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Failed State No More? Somalia Begins to Crawl Out of the Dark Hole of Instability and War

A remarkable atmosphere of new beginnings and a palpable desire for peace has enabled the new Somali government to usher in a smooth end to the transition period.

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The new parliament, whose capacity to advance institutions of good governance has vastly improved, includes many academics, civil society organizers, and technocrats. Women’s representation has improved to 18 percent, though it has fallen far short of the 30-percent quota earmarked in the roadmap. Nevertheless, great strides have been made in the march towards a representative assembly able to produce effective national legislation. The mere act of holding presidential and parliamentary elections inside the country signals newfound political maturity and perhaps a new era of camaraderie and compromise. It remains to be seen if the new government will be able to capitalize on these realities.

Bumpy Road to Permanent Statehood

It was widely speculated that the leaders of the transitional government, which had a strong hand in selecting the elders and the technical committee overseeing the transition process, would succeed in reelecting themselves once again. Many anticipated that a meaningful change at the top was not possible. Yet the newly formed parliament, despite allegations of corruption, restored waning public confidence in the national government by electing highly qualified yet relative newcomers to the highest offices of the land.

The new government benefits from three crucial institutional foundations that it can build upon: widespread public support, a new constitution, and an effective national parliament. But Somalia’s new leaders must learn from past mistakes. Foremost among them is that they must learn to collaborate, compromise, and put national interests before their individual or regional agendas. Endless squabbles among those at the helm in previous governments hampered the functioning of the state, which led to the brazen interference of foreign entities in Somalia.

In addition, Somalia must maintain a limited technocratic government of no more than 18 cabinet members if not less, enmeshing a system of meritocracy with the goals of diversity and inclusive representation. No meaningful permanent statehood is possible for Somalia if the new government fails to reconstitute a strong national army that replaces the AU forces currently securing the nation. So long as foreign forces are protecting public figures and institutions, Somalia will undoubtedly move from one form of transition to another.

Post-Transition Anxieties

The end of the transitional period means different things to different people. For the UN and the international community, it is just another step in the process of pacifying Somalia. The international community still expects the new government to advance in the next four years elements not yet achieved in the transition process, including developing a national program to define post-transition priorities, restructuring the Somali security forces, and expanding the rule of law and public services. It also requires visible steps in the crucial areas of reconciliation, transitional justice, transparency, and financial accountability.

On the other hand, for many jubilant Somalis, it is the end of two decades of statelessness and foreign intervention—the beginning of a permanent state able to represent the will of its people and stand firm against unwelcome meddling by foreign entities.

Even though Somalia, as a UN member, never officially lost its sovereignty and territorial integrity, many Somalis at home and in the Diaspora continue to believe that the transitional political arrangement neither enhanced nor elicited the power and prestige associated with an independent free republic. For them, Somalia is finally moving away from the dreadful failed-state status that gave the international community and regional states such sway over Somali affairs.

More circumspect observers posit that a mere cosmetic change in the name of the government and new personalities at the helm will not change much.

Whatever the case, the new government should be judged by whether it can show competency in government, preserve the public trust, guide the country toward genuine reconciliation, expand the reach of the government beyond Mogadishu by establishing reputable local and regional administrations, promote the interests of all regions equally, and engage in bilateral dialogue with Somaliland and appoint an envoy to promote North-South relations.

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