On July 2-3, the International Contact Group (I.C.G.) held the last large international meeting on Somalia before August 20, 2012, when that country is supposed to have completed a transition to a new government to replace the current Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.) that has been in place since 2004.
The I.C.G. is the forum and policy-guidance group for the international actors that have interests in Somalia and have been willing to back those interests up through expending financial, diplomatic and human resources. Initiated by the United States in 2006, during the Islamic Courts revolution, the I.C.G. first included Western powers, with the token African representation of Tanzania. Over the ensuing years, the I.C.G. has expanded to take in East African and Horn of Africa states, and their regional organizations; Middle Eastern Arab states, and their organizations; and China and South Korea. In that process of expansion, the U.S. turned over the chairmanship of the group to the United Nations special representative of the secretary-general for Somalia (S.R.S.G.).
The I.C.G. meets on a bi-annual basis, issuing communiques that reflect the consensus of its participants, led by the U.S. and the United Nations political Office for Somalia (U.N.P.O.S.), which is headed by the S.R.S.G. The I.C.G.'s recommendations do not have legal standing and have to be approved by the U.N. Security Council to have force. Nonetheless, the I.C.G. has diplomatic clout because it is composed of the "donor"-powers to Somalia, the states and organizations that have paid for their place at the table. The "donor"-powers support the government in Somalia that they choose to back, to the extent that the T.F.G. could not exist without their contributions. That situation of Somalia's political dependence on the "donor"-powers will persist if and when a new government replaces the T.F.G.
The "donor"-powers hold the greatest power among the domestic and external actors with interests in Somalia. The other actors form their policies and strategies in response to the "donor"-powers, especially to the U.S., the big Western European powers, and the European Union. They have the power of the purse and in the I.C.G. it is money that talks.
Towards the end of 2010, the "donor"-powers became frustrated with the failure of the T.F.G. to make progress towards the formation of a permanent constitutional government in Somalia, and they decided to take charge of and effect the "transition." Most important for the "donor"-powers was their interest in decreasing their commitment of resources to Somalia, in light of the global financial crisis and more pressing foreign-policy areas, such as the Middle East (Arab Spring) and East Asia. The "donor'-powers reasoned that a permanent government in Somalia would allow them to draw back from the country while still pursuing their interests in anti-terrorism and anti-piracy, and to make deals concerning resource exploitation. As Kenyan analytical journalist Charles Onyango-Obbo put the matter, the "donor"-powers desired a government in Somalia that would be strong enough to contain terrorism and piracy, yet weak enough not to be able to challenge the extant balance of power in the Horn of Africa.
Through 2011 and the first half of 2012, the "donor"-powers have attempted to effect the "transition" through the S.R.S.G., Augustine Mahiga, who devised a "Roadmap" for the "transition" specifying tasks to which the T.F.G. would be held by compliance "benchmarks," backed by the sometimes veiled and sometimes overt threat of the withdrawal of "donor"-power aid. The road has had many twists and turns, and the map has been revised in response to resistance by domestic Somali factions, but the process has survived in a greatly attenuated form, and is now in its final stages.
The July 2-3 I.C.G. meeting is the last word of the "donor"-powers on where the road to "transition" has ended. The opening remarks to the meeting by S.R.S.G. Mahiga and the meeting's final communique provide indications of Somalia's future political situation or, as the "donor"-powers/U.N. are fond of saying, "dispensation."
At the outset, it needs to be said that the process of governmental change that is going on in Somalia under the guise of a "transition" to a "permanent" government is a travesty of a transition. It is quite likely, though not certain, that a new government that replaces the T.F.G. will come into being on August 20, but it will be the farthest thing from a permanent constitutional, not to mention legitimate, government; it will be another transitional government scheduled to last four more years and formed under the 4.5 clan representation formula on which the T.F.G. is based and that is in part responsible for the factionalism, fragmentation, and self-dealing that has marked the Transitional Federal Institutions. The new government will function, such as it can, under an incomplete constitution that leaves undetermined the most significant issues concerning the structure of the state that Somalia will have. The new parliament, which will have been chosen according to the same principles as the old one was, is supposed to fill in the constitutional blanks. Why would one expect the new parliament to be any more effective than the old one? None of the international actors has addressed that question.
In his opening remarks, Mahiga acknowledged that the "transition" remains a work in progress. His words to the "donor"-powers were not buoyant, upbeat, and filled with hope; instead, he chose to pose "some searching questions."
