Somalia: UN Monitoring Group On Somalia and Eritrea - Who Watches the Watchmen?

Eritrean soldiers.
2 August 2012

Part of the UN Monitoring Group's report seems politicised and, given past evidence, its claims should be approached with some scepticism.

Yesterday, the UN Security Council met to discuss Somalia, with the latest report by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea a focal point of discussion. Since its inception, the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea has been subject to heavy criticism and the group has often failed to substantiate its claims. In this latest report, seemingly a mixture of innuendo and half-truths, a handful of officials and presidential candidates from Somalia's past and present are condemned.

In the absence of clear evidence to the contrary, none of the accusations should be dismissed. However, they should certainly not be taken at face value. On past evidence, the monitoring group's reports should be approached with a healthy dose of scepticism.

In its 2006 report, for example, the monitoring group made two rather odd claims which were seemingly designed to pave the way for Ethiopia's invasion and occupation of Somalia. They claimed that al-Shabaab, the Sunni militant group, had exported 720 of its fighters to help Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia nationalists, in its fight against Israel. They also claimed that Iranian scientists were mining uranium for their nuclear programme in Dhusamareeb. These claims were used to justify the funding of Ethiopia's military project in Somalia.

The contents of the report

Despite piecemeal gains, institutionalised corruption and nepotism is alive and well in Somalia. After five decades after independence, Somalia has still yet to develop an effective check on central power and clans compete for exclusive rights to various government ministries. These issues need to be addressed, but the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea seems to be going about this the wrong way.

Much of its latest report - which comes out just a few weeks before Somalia's planned emergence from a long period of official transition on August 20 - is neutral and insightful. However, a large segment is heavily politicised.

It seems the group's focus has changed. No longer so concerned with the new constitution, Somali sovereignty, or the unaccountability of NGOs in Somalia, the group now appears preoccupied with $130 million that seems to have gone missing since 2000. These are serious revelations and, if proven correct, will represent strong grounds for prosecution.

More broadly, the report directly condemns various members of the current and previous transitional governments for the misappropriation of public financial resources. The accusations are based on claims made by two disgruntled employees who were both sacked recently and the report ignores the circumstances in which these employees gave testimony. When it comes to incriminating or condemning people based on unsubstantiated individual testimonies or that of an entity, credibility should be the determining factor. It seems, therefore, reprehensible that on such evidence, the report should recommend the UN Security Council take punitive action against these accused officials.

On the subject of Eritrea, the report largely exonerates the country of claims it has illegally supplied al-Shabaab with shipments of weapons. The report concludes that "The Monitoring Group received no credible reports or evidence of assistance from Eritrea to armed opposition groups in Somalia during the course of the mandate". However, the report goes on to state that the Eritrea maintains "relations with known arms dealers in Somalia and has violated the arms embargo during the course of the mandate by its support for Ethiopian armed opposition groups passing through Somali territory".

Watching the watchmen

Weeding corrupt officials out of the political system is in Somalia's best interests. However, these are matters that Somalia must investigate and pursue on its own. If the end of the transitional period means that Somalia is able to reclaim its lost sovereignty and handle its own affairs, then the new parliament should take responsibility for these matters.

Moreover, the promotion of good governance and the protection of revenues and donated funds would be better served by urging the Security Council to demand that "ghost-lords" - international actors with vested interests - and all UN agencies tasked with providing services to Somalia open their books and list all projects they have completed in Somalia.

The report has nothing to say about the laboratory of international corruption in Nairobi that profoundly hinders any significant progress in Somalia. It says nothing about almost $1 billion per year squandered in Nairobi that the Transitional Federal Government has no say or knowledge as to how, when, and where it is spent. The allegations in the report are based solely on monies collected or promised to the government on a bilateral basis.

It is also interesting to note that the movement against corruption started soon after officials within the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) requested UN agencies to open their books and hired an independent firm to conduct general audit and administer forensic accounting to reclaim Somalia's assets in various Western banks.

It is about time the Security Council reconsiders the absolute power invested in the monitoring group. It is time to "police the police" or monitor the monitoring group, especially given that it has full immunity from lawsuits for the untruths they occasionally propagate, not to mention defamations and character assassinations. It is time for the Security Council to start protecting its own integrity.

Abukar Arman is Somali Special Envoy to the United States. Before his current role, Arman was a widely published political analyst and a community advocate. His focus is post civil-war Somalia, Islam, and US foreign policy toward Africa and Middle East. Arman is also one of Ohio Humanities Council's lecturers. Follow him on twitter @AkbarArman.

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