As the old saying goes, the more things change, the more they remain the same. On one hand, Somalia seems ahead of the curve as the debate on what might be the best process that could ensure legitimate outcome in upcoming election (Aug 2016) is already underway.
On the other hand, the fact that the whole debate on political legitimacy is exclusively confined within the parameters of the upcoming election in and of itself indicates that nothing has changed.
The Somali state did not disintegrate because of elections or lack thereof. It disintegrated because of institutional injustice and chronic foreign meddling. That is why the state imploded, over million people died, and clan-based balkanization or “federalism” became the rapidly spreading cancer that is actively destroying an already ailing state and keeping it in a state of perpetual dependency and subjugation.
Make no mistake, the most serious existential threat facing the Somali nation is the status quo.
In other words, anytime that the peripheries resort to the cultivation of international relationships that are wholly independent of the center, haphazardly sign agreements of serious consequences with foreign countries, and build clan militaries, they make the latter wholly irrelevant and the recovery of the state an impossible task.
What’s On First?
In broken nations where the political system and all essential elements that keep societies function in unison go haywire, all political issues of contention must be renegotiated and indeed reconciled before a nation is pieced back together and the healing process is set in motion. Through such process, trust is cultivated and sustainable peace is achieved. Naturally, the process must be both genuine and indigenous.
Failing to recognize these fundamentals, or, as usual, haphazardly rushing into a power-sharing arrangement, would only exacerbate the matters. Somalia has a quarter of a century long experiment to prove that. Placing the Somali political dilemma within the fallacious framework that election is a panacea undermines the direly needed debate on justice, reconciliation, and how to break the shackles of foreign dependency.
What Might Be A Viable Alternative?
Under the current system where foreign political actors, mainly Ethiopia/Kenya tag-team, dominate the process, genuine reconciliation is simply a fantastic pipedream. Therefore, total transformation of the current system that perpetuates status quo is an imperative prerequisite. After all, it is not only the Somali state that failed; the steam engine of squanderance or the international community model has also failed.
By default or otherwise, the system at hand has sustained itself by periodically reinventing itself. Domestically, by partnering with ‘leaders’ who possess relentless appetite to hoard executive power by keeping an entire branch of the government on an ‘on-the-job-training’ by annually changing prime ministers and cabinets.
Regionally, by partnering with frontline states, such as Ethiopia and Kenya, who are legally in Somalia as part of AMISOM while in reality implement their own thinly disguised zero-sum schemes to co-opt Somali political actors in order to expand their spheres of influence.
Internationally, by bringing in UNSOM to replace the stained UNPOS, but still act the same- keep Somalia in a perpetual transition where decisions are dictated, lucrative security projects are sustained, corruption and economic exploitation as in Soma Oil and Gas are facilitated, and shadowy characters are allowed backdoor entries to keep the fire burning and the cash endlessly flowing.
Despite what they were initially intended for, currently, the abuses and financial costs of the international community and its regional partners far outweigh their benefits.
As I have argued in a number of articles before: it is time to cut this umbilical cord of dependency. It is time to focus on bilateral strategic partnerships in which parties could hold each other accountable. The benefit is self-evident. Practically all foreign financed successful development projects in Somalia are the byproducts of nation to nation relationships.
Misplaced Focus, Erroneous Outcome
Currently, a few election-focused alternatives were proposed by a few individuals. The most prominent of said proposals argues, in essence, that political legitimacy requires sidelining the federal parliament, empowering regional actors and their clan exclusive parliaments, arbitrarily keeping political parties with any Islamic identity at bay. This proposal, needless to say, considers reconciliation before power-sharing as irrelevant, the Somaliland issue as an independent problem, and that constitutional reform should take place before any reconciliation.