If I could think of any tactfully discreet and diplomatically clear way to describe the outcome of the 15th Extraordinary Session of the IGAD Assembly of Heads of State and Government on Somalia without compromising the essence of my message, I would simply choose that approach. Therefore, going crude is the appropriate way:
As a patched-up political charade destined to embolden the very extremist elements that it is intended to subdue and push Somalia deep into anarchy and destruction, the resolution passed in that session is haphazardly imprudent and wildly dangerous.
IGAD was right in describing Somalia’s still-raging political fire as a situation likely to pose a serious threat to the stability of the region and perhaps beyond. However, IGAD is wrong in hastily approving the sending of troops from the “frontline states” to Somalia despite the fact that the UN Resolution 1725 bans the deployment of any troops from bordering states. IGAD is planning to immediately send 2,000 troops and possibly add another 15,000 at a later date.
This, needless to say, means that Ethiopian troops would inevitably be part and parcel of the first contingent, the latter, or all. After all, in the Horn, in terms of military might, experience, and political clout, Ethiopia holds unmistakable distinction that could even guarantee her the AMISOM command.
Already, in an action item that is bound to undermine the credibility of AMISOM and confuse its command center, IGAD directed its Secretariat to open an office in Mogadishu within 15 days. The purpose of this office is described as “(to) enable AMISOM and IGAD establish in Mogadishu an operational level coordination mechanism to strengthen and harmonize their support to the Transitional Federal Government in the areas of training, establishment of command and control structure.”
Evidently, this swift move comes at a time when in the US consensus favoring a policy toward Somalia that is based on constructive engagement instead of the “constructive disengagement” that was being pushed by some analysts is gaining momentum. Unlike the failed policy of the previous administration that was entirely based on counter-terrorism and military power, the soon-to-be-announced policy of the current administration is expected to rely on soft power and building relationships.
More strangely, the IGAD move comes at a time when the TFG has successfully expanded the areas that it controls in Mogadishu, and the Somali diaspora is vigorously pushing the TFG toward dialogue and reconciliation.
The timing does indeed raise certain questions, if not suspicions.
The wounds from the brutal two-year Ethiopian occupation that killed over 20,000 Somalis and gave al-Shabaab its current status are still nightmarishly fresh. Mind you, the current TFG is a coalition government made of those who ushered in Ethiopia and those who resisted the occupation. However, it is no secret that this coalition is already hanging from a cliff as a number of cabinet members representing the Islamist side have been killed, sacked, or pressured out since the Djibouti agreement.
The scale is clearly lopsided as individual ministers regardless of their competence and productivity were unabashedly replaced in the recent controversial TFG reshuffle while other questionable characters are awarded key positions. And as the argument goes: two decades later, Ethiopia still micromanages Somalia’s internal political affairs as it became apparent in the TFG agreement with the ever-morphing Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah.
Understandably Ethiopia has certain security concerns; and these concerns should be addressed through the appropriate channels. It is in the best interest of Somalia to forge peace treaty reflecting national and regional security threats and the future economic opportunities with Ethiopia and other neighbors. However, Somalia should allow no foreign entities — states or non-states — to exploit its weak position and dictate their political wish list to it or infringe on its sovereignty.
In fairness, however, Ethiopia is not the only potential impediment to sustaining the Djibouti agreement and paving the way for lasting peace and reconciliation. Bloody-handed Somalis still continue to position against one another for zero-sum gains.
At the end of the day, it is the Somalis who would have to learn at this time of great adversity to make peace with one another, and make space for one another.
So, internally, it is time to raise the bar, though nothing of significance could happen until our human capacity and attitudes are profoundly improved; and that may not happen until something extraordinary that would compel the Somali Diaspora to reconnect with its homeland emerges.
Meanwhile, as a profoundly brain-drained nation, Somalia is still struggling to learn that nations, just like individuals, are treated in ways that are equal to the self-respect that they demonstrate. And, so long as those who grab power (or are entrusted with) continue to fall over each other into the very condition that ultimately humiliates their persons and subjugates their country, business will continue as usual.
Finally, though arming one faction against another might create a temporary advantage to one group or another, it does not produce a viable long-term security and lasting peace. Therefore, continued exploitation and indeed subjugation of Somalia can only prolong the bloodshed and misery. And under such condition, neither Somalia, nor the region, nor the community of nations that rely economically on the Indian Ocean and Red Sea could benefit in the long run.
Abukar Arman is Somalia’s Special Envoy to the United States.