UN corrupts Somali political transition

The Somali people desperately need miracles, as they hope for peace and an accountable government in their land.

Somalia''s President Sheik Sharif Ahmed
The Somali Transitional Federal Government, headed by President Sheik Sharif Ahmed, expires in August [Reuters]

For over the two decades, sectarian Somali leaders and their international patrons dominated political transitions in the country. The end results of these affairs have been perpetual political instability, endless violence and the misery for the population without any one being held accountable.

Another transition is looming and the UN which is midwifing the process is enabling several Somali actors to gerrymander the process in order to predetermine the outcome to their advantage. The question that most Somalis are asking is: why is the UN’s Special Representative (SR) who dominates the process allowing sectarian agendas to control the transition and reproduce the mess?

This essay attempts to map this odious affair as it unfolds in Mogadishu. It demonstrates how the UN and its corrupt Somali partners are working the system to fabricate an outcome that will reproduce incompetence potentially stoking violence between and among communities.

Ending the long transition?

The life of the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG), ends in August 2012 and is to be replaced by a post-transitional order. Since the African Union military force (AMISOM) controls a small but growing section of the country, it is not feasible to conduct national elections which can morally sanction the formation of a new political system. Consequently, the TFG and SR have invented a process that they hope will usher in a new era that reflects their own ambitions.

This process guided by what they call the Road Map (RM) was thoughtlessly concocted and consists of the following steps:

(a) completion of draft constitution by the UN;

(b) formation and empowerment of the so-called seven signatories;

(c) selection of ‘traditional elders’ as foundational anchor of the new dispensation;

(d) convening of national constituent assembly to sanction the draft constitution;

(e) selection of members of parliament; and

(f) the election and appointment of a new speaker of parliament, president and prime minister.

The completion of these six steps is supposed to mark the end of Somalia’s permanent transition and lead to a new dawn of peace and stability that gives hope to an exhausted population. I proffer that this seemingly orderly process is deeply flawed and might not overcome the problems that have bedeviled the decade long transitional period.

Somalia prepares for elections

The foundation of any peaceful and democratic political order is the legitimacy of the means used to establish national institutions. A key item in such an endeavour is the drafting and adoption of a constitution. In Somalia, this process has been completely dominated by the Nairobi-based UNDP offices. Although the TFG presumably has selected the constitutional commission, it is the UNDP that laid out the outlines of the constitutional framework and which has selected and employed the drafters.

The product of this process is a constitutional draft which enfeebles the capacity and authority of the national government and that gives unprecedented authority to the provinces in such a way that the latter will have the power to set their own foreign policy and veto any major initiative of the national government. The rationale behind such a constitutional architecture is the wrong-headed presumption that Somalis are by nature tribalistically myopic and dislike centralised authority even if that is democratic.

Whatever the quality of this draft constitution is, it appears that the TFG leaders and their international associates do not want the Somali people and their legitimate representative to have any say about it. In this manner, Somalia’s current transition leaders are willing to trade the cause of their country and people in the hope that their pliancy will carry favour with key international actors and ensure their reappointment as Somali leaders.

Corrupting the reform

The first step in this new strategy was to disband the Transitional Federal parliament because the SR decided that it was a major obstacle to realising the objectives of his Road Map. Since AMISOM controls security in Mogadishu and the UN paid the salaries of MPs, it was easy to “dissolve” parliament. The inter-governmental regional organisation, IGAD, then authorised the TFG president to run the country by decree.

With the dismissal of parliament came the demise of the Transitional Federal Charter which was the national legal document that was supposed to govern the transitional process. Consequently, the SR and his international backers concocted a new organ called the signatories which they hope would provide legitimacy for the process. Among the signatories are: the SR, the TFG President, TFG Prime Minister, Speaker of defunct parliament, the Puntland leader, a representative of a political/religious sect called Ahlu Sunna and the self-appointed head of an area called Gulmudug.

The African Union, IGAD, the UN and major international actors immediately endorsed this outfit without any regard for the wishes of the Somali people. The paradox is that the international guardians of democracy were not troubled by the fact that the signatories minus the SR had already declared their intention to lead the post-transition regime. Allowing the signatories to manage the change is tantamount to them being judge and jury.

As the end of the transitional period approaches the process of sanctioning the draft constitution is being rushed through. Under the discarded transitional charter, parliament had the power to sanction or reject any major changes to the transitional order, but the signatories now run the show. In the absence of the parliament, the SR and his collaborators realised the need to invent a new mechanism that could provide legitimacy for their agenda: the elders and the constituent assembly.

The SR called for a new Council of “traditional leaders” to represent the population during the last days of this period and declared that the elders were the legitimate voice of the population and have the moral authority to anchor the emerging political dispensation. Subsequently, the TFG leaders developed the list of traditional leaders despite the fact that it was widely known that the former were committed to reproduce themselves in power.

