Global Policy Forum

Somalia: Prolonging the Agony


By Abdurrahman Warsameh

International Relations and Security Network
July 29, 2008

The Djibouti peace accord signed last month between Somali government and a main faction of the opposition coalition, the Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia (ARS), was seen as beacon of hope for war-torn Somalia. However, just like its predecessors, the agreement quickly became an opportunity lost.

The first fallout from the agreement was the split of the opposition ARS into two wings and the creation of more factions that could stymie the chances for ending the two-decade-long civil war and bring peace to Somalia.

The ceasefire part of the agreement was never implemented and trust-building measures spelled out in the deal never got off the ground. "There were two main factions that opposed the Djibouti agreement, which has seen none of its main provisions implemented for whatever reason, it also added another faction into the deadly equation of the Somali question," Somali media commentator Mohamed Isak told ISN Security Watch in Mogadishu.

However, the two factions of the ARS (locally known simply as The Alliance) are based in Eritrea and Djibouti. The Eritrea faction is led by hard-line Islamist Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys who is on the US and UN terrorist blacklists. The Djibouti faction is led by moderate Islamist Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed. Following The Alliance split over the wisdom of participating in the UN-mediated peace talks in Djibouti, the two sides held their own reconciliation talks in Yemen earlier this month.

Representatives of both sides declared that an agreement had been reached after nearly two weeks of talks. Leaders of the delegation from the Eritrea-based opposition wing said they "broadly" supported the Djibouti talks, while the Djibouti wing said it would review "reservations" voiced by the other side. However, soon after their return to headquarters, the Djibouti wing held a meeting of the central committee of The Alliance after it claimed to have obtained a much sought quorum and fully endorsed the Djibouti agreement, while the Eritrea group dismissed the move and sacked Sheikh Sharif, naming Sheikh Aweys in his place as Alliance chairman.

Sheik Aweys reiterated that his group did not recognize the Somali government or the agreement reached in Djibouti and considered the Ethiopian troops in Somalia as "invaders." He vowed to fight any UN peacekeepers deployed in Somalia as envisaged in the agreement. The Al-Shabaab Islamist movement and the Islamic Front - two insurgent groups that did not attend the Djibouti talks - have both publicly opposed the agreement and vowed to continue their fight against Somali government security forces and Ethiopian troops in Somalia.

The two groups are not part of The Alliance, which is an amalgamation of the secular former members of the current Somali parliament who opposed the Ethiopian presence in Somalia and the exiled leaders of the ousted Union of Islamic Courts. Al-Shabaab and the relatively new Islamic Front have been behind much of the deadly attacks on Somali government forces and the Ethiopian troops backing them. Ethiopia, Somalia's northwestern neighbor, sent its troops into Somalia in late 2006 after it and the then-weak transitional government of Somalia accused an Islamist administration that controlled much of southern and central Somalia of challenging the authority of the internationally recognized government and of threatening Ethiopia's national security.

A welcome but benign agreement

Despite its reception and broad international welcome, most of the provisions of the Djibouti agreement have not been implemented. For example, under the 11-point agreement, parties in the Somali conflict were to cease fire on 9 July, 30 days after the signing of the agreement, but the nearly daily clashes, death and destruction have continued as ever. As stipulated in the agreement, two committees - a Joint Security Committee and a High Level Committee chaired by the UN - were to have been formed by the two sides within 15 days of the deal's signing. The two committees would "follow up on the implementation of security arrangements" and "on issues relating to the political cooperation between the Parties and concerns over justice and reconciliation."

But Somalis have heard nothing of the formation of the two committees or of any concrete preparation for a conference that the agreement says should be held on 30 July to discuss the issues for which the two committees would have been set up, Isak says. The formal signing of the agreement, planned to be held in the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, has been postponed a number of times, while the Somali national parliament put off the formal endorsement of the agreement until its signing in Mecca. Earlier this month, the parliament welcomed the Djibouti agreement after hearing briefings from ministers in the government delegation to the talks. Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed will sign it into a law after the parliament passes it.

The two sides are expected to request the UN Security Council "to authorize and deploy an international stabilization force from countries that are friends of Somalia excluding neighboring states" with 120 days of signing the agreement. However, in his latest report to the Security Council, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that although he acknowledged that "significant progress" had been made with the recent Djibouti talks, a UN force would not be sent to Somalia unless certain political and more importantly security conditions were met.

"The establishment of a United Nations peacekeeping operation in Somalia should be based on a viable political agreement between the parties and the stabilization of the situation on the ground," Ban said in the report. The report further stressed that "without a demonstrated commitment to peace by the Somali parties, it will be extremely difficult to generate a credible stabilization force to relieve the Ethiopian forces in Mogadishu."

But the secretary-general's special representative to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould Abdalla, who personally mediated between the two sides, told the Security Council last week that "the time has come for a final decision." In a statement to the UN Security Council following the Djibouti talks, Ould Abdalla said the current political context and the time were ripe for the Security Council "to take bold, decisive and fast action." Ould Abdalla proposed three options for possible UN involvement in Somalia: "Re-hatting" of the current African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), an international stabilization force or an outright UN peace keeping mission.

Redirecting time and energy

Some ordinary Somalis in the capital, Mogadishu - which has seen the brunt of the past 18 years of violence and the worst violence in the past 18 months - see things differently. It seems to be the general consensus that the international community should, instead of attempting to bring in more forces to fight for peace, spend its time and energy on efforts to bring all sides of the conflict together and to avoid the isolation of any group.

Isse Omar, a father of eight who fled the violence in the capital, told ISN Security Watch: "No past or present foreign forces brought us peace and stability but we made semblance of stability, which no foreign forces could ever bring no matter how strong the foreign troops." "They [foreign forces] were here with thousands of troops in 1992 but they left us as hopeless as ever. They will do the same if they come again, just like the Ethiopian troops who are killing, raping, robbing everything in their path," Dahabo Nur, a mother of seven who sells fresh produce in Bakara Market, told ISN Security Watch.

But because of these misgivings and given the current security situation with many groups outside the Djibouti framework intent on fighting any UN force combined with the bitter memory of the previous US-led UN mission in Somalia in the early 1990s and the recent Ethiopian troop presence, both analysts and ordinary citizens see the shaky agreement as just a way of prolonging the country's suffering.

Some say the Djibouti agreement is beginning to fall apart and is on the way to failure, just like the other 14 preceding Somali peace conferences. "In the event of the collapse of the Djibouti agreement, and that is inevitable, Somalia will sink deep into the abyss of chaos, lawlessness and perpetual violence if all foreign forces do not withdraw [and allow the] local people to come up with their own indigenous solutions like they did before in Mogadishu, Puntland and Somaliland," Daud Ali, a Somali, told ISN Security Watch. "Tell them to leave us alone. We have suffered so much that we can now find our way out like we did before."

More Information on the UN Security Council
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