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Reconciliation and Human Security: Prospects of Somalia Unity.

“Human security can no longer be understood in purely military terms. Rather, it must encompass economic development, social justice, environmental protection, democratization, disarmament, and respect for human rights and the rule of law” (Kofi Annan.)

Somali National Symbol and unity

by Farhia Ali Abdi
Friday, March 07, 2014

Since the civil war in 1991, Somalia has undergone various ideology experiments to unite the country again.  However, none of them have brought lasting stability. Somalia’s problems are many and complicated: warlordism associated to clan rivalry and control underlies the broader Somali culture; international and regional military intervention had brought militarization and instability and not security or peace; and, different religious ideologies that created extremism with the subsequent war of terror that is in full force today.  In addition, the emergence of regionalism that sees other local African nations along with some internal Somali interests is becoming more prevalent. This regional politicking and interference is also divisive and makes it difficult for Somalis to work for reconciliation. 

These have been the paralyzing factors that have contributed to the derailment of any meaningful stabilization of the country.  Although such experiences are common in such a fragmented society, particularly with the presence of international forces and aid, what is concerning in the case of Somalia is the prolonged instability. The entrenchments that these hindrances have pose a real and problematic scenario for the country’s future stabilization.  What I find to be an even more profoundly complex issue is how to re- unite this country considering its current intra-politics, external politics and interference, and lack of social cohesion.   My particular concern here is an attainment of a human security, beyond the political and social wrangling. Sustainability of a country lies in the strength of its human security, which will lead to the country’s national security and stabilization.    

What is Human Security?

Human security was first defined by the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP’s) Human Development Report 1994 as being free from chronic threats such as hunger, disease and repression. It also linked human security to the overall protection from sudden and hurtful disruptions in the patterns of daily life – whether in homes, in jobs or in communities, and it can exist at all levels of national income and development. State security, on the other hand, was defined as a state of being free from danger or threat or the safety of a state. Somalia is one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world; therefore, human security is critical in order to revive and sustain a social and economic recovery. 

In this new epoch, there is an ideology amongst Somali people to focus on the country’s need both from the federal and regional levels.  Somalia has also been seen by the international community as being on the verge of a comeback politically, evident by the endorsements received from US, EU and other Arab and African countries. On the ground, there is a hopeful sign as over the past few years that Somalia's fragile security on the ground has improved slightly, with the efforts of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somalia’s national army.  Although the involvement and the support of the international community are viewed as necessary, it becomes problematic when the country’s security, building of institutions and decision-making continues to rest in the hands of foreign bodies.  One can argue that today, the country’s foreign agents have begun growing in size, and their influence impedes the ability of Somalis to create a reliable and accountable government of their own. Building institutions and sustainable development require both political and economic change, and the desire to embrace the concept of relying on foreign aid creates distortion to the existing national development programs, thus, forcing it to continually depend on donors for growth and survival. 

Clearly Somalia is in dire need of good economic planning, governance, effective institutions, and leadership, but it is not positioned to exit fragility and secure human security with the current dependency on the scrutinized international support.  As Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame simply puts, “the history of international support to Africa has been a dead end.”  President Kagame stated that the international community disbursed $300 billion in aid to Africa since 1970, and it did not work, primarily because, it spent on creating and sustaining client regimes of one type or another, with minimal regard to economic growth and human development outcomes (see Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo). On October 10, 2013, President Kagame’s remark was echoed by Mr. Naoyuki Shinohara, Deputy Managing Director of International Monetary Fund who said the IMF’s past approaches were not implementing effective policies in fragile states.  He added the IMF is now adopting a new approach to fragile states by looking at their economic conditions and political reforms and the countries’ circumstances and focused on quick wins. The late Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere once said that IMF was not created for the ‘third world’ development, but rather to control its policy and economy. As President Kagame pointed out and supported by IMF’s own admission that the African aid approach taken by the international community did not work for over forty years, and there is very little evidence it will work in the case of Somalia. 

That being said, Somalia will not achieve and enable human security, and become a united nation unless it finds a way to detach itself from such a clutch, and focus on its own internal solution. It’s true that the country cannot function without stabilizing security force and at the same time, foreign forces and aid cannot be the guarantors of national or human security. Only the Somalia people themselves can do that. As Dambisa Moyo puts it, “the result of foreign dependency is that instead of having a functioning Africa, managed by Africans, for Africans, what is left is one where outsiders attempt to map its destiny and call the shots (Dead Aid). In the case of Somalia, foreign influence does not attempt they do call the shots.