It is puzzling to understand why the SR could not see the conflict of interest involved in having the TFG steward the very process which they hope would reappoint them. Be that as it may, the list of names of the elders was developed although there is some disagreement among genealogical communities regarding who is being represented and who has been left in the cold.

As a result of this design, the TFG leaders immediately gained an advantage in shaping the elder’s political outlook, particularly since it was possible for the leaders to replace individual elders who were found to be insufficiently pliant. I know of at least five elders who were replaced because they were “deemed” to be of the wrong political persuasion.

Thereafter, the elders were isolated in a base in Mogadishu and the TFG leaders and the SR are the only individuals who have access to them. Other Somali political actors who plan to challenge the TFG for the post-transitional leadership have so far being shunned.

Responsibilities of the elders

Among the responsibilities of the elders are to oversee the vetting of the draft constitution and then select the new members of parliament. Because of the enormity of the power ceded to them access to the elders has become a major issue of contention. It is common knowledge in Mogadishu that many elders have received money, other gifts, and promise of more largesse if they nominate the “right” MPs.

The elders recognised their newly found power and began to take some political initiative. First, they have demanded that a separate chamber of parliament for the elders be created. Second, being the “representative of the people” they declared their intent to review and amend the draft constitution before it could be forwarded to the constituent assembly.

At this stage, the SR panicked that the elders might affect certain reforms which the international packers of the draft constitution covet. Consequently, he scorned them that such a demand exceeds their mandate and they would not be allowed to alter the draft charter. Reprimanded, many elders realised they had a limited shelf life only to be discarded when they performed the tasks assigned to them. As a result, they slowed down the nomination process to thwart any swift attempts to undermine their role.

In addition, the elders were empowered to nominate all the 825 individual member of the constituent assembly whose sole responsibility was to approve the draft constitution. Each member of the elders had the responsibility of naming the number of assembly members from their genealogical group.

UN seeks to avoid power vaccum in Somalia

Since each elder’s own knowledge of all the competent and qualified members of his community was limited, other interested parties developed lists and handed them over to the elders which make the process ripe for abuse. The nomination of the assembly members is subject to further gerrymandering as those who control the purse can block nominated individuals by not providing them with plane tickets or transport fees to get to Mogadishu, and then replace them with preferred candidates.

Finally, another task for the elders is to appoint members of parliament representing their communities. This duty is exceptionally contentious because there have been no discussions among the genealogical communities pertaining to the political orientation of their people. Because of the transformation of cultural identity into political identity the elders have gained unparalleled political power in the nation’s history.

Given the absence of a mechanism for keeping the elders accountable the political process is subject to exploitation. There are already clear signs that corrupt means have being used to seduce the elders to do certain things. For example, the TFG leaders are the only political actors who have access to the elders and credible reports indicate that the former are using their ill-gotten money to woo the elders with cash and gifts if they nominate to parliament individuals who support them.

If this corruption is not checked it is highly likely that the new parliament could very well reproduce ineptitude and corruption that could dwarf current malfeasances. Further, gerrymandering the appointment of MPs could easily foster conflict between various groups within genealogical groups that could ignite new violence.

Once MPs are appointed, then parliament will be convened to elect its speaker, other officers and finally, the President of the Somali Republic. A sordid market has developed for parliamentary votes in which those who are competing for speaker, president and prime minister will spend phenomenal amounts of money to buy MPs’ votes.

By far the biggest bidders are the current TFG president, speaker and prime minister who have amassed substantial cash since they came to power. The puzzle is that despite the common knowledge of this market, neither the SR nor other international actors have raised a whisper about such corruption. The Somali saying that “Qaalin xaaraanihi niriq xalaaala madhasho” (a stolen she camel is incapable of producing a legitimate offspring) aptly fits the circumstance.

Striving for a miracle

Rarely do miracles happen in the world of politics, but the Somali people desperately need one since the TFG leaders, the UN, AU and IGAD conspire to destroy Somalis’ hope for peace and an accountable government in their land.

Notwithstanding these odds, faithful people are relentlessly working to change the course of history for the better while they pray for a miracle. The Somali civic movement is engaged in such a struggle and is striving for a miracle under horrific circumstances, but their efforts are continuously undermined by regional and international actors who seem to relish the humiliation of the Somali.

Conceiving and executing a corrupt political process designed to disable the Somali people, the UN strategy makes mockery of the high democratic and humanitarian ideals international actors claim to cherish and could very well instigate a new wave of violence. Let us hope that the civics miraculously triumph and human dignity restored.

Abdi Ismail Samatar is a Professor of Geography at the University of Minnesota & Research Fellow at the University of Pretoria, South Africa.