Failed State No More? Somalia Begins to Crawl Out of the Dark Hole of Instability and War
Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, the first permanent President of the Federal Republic of Somalia.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
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As the classic modern-day failed state, Somalia seems to be finally sailing out of the rough seas of ongoing conflicts and endless political instability on which it has been floating for so long. The Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia, which was temporarily set up eight years ago to transition the country into permanent statehood, came to an end earlier this month. What remains to be seen is how different the new political dispensation will be considering the enormity of the political, social, and security challenges facing the nation.
Fortunately, unlike its predecessors, the new government assumes office at a time when Somalia has already achieved two critical milestones: the adoption of a national constitution and the formation of a representative national assembly. Both developments are widely seen as bold improvements from the political gridlock of the past. The long and arduous path towards permanent statehood for Somalia has hardly been paved with gold, and thus requires competent and visionary leadership in all branches of government. Chief among these goals is the critical issue of national security.
As of this writing, over 10,000 African Union (AU) forces representing nations such as Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, and Kenya—with Sierra Leone and Nigeria pledging to send more—continue to fight alongside ill-trained and ill-equipped Somali troops in an effort to rid the country of al-Shabab, an extremist group ideologically affiliated with al-Qaeda. Currently, Al-Shabab controls a large swath of territory throughout the south, though its appeal is on the decline thanks to its draconian rule.
Although many nationals as well as outside observers question the role of foreign military forces in Somalia, there is no question that al-Shabab continues to pose a major threat, launching suicide bombings on public installations, popular civilian markets, and government-controlled residential areas. Less than three days after the swearing-in of the new president, two suicide bombers blew themselves up in front of the hotel where the president-elect was temporarily residing, killing innocent civilians and AU and Somali troops guarding the facility. Fortunately, the new president and visiting foreign dignitaries were unharmed.
With al-Shabab and pirate activities on the decline, the new government needs to remain vigilant and immediately train and equip a strong national army by integrating existing clan militias and recruiting new cadets. Equally compelling challenges facing the new government include ensuring a complete review and official ratification of the new constitution by the parliament and initiating a genuine national reconciliation process to pave the way for the parliament to address the hotly contested issue of Somali federalism.
A remarkable atmosphere of new beginnings and a palpable desire for peace has enabled new parliamentarians to usher in a smooth end to the transition period. In retrospect, the transition era is seen as a period in which honest attempts to rebuild national infrastructure and institutions of government were hampered by the constraints of the transitional process, as well as widespread corruption.
Despite the political squabbling of the recent past, Mogadishu—the epicenter of Somalia’s civil war for over two decades—is showing signs of revival and economic vitality faintly echoing the sprawling seaside resort it once was. The banging and hammering sounds of construction workers on rooftops have replaced the deafening blast of gunfire and roving mortar shells that once defined the city. New restaurants, refurbished hotels, and other businesses continue to sprout all over the city, thanks to courageous local entrepreneurs and a huge influx of Somalis returning from the Diaspora. Calm is returning elsewhere in the country as well, albeit at a slower pace.
Mogadishu’s relative security enabled it to host historic presidential and parliamentary elections, which enabled the international community—under the direction of Ambassador Augustine Mahiga, a Tanzanian diplomat and the head of the UN’s political office on Somalia—to shepherd Somalia out of its transition period in accordance with the national roadmap. The ensuing process produced a national constitution, disbanded the old parliament after an immense internal power struggle, and selected traditional elders to nominate members of a constituent assembly to adopt the constitution in the absence of a national referendum. The elders also nominated members of the new national assembly.