Views of Prominent Somalis - A Special Reprint from the United States Institute for Peace
Before Ambassador Robert Oakley was called from retirement and named the U.S. envoy to Somalia in late November, he had an experience that was to provide him with valuable background for his unexpected diplomatic assignment.
Beginning in mid-October, prominent Somalis living in the United States met in Washington, DC, to develop recommendations for improving relief efforts and promoting political reconciliation. The effort was sponsored by the United States Institute for Peace, a congressionally established and funded "institution" where Oakley served as coordinator of a Middle East peacemaking project.
A daylong meeting in October of 150 persons, most of them Somalis, was followed in November by a gathering of 15 Somalis. Oakley took part in both sessions.
According to the institute, the 15 at the follow-up session were "selected to reflect a range of political and regional perspectives" and included former Somali ambassadors, a retired general, several academics and leaders of non-governmental organizations, as well as other professionals.
Their report, reprinted here, was issued on December 17 at a National Press Club briefing.
Recommendations of the Study Group
It should be made clear to local factions that the international community has no intention of recolonizing Somalia or of transforming Somalia into a UN trusteeship. Close contact must be maintained between international military and relief officials and local factions and leaders. Careful attention must be given to the varying conditions prevailing in different parts of the country, and the relief efforts need to be adapted to local circumstances. International assistance needs to be provided at an early stage to help organize local and regional police forces. The existing international arms embargo must be enforced more vigorously, with appropriate sanctions imposed. The UN needs to be more active in facilitating dialogue and promoting political reconciliation both within and among various political parties and factions in Somalia. Dialogue across regional lines can come after reconciliation advances further within regions. The question of whether Somalia should be a single state or divided into two states need not be a preoccupying issue at this moment, since the survival of the Somali people takes priority.
Provide Adequate Security for Emergency Relief
The study group agreed that the most critical requirem needs to be given to the varying conditions prevailing in different parts of the country, and the relief effort needs to be adapted to local circumstances. The security situation varies significantly from north to south, while political complexity prevails throughout. In recognition of the highly politicized character of the conflict, political advisers need to be attached to those responsible for providing relief in the various regions of the country to assure that political mistakes are minimized.
In the northern and northeastern portions of Somalia and in parts of the central areas, where some semblance of order and security exists, the provision of relief is more manageable. Existing incipient administrative structures can be utilized to assist with the delivery of relief supplies. In these areas the international community should also assist in strengthening local institutions.
In the less secure and less stable portions of the south, international officials will need to keep in close contact with local authorities, including leaders of military factions. The purpose of this contact would be to minimize misunderstanding and to build local support, while not granting veto power to local factions in the provision of relief. Close contact must be maintained between international relief and military officials and local factions and leaders. The fact that local factions will not be allowed to obstruct the delivery of relief supplies does not mean that close contact should not be maintained with them.
Those portions of the country that are relatively stable and are not in a state of destitution should be given other kinds of assistance. Health facilities and schools need to be reopened and supported. The provision of this additional assistance to relatively peaceful areas will provide incentives to those in regions of turmoil to settle their conflicts and to rebuild the social and physical infrastructure with international assistance.
As part of the critically important process of local empowerment, the international aid givers, including international NGOs, should work with and support local NGOs. These Somali organizations, although impoverished and weakened by the prevailing state of conflict and poverty, nevertheless offer substantial potential. They can assist international NGOs and the United Nations in delivering relief supplies and in rebuilding Somalia. Strengthening these NGOs in itself can be an important part of the rebuilding process.
The group also agreed that the actual and potential roles of women in Somalia have been underestimated both by the international community and by local factions. Women have been at the forefront of local efforts to promote peace, and their potential rol Traditional Islamic values of peace, fairness and justice can serve as a base for the moral reintegration of Somalia. However, Islamic fundamentalism is not a positive force in the country. Disruptive foreign agendas often come wrapped in the guise of Islamic fundamentalism.
The international community, and particularly the United Nations, needs to be more active in facilitating dialogue and promoting political reconciliation both within and among the various political parties and factions in Somalia to enable them to rise above their internal divisions. The political parties which fought for the overthrow of the repressive regime of Siad Barre still constitute important political actors in the country. They need to be assisted to resolve their internal disputes and to engage in dialogue with each other.
One of the most important roles for the United Nations to play is to promote dialogue among groups within each region of the country and to help build trust among opposing groups. The United Nations has not been as energetic and effective in promoting dialogue among opposing groups and factions as it needs to be if political reconciliation is to be achieved.
One of the purposes of this dialogue should be to identify and encourage leadership potential, and these new leaders could include clan leaders, religious leaders, professional and business people, women, and others.
Dialogue across regional lines can come after reconciliation advances further within regions.
Postpone Consideration of the Question of One State or Two
Within the group, some believe that Somalia's long-term interest will best be served by having a single state and others believe that two states should exist, dividing the north from the rest of the country. Others believe the best approach is a confederation between north and south. But the group agreed that this question need not be a preoccupying issue at this moment, since the survival of the Somali people takes priority. Feeding the people, providing security and promoting reconciliation are the urgent tasks.
The long-term outcome in terms of the character of the state or states should be decided by democratic processes, with the people of the north enjoying the right of self- determination.
Within the single-state option, there are various forms of government that could be adopted to recognize regional differences and the strong desire for local control. Various federal or con-federal arrangements can be considered. But these questions are of secondary importance at the moment.
Copies of the Institute's Report on Somalia are available from the Institute at 1550 M Street N.W., Suite 700, Washington, DC 20005-1708; phone (202) 457-1700.
From AFRICA NEWS, December 21, 1992-January 3, 1993