Two Perspectives on Somalia’s Government and Its Prospects

United Nations Special Representative to Somalia Augustine Mahiga, in his “Year End Letter” to the people of Somalia:

We have come to the end of an historic year for Somalia, for the region and for the rest of the international community. On 10 September 2012 a new Somali Parliament, sitting in Mogadishu, elected a President—the first such democratic exercise in over twenty years. Holding such an election in the Somali capital would have been unthinkable just months before, and it sent an unambiguous signal to Somalis, to the region and to the international community that the winds of change were blowing. In Mogadishu, the sound of gunfire and explosions has been replaced with the noise of construction and the hum of commerce. Flights into the city are booked solid months in advance. New restaurants and hotels open every day and the city’s building boom produces frequent concrete shortages. Fresh produce from the countryside and fish from the ocean spill from the city’s bustling markets and scores of Somalis from the diaspora return to Mogadishu each day. Similar stories are being played out in other cities recently recovered from the insurgents. Hope and progress have returned to Somalia.

After several failed attempts to end of the Transition in Somalia, we succeeded this past year because the process was inclusive, transparent, legitimate, participatory and Somalia-owned. This underpinned the integrity of the change process, which was enabled on the security front by the determined efforts of the Somali National Forces and the AU Peacekeeping Mission (AMISOM). Throughout this remarkable year, the United Nations, the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and other international partners worked together to overcome challenges as they arose. Above all, it was the desire of the Somali people for peace and change that moved the process forward. Patience and persistence pays.


The road to stabilization will not be easy. Somalia remains a state in need of support from international community, which will need to re-invest comprehensively and generously if it is to capitalize on its massive investment of time and resources. At the beginning of the year, my office and half of its staff relocated to Somalia and continued to work alongside key Somali partners in a variety of sectors. [The UN Political Office for Somalia, UNPOS] closely cooperated with key regional interlocutors to ensure a unified and coordinated approach on important political issues. A joint framework was established between The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the UN and the African Union (AU) ensuring close collaboration on issues affecting the Somali peace process.  This harmonized international and regional response to challenges within Somalia played a critical role in enabling the international community to speak with one voice in support of the process. The center of gravity has shifted to Mogadishu, and UNPOS completing a major strategic review to ensure full alignment of its policies and programs with the goals and aims of the new government. The mission is also increasing staff presence there by 100% in the coming weeks and I urge other members of the international community to come to Mogadishu. For the first time in a generation, a safe, secure and prosperous Somalia at peace with itself and its neighbors seems more like a reasonable aspiration than a distant dream.  We will work with our Somali brothers and sisters to harness this unique opportunity to transform Somalia. I take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy New Year—a new year that dawns brightly and full of promise and hope.

Dr. Michael Weinstein:

The [provisional federal government, p.f.g.] is a weak actor in a power configuration in which it is pulled by the proxy-chain presided over by the “donor”-powers, which hold the purse strings and bankroll AMISOM, and pulled into the fragmented clan, local, and regional conflicts of Somali politics. A government that cannot support itself and cannot exert control over the territory that it is supposed to govern can be called a “permanent” government for the purposes of international convenience, but it is sovereign only in a restricted legal sense and not [in] actuality.

How can a government provide security and deliver services if it depends on external actors to finance it and those actors are not giving it the resources to perform its basic functions? How can a government govern if its authority is actively disputed within its supposed territory and the very form of its political system has not been determined? The p.f.g. is financially starved from without and contested from within. What can it be expected to do? Political outcomes in “Somalia” are not under the p.f.g.’s control, but are resultants of the play between external actors, the p.f.g., and domestic factions. Critics of [Somali President] Hassan [Sheikh Mohamoud] and the p.f.g. should ask themselves if any leader could be effective in such a power distribution. It is the easiest thing to blame leadership as a deflection from the unwillingness or inability to address more serious and less tractable structural conditions, which is not, of course, to say that Hassan is a strong leader.

Weinstein pays particular attention to the problem of determining the administrative status of “Jubaland,” a southern territory that I hope to discuss more in a future post. He also focuses on the question of what groups will be represented, and how well represented, in the government. Weinstein writes, “The ‘Jubbaland’ affair and the representation dispute illustrate the weakness of the p.f.g. from within, a deficit of domestic support in a fragmented political situation.”

The two perspectives are, needless to say, quite different in tone. The heart of the difference, though, may lie in the very different ways in which the statements characterize the relationship between the government and its external partners/donors. For Mahiga, the support of the international community can constitute a critical resource in propelling a successful political transition in Somalia. For Weinstein, if I am reading him right, the international donors undermine the government’s sovereignty at the same time that they enable its existence, and their choices with regard to allocation of resources leave the government weak and dependent.

What do you think? How do you rate the new government’s prospects for success and stability in 2013?

Saturday Links: West African Elections, Bin Laden and France, Somalia PM Crisis, Etc.

West Africa: International Crisis Group looks at upcoming elections in Guinea and Ivory Coast, arguing that “the stakes are simply too high” in many contests in West Africa. Because “there are good grounds for contestants to believe that if they lose they, and perhaps their whole community, may be excluded from power for a generation,” elections all too often result in civil conflict.

VOA has more on the elections in Ivory Coast.

Niger: A vote on a proposed constitution this Monday faces boycotts and skepticism (via Tommy Miles).
Central African Republic: Another set of electoral difficulties here. Reuters reports that “rebel groups in Central African Republic are blocking early preparations for a presidential election due in January, casting doubt on whether the latest target date for the poll can hold.”

France: Andrew Lebovich looks at Osama bin Laden’s new tape threatening France, which included statements on recent kidnappings in Niger.

Somalia: UN Special Envoy Augustine Mahiga met with Somali leaders in the Transitional Federal Government to help resolve a struggle over the appointment of a new prime minister.

US policy in Africa/Middle East: The Obama administration has waived requirements in the 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act and allowed the military to continue aid to Chad, Sudan, DRC, and Yemen.

South Africa: The Christian Science Monitor reports on the African Leadership Academy’s efforts to send young Africans to American and European universities.

What are you reading this weekend?