of African Studies Association and Professor of Geography, Environment and Society at the University of Minnesota. He is also a research fellow at the University of Pretoria. 


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