The most important of those questions, which overrides any others is: "How can we collectively handle the controversial issue of federalism as the debate on the Constitution continues in the post-August period?" It is the fact that Mahiga found it necessary to pose that question that confirms the judgment that the "transition" is a travesty. What kind of "transition" will occur on August 20 when the very structure of the state has not been determined - whether it will be unitary, decentralized unitary, federal, or confederal? The question of the nature of the state is both the most fundamental and the most divisive political issue in Somalia. The reason why it has not been resolved in the "draft provisional constitution" is that it is so divisive. The so-called "transition" puts in place an unfinished structure without foundations. The work of conflict resolution has not been done. The can has been kicked down the road. The T.F.G. was a more coherent structure than the one that will replace it; at least the T .F.G. had a completed charter.
It is significant that Mahiga posed his question about federalism by asking "how can we collectively handle" it? One wonders what he means by that. Are the "donor"-powers, with the help presumably of the U.N., going to somehow resolve the issue of federalism? Are they going to impose a solution on the Somali people? Are they going to work with the new parliament to resolve it? If the "donor"-powers are capable of "handling" the federalism issue, why did they not do so before August 20? Are the "donor"-powers going to institute a trusteeship in Somalia? That last is doubtful, since they want to draw back from Somalia. Is Mahiga whistling in the dark?
The second crucial "searching question" that Mahiga posed in his challenge to the "donor"-powers is: "What can we do now to ensure that the next performance and integrity of the Parliament is better?" As a corollary to that question is another: "How can we ensure that the selection of candidates to the Constituent Assembly, the next Parliament, the Speaker and the President is fair, free and clean?"
Whereas the issue of the form of the Somali state is the most fundamental, the questions concerning the composition of the new transitional institutions have the most immediate practical import, since it is most likely that parliament will be charged with filling in the constitutional blanks. It is difficult, however, to make sense of Mahiga's questions, because they seem to have only one answer: "Nothing." The National Constituent Assembly (N.C.A.) is scheduled to begin deliberations on the composition of the next parliament on July 12, and the induction of the new parliament is supposed to occur between July 15 and 20. It is too late for external actors to do anything about the composition of the new parliament; that is in the hands of the N.C.A., the membership of which, however, had yet to be finalized on July 9, the date of the present writing, by the traditional elders who have been charged with selecting it.
Yet everything - and that is no exaggeration - depends on the composition of the new parliament. What will stop it from replicating the same divisions that marked the old parliament? Is clan politics going to be transcended in a process that is based on clan representation? It is no slight against the elders and the representatives that they choose for the N.C.A, and no slight against the M.P.s that the N.C.A. chooses, to observe that clans and sub-clans are defensive formations that are organized to protect their particular interests. There is no reason to believe that the traditional elders, the N.C.A., and the new parliament will transcend sectoral interests. In light of that, there is no reason to believe that the new parliament will be able to fill in the constitutional blanks, since the issue of the structure of the Somali state is intertwined with the balance of power among clans and sub-clans, and uneven distribution of resource between areas in which one clan or another is dominant.
Of course, it is possible that it will prove to be impossible to carry through the transition, even though it has been so attenuated that it is not a transition at all, but simply a change in the personnel of government with a smaller parliament than the T.F.G. had in its final phase. Indeed, Garoweonline and Voice of America have reported that some of the elders who have been charged with selecting the members of the N.C.A. want their body to revise the draft provisional constitution and will not submit the names of their nominees to the N.C.A. until they are able to do so. In addition, there have been complaints that some of the members of the elders' selection body are not genuine clan elders, but are plants of political interests vying for positions in the presumptive new government. Mahiga has met the elders' move, which would delay the process beyond mid-July or well beyond then, by saying that the elders' selection body is not mandated to deal with the constitution at all. Should the "transition" fail,
the "donor"-powers/U.N. will be in an untenable position, since they will have destroyed the T.F.G. without having put anything in its place. That is why they will try to somehow force the "transition;" they have no plan B.
That is also why there is such an obsession with "spoilers." But, one must ask, what is there to spoil? How does one spoil a travesty? The "donor"-powers simply want cover for reducing their commitment to Somalia, and they have concocted a travesty to get it. The least that one can do is to be a theater critic, and Mahiga did that job circumspectly and politely as befits the "donor"-powers' agent, but he did it.