Building human security, good governance and economic development?

Productivity growth, structural transformation and improvements in the distribution of income may not happen without an effective government, and strong social movements.  An economic change can trigger political changes, although one can argue that this could be the reasons why some within and outside of the country are resistant to promote an economic change as they are comfortable with the current political climate. Yet we still tend to pay relatively little attention to the way the political and economic arenas interact over time, either reinforcing or contradicting each other. The question of whether we need a new vision, to take us out of dependency and forever relying handout is one of degree. As I was preparing this article, I was struck by the considerable gap between modern concepts of government and those that held sway in the past. As a result, I became more concerned about the growing gap between the reality of the country we are all so desperate to create and the theory that, in principle, is there to guide it. 

Somalia’s economic recovery continues to be hampered by the challenging security situations, poor infrastructure and limited financial resources in the country. The Somali economy remains heavily dependent on high levels of aid and remittances. According to UN sources, humanitarian and development aid in 2012 to Somalia was US$ 750million, which on a per-capita basis is one of the highest in the world (African Development Bank Group, 2013). As it was estimated between US$ 1-1.5bilion per year, remittances are the single largest contributor to national capital inflows and wealth of the country (2013).  In the past, Somalia relied mostly on its own resources, whether from its land or sea before looking outward. For example, the 1974 famine was an awakening period of the country psychic, and Somalia showed its determination by focusing on land cultivation for food security and economic development.  It appears that realization and innovation is now lost within our Somali culture, and the international engineered aid dependence became the only focus for survival. Focusing on the provision of food and water, law and order, human rights, and, so forth will have a great impact on human security. The country’s safety and development programs must be adapted to the actual local situation. This means that the government should create and direct its support, according to local engagement and local determination of needs and long-term capacity building. By defining the problems and the solutions locally, people can have a genuine interest in actively participating in and solving the problems and in creating the kinds of communities of which they want to be a part. Prioritizing an area of development and support will depend on the specific context of the issue, and it requires a good understanding of local leadership, capacity, situations, and conditions. 

Government’s role is then to find ways to generate income within the country’s resources and business and inject that into the hands of the public.  For instance, investing in public and private sectors are great ways to create jobs, and collect taxes.  In this regard, priority should be directed to youth and women, who constitute more than half of the Somali population, and who in the case of women, are often responsible for the day-to-day providence for family and broader social networks. The problems that youth and women face are the problems of society as a whole, and in so doing, changes the economic, political and social situations. Specific programs should be created to promote real opportunities for women, and youth so that they can fully exercise their rights, autonomy, and inclusion; and, to help them to build their own capacity to overcome situations of vulnerability, instability, and dependency. There are many displaced refugees within Somalia, about 1, 373,080 (possibly more today) in Mogadishu alone, according to the UNHCR’s 2013 Country Operations Report, this means the need is great and the resources are scarce, but with proper allocation and planning it’s possible to create a human security.  When people are free from fear, hunger, and their basic rights are met; they tend to live with dignity and in harmony with one another, building a culture of sustainability.

Challenges, opportunities and way forward:

Many countries may not have gone through security and instability issues like Somalia has, but there are many other underdeveloped regions that are unable to achieve and sustain high economic growth. The reasons are many, but they include differences in the sequencing of reform policies, lack of proper development of physical and social infrastructure, structural weaknesses, including roads in remote locations, limited natural resources and being landlocked. Somalia is a pastoral society and is well known for its livestock, agriculture, forestry, and fisheries; therefore, it needs to explore its resources coupled with smart policies in order to ensure an equitable distribution of gains from the country’s resources. The International Monetary Fund pointed out in 2013 that “Somalia’s economy, which primarily relies on subsistence agriculture and fishing, is still held back in its development by the fractured nature of the country and the poorly developed infrastructure." Somalia is a country with unexploited potential with energy and other natural resources, and external companies are attracted to these resources.  

