Thursday, 23 February 2017

SOMALIA: The New President's Challenges

The inauguration of a new president in Somalia  has given rise to greater optimism about the country's prospects than at any other time in the past two decades. Somalia's new President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed inaugural ceremony took place yesterday in the highly secured airport, in the presence of several regional leaders.

The election of Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, a former prime minister (2010-2011), sparked elation in a country desperate for an end to decades of conflict and anarchy. But he warned the country that there would be no quick fixes.

Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed's biggest challenge, would be reconciling Somali different clans, improving law and order, justice system, and rebuilding the army, capable of replacing the African Union, AMISOM peacekeeping force, which plans to withdraw in 2018.

Somalia has not had an effective central government since the collapse of Siad Barre's military regime in 1991, which led to decades of civil war and lawlessness fuelled by clan conflicts. The terrorist group ''Shabab'' was forced out the capital by African Union troops in 2011 but the jihadists still control parts of the countryside and carry out attacks against government, military and civilian targets in Mogadishu.

Somalia is never free from violent attacks. The country has been devastated by more than two decades of civil war and foreign interventions. One million people have been internally displaced and more than a million have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.

According to UN report, more than 300,000 people died in the famine of 2011-12, half of them children under five. This was even more than the number that perished in the famine of 1992. More than 6 million are in need of life-saving assistance. While the region suffered one of the worst droughts in over 50 years in the whole of Africa, Oxfam attributed the deaths to “catastrophic political failure.”

Britain, as the former colonial power in Kenya, Uganda, Sudan and breakaway Somaliland, has played a major role in Somalia due to its desire to secure its share of the region’s natural resources. London has been pushing Somalia to accept autonomy for about half a dozen of Somalia’s fiefdoms, each with different regional backing. This would be in addition to the breakaway states of Somaliland and Puntland that are not internationally recognized, and would cantonize the country.

The US has recognised the new government. The IMF is expected to follow suit but since Somalia owes the Fund more than $352 million this will not bring new funding. The UN is also expected to lift its arms embargo, its oldest international arms blockade, sanctioning the supply of small arms to the new government. Britain has just reopened its embassy in Mogadishu, the first EU country to do so.

The turn by the major and regional powers to Somalia is made in an effort to counter the influence of their rivals, most notably China. Somalia has a more than 1,000-mile long coastline opposite Yemen on the Bab al-Mandab Strait, through which 23,000 ships transit every year carrying nearly $1 trillion worth of trade, most crucially oil, to and from Europe.

In addition to its own potential oil resources, Somalia’s strategic position places it at the heart of a projected pipeline network to bring oil from South Sudan to the soon-to-be expanded Kenyan port of Lamu, south of the border with Somalia. Another pipeline would link it to an oil refinery in Kampala, Uganda, which has recently started producing oil. A further pipeline will link the Kenyan capital Nairobi with Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, providing Ethiopia with another export route for oil from the Ogaden region bordering Somalia.

For the foreseeable future, the state will be wholly dependent on military support and intervention provided by external parties- for some whom the paramount concern is their own national security interest. While this should not preclude ambition, and may hope that Somalia can assume responsibility for maintaining internal peace sooner than is commonly envisaged; It also a reminder of prevailing realities.

Immensely patient, even-handed negotiation and a consensual approach will be required if a new Somali State is to emerge and meld. Tactless diplomacy and interventions by foreign governments and UN agencies, of which there have been a number, need to be kept to minimum. The new Mogadishu government is in no position to consolidate power; It will be facing a battle for survival.

The new president has little concrete to say about how it was going to alleviate the dreadful poverty and social problems the country faces. Any progress in improving the lot of an embattled populace, it is self-evidently welcome and encouraging, but believing in ''quick fix'' would be a wishful thinking.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
African Affairs Expert

Photo Credit: AFP photo of Somali President: Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed