Though Somalia is coveted for its strategic location and huge marine resources, it remains one of the largely unstable and underdeveloped countries in Africa. With its longest coastline, bordering Ethiopia to the west, Kenya to the southwest and the Gulf of Eden, it has attracted many foreign countries to the region.
Over the years, Somalia has been in quest of political stability, peaceful investment environment and sustainable development. There have been attempts to help the country establish its political institutions and structure political power. In 1991, for instance, a multi-phased international conference on Somalia was held in neighbouring Djibouti.
The Djibouti conference was followed by two abortive agreements for national reconciliation and disarmament, which were signed by 15 political stakeholders: an agreement to hold an Informal Preparatory Meeting on National Reconciliation and the 1993 Addis Ababa Agreement made at the Conference on National Reconciliation.
The Transitional Federal Government (TFG) was the internationally recognized government of Somalia until August 20, 2012, when its tenure officially ended. As part of the official “Roadmap for the End of Transition”, a political process that provided clear benchmarks leading toward the formation of permanent democratic institutions in Somalia.
The end of the interim mandate of the Transitional Federal Government was followed by the inauguration of the Federal Government of Somalia. By 2014, Somalia was no longer at the top of the fragile states index, dropping to second place behind South Sudan.
That said, Somalia with an estimated population of around 15 million inhabitants in 2018, still has a long way towards establishing solid institutions, address current challenges and engage in sustainable development.
In an email interview with IDN, Abukar Arman, who served as Somalia’s Special Envoy to the United States and writes on geopolitics of the region, talks about the current challenges and the way forward.
Here are the excerpts:
IDN: What do you consider as the main challenges facing Somalia today?
Abukar Arman (AA): Contrary to the common perception, it is neither al-Shabaab nor insecurity as these are symptoms. The real challenge facing Somalia today is lack of visionary leaders with a strategy that does not put the card before the horse; leaders who understand that political legitimacy does not come from a foreign endorsement, but from genuine reconciliation.
There is also a lack of checks and balances as the federal parliament is virtually coopted and a constitutional court (supreme court). In addition to all these, there is the rampancy of corruption and the threat of insecurity. As if all these are not enough, there is also those foreign elements that are getting more emboldened as Somalia continues on current helplessly exposed trajectory.
IDN: Why there are rising criticisms about its failure to maintain good relations with it neighbours in the Horn of Africa?
AA: I assume you are referring to Ethiopia and Kenya since Somalia never had an issue with Djibouti before. In the initial phase of the civil war, Ethiopia and Kenya have helped settle fleeing Somalis as refugees in their respective countries, but, as Somalia’s conflict remained protracted, these initially good Samaritans have turned into exploiters.
They played a key role in keeping Somalia in systemic disarray and, in due course, evolve into clan-based federalism or ‘clanistans’ that don’t trust one another. They continue to periodically stir the domestic affairs’ pot. A good example is the Federal Government of Somalia’s recent deadly clashes with Jubbaland where many lives were lost and much destruction occurred. Ethiopia was backing the federal government and Kenya was backing Jubbaland. Good relation is a two-way street.
IDN: What are the narratives and the reasons for underdevelopment in the country? What official policies there are focusing at addressing these sustainable development goals?
AA: Eight years after emerging out of the ‘transitional period, the country is yet to have a national currency and collect taxes. Under such circumstances, it is impossible to build nationally economy and to emerge out the dependency condition. As a result, Somalia still remains under the tutelage of foreign donors who fund mostly symbolic or unsustainable projects. To this day, there are no policies to put said priorities in place. Meanwhile, the US dollar remains the official currency in a country where the average household makes three or so dollars per day.
IDN: Do you envisage women playing roles in forging peace and contributing to development in Somalia? How are these women empowered in the country?
AA: Somali women are the most underused potential when it comes to advancing genuine reconciliation and sustainable peace. They and the Somali children are the segment of the population who has been suffering the most under the status quo. Though the Somali tradition does not grant space to women in peace-making processes, it constitutionally secures them a significant space in the political space. A glaring irony is due to the funders’ demands.
IDN: Are rising Islamic attacks and human rights violations becoming thorny issues in Somalia?
AA: I am not sure what you mean by “rising Islamic attacks”. If you are referring to al-Shabaab and other actors of various motives that have been committing terrorist acts, they have a negative impact on the national security, economy, politics and they have been making the government more dependent on foreign troops. More Somalis have been victims of terrorism under the current government than all the previous ones combined. And the way things are going, there is no solution in sight. The government has been heavily relying on US drone attacks that have been making things worse.
IDN: What external countries are showing keen interest or are already active in Somalia, as it is strategically located and has huge marine resources?
AA: In addition to Ethiopia and Kenya, there are countries such as U.S., UK, UAE, Qatar, Turkey, Norway and a host of other countries. The list continues to grow as Somalia remains the epicentre of global geopolitical and geo-economic competition. Some of the major ones are in a cut-throat competition that further complicates the Somalia conundrum.
IDN: What are the government’s expectations from external actors and investors?
AA: The current government has the right rhetoric to attract foreign investors, but I am not sure if the investors they have been attracting are the kind that generates jobs for the roughly 70% of the adult population who are unemployed or if they are the kind that would generate significant revenues for the government. Most of them are purveyors of corruption who show up for one type of exploitation or another.