The challenge is that the growing interest of the international community in the country is seen as solely aimed at protecting their investments and asserting their control over any decision making. It’s important that the country explores its agrarian and self suitability needs. In this case, the country will be in a more productive position from which it can develop other resources in the public interest. The actions of the international community have so far been directed at stopping or slowing down this evolutionary process by proposing unworkable political solutions to the successive crises. Many efforts have been devoted to the application of the wrong medicine, and very little to understanding the real problems. The terrible tug of war affairs in Somalia has impacted negatively on national development; and it’s important the country reconciles its internal social conflict.

Unity through reconciliation:

The impairment caused by civil wars are more harmful than other external wars because it takes place within the territory of a single state and contributes to weaken its institutions and infrastructure, as well as having a terrible impact on the people through a loss of lives and through the establishment of fear and distrust amongst the people. In this regard, social cohesion can remain irreparably damaged because societies, neighbors and even families are often divided by war. Somalis are very proud and resilient society; however, their political strength also lies with kinship. As the British anthropologist, I.M. Lewis reminded us in his Pastoral Democracy, the “Somali political philosophy is an evolution of agnatic connections." Professor, Lewis further added that though the Somali society lacked a central government, the people are not without government or political institutions. This is true today as it was when he wrote those words in 1960. Some suggest that Somalia is more of a pluralism society than a state dating back to its pre-colonial days. Pluralism is a conceptual model that argues that the best form of a political system is one in which recognition is given to a large number of competing interest groups. In this context, the Somalia constitution, as it is written today, states that the Federal Government is responsible for guaranteeing the peace, security and national sovereignty of the country through its security forces, namely the armed forces, the intelligence service, the police force, and the prison force – Article 126. However, in order to achieve peace, security, and unity in the country, there needs to be consent from its entire territories with their own localized autonomies as bestowed by the constitution. 

The foreseeable challenges and the obstacle that is confronting the creation of a strong, united Somalia is how well the government (present and future) is willing to convince the regional governments that a national unity is in the best interest of all Somalis, in spite of the current high level of intra-political conflict between the regions and federal government.  The inter-clan animosity and mistrust mostly emanated from the country’s 1991 civil war makes this realization difficult; however, to start a process of healing, Somali governments must take the opportunity to initiate the process of creating a proper reconciliation.  In order to do that, there needs to be an absolute peaceful political and community reconciliation, and secure local solutions to local problems. This cultural pluralism is the elephant in the room that is ignored by every government, and the negotiation of that premises is hindering the country’s genuine success of achieving unity.  The regions of the country are clan institutionalized and are able to function better with a weak central government that can’t impose its will upon them. Even though local decision-making is very important, lack of national unity poses a real problem for an achievement of a pluralistic although united federal Somali state. If various regions adopt self-reliant approaches to the solution of national unity and socioeconomic problems, then boundary conflicts are likely to arise, with the history of cultural clan lineages, it is not impossible to foresee conflicts of regionalism and inter-clan hostilities.  Regions of the country, mainly Puntland, Somaliland, and now Jubaland, have all developed their own security forces, including military and police forces. If these regions and others like them do not buy into a national unity with the absence of an appropriate reconciliation, it makes it difficult for the central federal government to create a Somali national unity or identity. Thus, in this context, reconciliation should be a priority on the government’s planning to achieve a coherent national unity based on respect and working with regional differences as well as negotiating, creating, and upholding common state goals and affinity.

Somalia’s crises were conceived with inherent weakness and old-fashioned clan mentalities; therefore, building and restructuring of the Somalia governance and leadership are best accomplished on the basis of a broad national consensus with recommence of its roots, rather than the internationally engineered solution. The internal issues and conflicts threaten the present and future security of the country.  It is a time to share peaceful negotiation with the regions of the country according to their respective needs, to have a shared national interest and to build a strong and coherent national unity. The international community should try to put the Somali issue in its proper historical perspective to understand the under-lying root causes of the Somali crises. Any international involvement has to be one in partnership and negotiation driven by what the Somalis perceive as a solution. The Neoliberal approaches to politics and mediation exercised by the international community, and the government is unlikely to succeed without full regional support, and unlikely to allow any government of Somalia to fulfill its mandate as a guarantor for national unity and sovereignty. It was said intervention inevitability is always the final traditional justification for failing ideologies. Although, the concept of unity may have shifted today, it is important to create a climate of respect, collaboration, and negotiation to stabilize and unite the country, and not lose a sight of the inherent ideology that brought this country's statehood.

Farhia Ali Abdi
[email protected]


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