Somalia, New Deal And The Curse Of ‘Community Self-Governance’ – OpEd


On July 21, I tweeted the following reflection: “A society can govern itself with custom instead of modern law, tribal system instead of government; (however) it cannot ride both horses at the same time.” Reacting to that old tweet, a few days ago, I received a one-liner e-mail that read “We must be doing well riding both horses!” and an attachment of a beautiful picture from Brussels which captured the magnificent event recently organized by EU called the New Deal.

I hope I am wrong. I hope that latest conference and the pledged $2.4 billion would solve all of Somalia’s problems. I hope it would help pull together our nation’s disconnected pieces and convince its many exploiters that people can no longer be fooled to think that Balkanized clan-driven fiefdoms constitute community self-governance. And as I have argued before, uniformly, beneath the democratic and pluralistic veneer, each of these self-governing political entities is a clan-based power concentration and selectively enjoy all the privileges that come with it.

Can the New Deal Avoid the Failed Model?

The old model to channel aid funds is not only a failure; it is one of the main factors contributing to the rampancy of corruption in Somalia. Donor nations would pool their dollars through an international institution, which then would commission certain number of its agencies to carry out certain assignments. These agencies then contract foreign NGOs who, supposedly, have the means to deliver services. Triggering snow-balling effect of administrative costs, these NGOs subcontract other NGOs; each getting its cut without delivering any of the assigned services. On a recent interview, Mohamed Ahmed Nur (Tarzan) –the Mayor of Mogadishu—said, “If I request computers from the UN, they will take months and require a number of assessments. They will spend $50,000 to give me $7,000 of equipment. If I request computers from Turkey, they will show up next week.”

No scrutiny, no accountability, no shame! That is why there isn’t a single hospital, school, or a road that can be attributed to donations from the international community in Somalia.

A Different World

Somalia’s multifaceted tragic suffering that pushed that nation’s political and social structure to the lowest common denominator (clan) has coincided with a moment in history in which certain fragile and failed nation-states were placed on the proverbial conveyer belt for restructuring, and when capitalism has had successive failures. In various intellectual circles in the West, the viability of the nation-state concept is being questioned if not challenged. Not simply states’ sovereignty on matters pertaining to their internal affairs but how globalization and the new economic appetite demand fundamental restructuring of states.

‘As an obsolete political construct, the nation-state concept could (and in some cases such as Somalia, Iraq and Syria should) be structurally redefined’ so goes the argument.

Meanwhile, the fastest growing economic model is predatory capitalism that operates in the dark by avoiding the conventional method of dealing within state structured policies, licensing and regulations. Predatory capitalism is already colorfully operational in Somalia. As a Johnny-come-lately that managed to walk away with the most coveted deal. Soma Oil and Gas Exploration (SOGE) led by British Baron and Former Tory party leader Michael Howard might be the latest example. SOGE is a skeleton exploration company that has no assets, track record or expertise. Like most of these predators, it is technically registered in the Virgin Islands in order to avoid financial and ethical scrutiny as well as potential legal entanglements. Sadly, Somalia provides the right space and environment for domestic and foreign economic predators to operate and breed.

Symbol and Substance

Yes, symbolism does matter in politics- especially in diplomacy. However, at this critical juncture in its history, Somalia does not have the luxury to trade substantive issues for symbolic gestures. Before coming to accept the New Deal Compact, the Somali government was pressured to take care of, among other things, a political ticking bomb known then as Jubbaland. Against that backdrop and time pressure, Ethiopia has offered a formula for reconciliation express- an offer that neither the Somali government nor Jubbaland (Jubba) President who was promised an invitation to the conference could refuse. While this outcome has immediately received praises from the US, UN, EU, etc. any objective observer can see that this did not only undermine the importance of Somali reconciliation, it created another layer of hostility for the government. Feeling thrown under the bus by the government, an entire clan with its Parliament members and traditional elders has become hostile opposition to the government. They vowed to follow the footsteps of Jubbaland (Jubba Administration Initiative since the “peace agreement”). Already, government officials are barred from entering in territories that that clan considers its own. It should surprise no one if soon another reconciliation express is offered by Ethiopia or Kenya.

Continually Being Dual-Tracked

The US Dual-track policy (adopted by the international community, save Turkey) continues being the most potent enabler to myopic political actors who are keen to keep Somalia divided and seem to be addicted to the title “President”. Three Somali leaders with such title have been invited to the New Deal conference as Somaliland’s has opted out.

That said, it was very encouraging to read this particular sentence in the US State Department’s latest statement on Somalia “We are committed to working with the Somali people and the Federal Government of Somalia to improve the lives of everyday Somalis, and enhancing our diplomatic and development relationships.” Decrypting political double-speak still remains a serious challenge. Though this may not ascertain a policy change, it does indeed lend certain level of hope.

If everything in politics was always exactly as they seem, then the name would’ve in fact been a misnomer. Somalia can bounce back only when domestic revenues and international aid monies used to provide direct services; when local contractors and service providers with good standing are empowered, and when leadership accepts that genuine reconciliation is the missing link. So long as Somalis remain divided, they (in their fiefdoms) would keep attracting the most ferocious predators.

Abukar Arman

Abukar Arman is the author of "Broken Camel Bells: Somalia Age of Terrorism," and is a foreign policy analyst and a former diplomat. On Twitter: @4DialogSK

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