The "Donor"-Powers' Response
Mahiga's challenge to the "donor"-powers was to address his "searching questions." He completed the section of his opening remarks on the Somali "political process" by saying: "I trust that our deliberations this week will afford us an opportunity to begin a discussion on those issues."
The "donor"-powers responded to Mahiga's challenge by avoiding it. They were in no mood to engage the fundamental problems with the draft provisional constitution and gave only cursory attention to the new parliament. Instead, in the section on "political process" in the final communique of the Rome meeting, the "donor"-powers focused on immediate issues centered on pressuring the Somali participants in the "transition" to carry it through by August 20, and expressed concern over "repeatedly missed deadlines," urging the "Somali stakeholders to adhere to the latest timelines." On the issue of missed deadlines, Mahiga has asked the "donor"-powers to consider why "progress" has "lagged behind in some areas in the four pillars of the Roadmap." There is no evidence that they did so; had they addressed Mahiga's concerns, they would have had to acknowledge the conflicts that had been unresolved in the run-up to August 20.
After the I.C.G. "reiterated its firm determination that the Transition end on 20 August," it went through all the immediate tasks that had to be completed. Their only mention of the draft constitution was to "welcome" the agreement of the Roadmap signatories (the T.F.G., Puntland, Galmudug, and Ahlu Sunna Wal-Jama'a) to approve it. When it came to the new parliament, the I.C.G contented itself with an aspirational statement: "With regard to the Federal Parliament, the Group [I.C.G.] welcomed the need for the new body to meet Somali people's expectations, especially in terms of the quality and commitment of its members, gender balance, more effective working practices and ability to hold the executive arm of the government to account." In its only substantive recommendation, the I.C.G. said that a "joint legislative workplan should be developed between the new Parliament and Government, including with a view to strengthening the legislative frame work for the promotion and protection of human rights and transitional justice." A "joint legislative workplan" is as modest a reform as might be imagined, given the charge that the new parliament will have to write the most important parts of the "draft provisional constitution."
In his opening remarks, Mahiga had urged the "donor"-powers to look beyond the "transition:" "Now is the time to start thinking about what comes next." The I.C.G. responded to Mahiga's call tentatively; rather than giving the new transitional arrangement, upon which it had insisted, a boost by making a substantive commitment of resources to it, the I.C.G. tossed the ball back to the new government:"... the Group [I.C.G.] invited the next Government of Somalia within sixty days of its formation to set out its priorities and associated resource requirements with a view to securing international support." As a "first step," the I.C.G. "agreed to hold a preliminary, high-level discussion on emerging priorities in the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in September." When it comes to post-transition Somalia, the "donor"-powers are not showing their hands and are keeping their options open.
In response to Mahiga's challenge to the "donor"-powers to think beyond the political "transition," they decided to defer that thinking. Rather than committing to support the fledgling government, they left it to that government - their child - to prove itself worthy of care. That is how the "donor"-powers intend to diminish their commitment to Somalia. They have, in their minds, wiped the slate clean. Now they are free to do as much or as little as they wish, depending on their judgment of the fitness of the new government to be supported. If they do not decide to do much, they have given themselves the excuse that the new government did not deserve more.
A Transition to a Transition
The territories of post-independence Somalia now face a new four-year transition with a presumptive government that replicates the one that it will replace (if the Roadmap process does not founder in its final stages), with a draft provisional constitution (if it is approved) that leaves unresolved the most basic political issues, and without the assurance of adequate support by the "donor"-powers that engineered the process.
The I.C.G. meeting in Rome put a stamp on a travesty of a political process, an unintentional travesty to be sure, undertaken to serve the "donor"-powers' interest in drawing back from Somalia, unwinding the commitments that they had previously made, and giving themselves the discretion to determine their level of commitment in the future.
That result was pre-ordained from the moment that the "donor"-powers decided to manage the "transition" in late 2010, when they awakened to the truth that Somali actors would not effect the transition on their own. At that juncture, the "donor"-powers could have used their financial and diplomatic resources in a determined effort to put the territories of post-independence Somalia on a path to some form of genuine statehood. They did not do that. Instead, they abdicated the responsibility they had assumed and took the kinds of half measures that they always have, rendering, in the process, Somali actors incapable of determining their political fate. The travesty of the transition to a transition is the result of the "donor"-powers' malign neglect.