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Special Report
Last Updated: 07/14/2012
Somalia: Post-transitional Political Fault Lines
Abukar Arman

Somalia Special Envoy Abukar Arman reports on public perceptions of government in Somalia, the many challenges facing the states and communities in the region, and the threat of violence emanating from the fault lines of religion, ethnicity, economics, and nationalism.


Internally—where it matters the most—the overall status of a government is judged by how the average citizen perceives it. From that perspective, and due to a number of factors, in Somalia not much has changed in the past three decades since the military government went astray.

Still the average Somali sees his/her government as the archetype of power abuse, the magnet of demagoguery, the personification of partisanship, the agents of disunity, the epitome of incompetence, the exploiters of resources, the executioners of injustice, the promoters of corruption, the purveyors of propaganda, the distorters and manipulators nationalism, of duty, of citizenship, and mutual interest!

Therefore, aside from reinforcing the ongoing security improvement and the reconciliation process, the post-transitional government must craft a viable strategy to change the said perception by reforming the function of the government and transforming the Somali society- politically, socially, and economically.

Granted, transformation is not a random act! It is driven by vision; by specific viable goals and objectives articulated and implemented by transformational leaders who are willing to sacrifice their personal interests, their wealth, their reputations, and, when necessary, their lives. It is by no means an easy task, nor is it one without any obstacles and threats. There are certain dangerous faults within the Somali political crust that cannot be ignored. Of course, some are more dangerous than others. Meanwhile, al-Shabaab is likely to remain in the periphery and wait for the right opportunity.

The Blinding Effect of Clan-centrism: Though things have been getting better, it is no secret that claism still remains the most vibrant ideology that fuels the Somali political machine. It is a vicious zero-sum game in which the individual or the group sees the others’ gain as a loss and vice versa. Regardless of how abundant resources are, others should always be kept at a disadvantaged or an inferior position. This cruel mentality that gained prominence in post-civil war Somalia is best described by this fable. Satan visits a villager in his home. The former says to the latter “I came to offer you a gift. Ask me anything good or bad and I shall give it to you, on the condition that I will give your neighbor double of the same request.” Knowing his neighbor is from another clan, the villager thought for a second, then leaned forward to Satan while saying, “Here, poke one of my eyes out gently, but make sure you poke out both eyes of my neighbor as painfully as you can.” In recent years, people with such mentalities have been carving and re-carving their own clan-based fiefdoms, thus setting the stage for perpetual zero-sum conflicts over power and resources.

Armed youth in Somalia. Photo from The Prisma

Certain Self-defeating Frame of Mind: If one’s action is determined by one’s interest and frame of mind and if all political entities are made of assortments of individuals of mutual interests, the growing attitude in certain circles that the end of the transitional period (Aug 20, 22012) is “Xilligii kala guurka” or “Time to part-ways” ought to be a matter of concern. In a clearly coordinated effort to inculcate certain attitude of apathy toward nationhood and de-synthesize certain nationalistic sensitivities, the said phrase became the motto of a number of politicians and media groups. Make no mistake, language matters… especially in politics.

Influence of External Predators: These are primarily front-line states such as Ethiopia and Kenya who may have certain security related concerns, whose political gaming intentions are thinly veiled. States who use their organized military machines, intelligences, and individual political hit-men to manipulate the clan balance of power in certain regions to advance their own strategic or proxy geopolitical objectives.

Command and Control Challenge: While the Somali National Army (SNA) is being rebuilt with snail-pace urgency due to (among other things) lack or resources, friendly militia groups such Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama’ah (ASWJ), the Ras Kamboni, Azania, and a few others exist and operate outside the official central command. Some of these militia groups are better equipped and more funded than the SNA.

Security or Private Contractors: The biggest problem is regulating their conduct or keeping these contractors in check, especially now that the international anti-mercenary laws are all but defunct. As it was proven in Sierra Leone and other parts of the world, these kinds of contractors operate with great impunity while they engage in various outlawed operations such as arms trafficking and serving as a proxy war machine in favor of one domestic contender or another.

US Drone Attack Campaign: Continuation of these attacks that in addition to its targets kill, maim, and terrorize local villagers could set the stage for what could be called a Pakistan Syndrome that would galvanize public outrage both toward the US and the government, never mind the propaganda ammunitions that it could lend al-Shabaab.

Influence of the Ghost-lords: This group is a combination of certain elements within the International Community and a network of Nairobi-based Mafia types made of international institutions and NGOs who are determined to see an entity they routinely refer to as “South Central Somalia” to adopt its own constitution, hence the end of a nation-state called Somalia! “The adoption of the provisional constitution will indeed be a watershed,” writes Ambassador Augustine Mahiga, the UN Special Representative to Somalia, in a letter addressing the Somali people. Expectedly, Ambassador Mahiga does not explain the urgency driving the adoption of a constitution that does not unequivocally assert the territorial boundaries of Somalia or the legal geographical space in which that law would reign supreme, in the worldly sense. Mind you, Somalia already has a democratic constitution that was ratified in 1961. But, to claim this, according to Ambassador Mahiga, is to turn into a “Spoiler” to the peace process and as such your assets could be frozen and your name could be submitted to the International Criminal Court. Seriously! However, in fairness to the Ghost-lords, they are not the only group pushing the new constitution. There are regional and national politicians with myopic interests who joined the bandwagon for political expediency.

Domestic Profiteers and Corporate Freeloaders: The former being men who, through their fluid businesses or “NGOs”, callously benefited from the status quo and the lawlessness of the past two decades. The latter being unregulated business conglomerates that grew exponentially in the past two decades. While all are presumably in legal businesses, none have been paying taxes or have on their own been assisting the public sector in providing essential services.

The Lower Jubba Enigma: It brings together two of the front-line states, and several militia groups all with competing zero-sum interests. Adding a layer of complexity to the matter, in what seems like a haphazard effort to establish new facts on the ground before the end of the transitional period, representatives from a few of the interest groups met and signed a document declaring what they describe as a new state, the Jubbaland State.

Potential Religious War: The more Kenya continues its controversial involvement in Somalia and insists on illegally claiming part of the Somali continental shelf, the more likely it would exacerbate the newly ignited religious sensitivities in Kenya. The world has seen the preview of such scenario during the recent atrocious attacks of two Christian churches in Garissa, Kenya. Thank God this one was defused by the local Christian and Muslim leadership who had good relationship, instinct, and prudence. Muslim volunteers were assigned to guard all the churches in Garissa to send a clear message to the extremists. Kenya has about three million citizens from Somali ethnic background, and several hundred refugees.

In spite all threats emanating from these fault lines, reform and transformation campaign that is beyond mere “perception management” must be launched. However, as a fragile state, the post-transitional government would need, among other things, collective vigilance- internally and externally.

Abukar Arman is Somalia Special Envoy to the United States and a widely published analyst.


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