April 11, 2007 | World Defense Review

Peacekeepers with No Peace to Keep

Somewhere along the crooked path that runs from the collapse of the Soviet Union that signaled the emergence of the United States as the world's lone superpower to the seemingly intractable conflict in Iraq that has dashed dreams of facile democratic transformation in the Middle East, there emerged the belief that if only the international community would line up behind the requisite multilateral peacekeeping force, the vexing conflict du jour; whether ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, genocide in Sudan, or clan-based civil war in Somalia; would be magically resolved.

Of course, this wishful thinking withstands rigorous scrutiny no better than morning mists survive the light of day, as the ongoing failure to resolve the security crisis in Somalia proves.

All of which, however, does not prevent members of the international community, including the U.S. government, from continuing to engage in what is essentially “faith-based” global politics, especially in the Horn of Africa.

Last Saturday, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi E. Frazer became the highest ranking U.S. official to visit Somalia since the ill-fated American-led, United Nations-sanctioned, attempt to resuscitate that carcass of a state in the early 1990s.

According to the official announcement by State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, Dr. Frazier's visit “highlighted the U.S. commitment at the highest levels to support the efforts of the Somali people to take advantage of their historic opportunity to achieve stability and security.”

The problem with this declaration is that one is rather at a loss to produce evidence of any such “efforts” by any Somalis other than a brave handful of civil society leaders like Abdulkadir Yahya Ali and Abdi Isse Abdi – and both of those two have paid for their troubles with their lives. In fact, Dr. Frazier had to call upon the leaders of the self-proclaimed “Transitional Federal Government” (TFG) of Somalia, including “President” Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi, and Speaker of Parliament Adan Muhammad Nuur (a.k.a. “Madobe), in the provincial hamlet of Baidoa since their “regime” is not particularly welcome in the onetime Somali capital of Mogadishu. And the parliamentary leader is enjoying his office because his predecessor, Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan, was ousted in January precisely for making an effort at national reconciliation by entering talks with moderate Islamists.

Dr. Frazier came to Baidoa from a meeting in Cairo last week of the International Contact Group on Somalia, which includes the U.S., various African and European countries, as well as representatives of the United Nations, the African Union (AU), the European Union (EU), the local subregional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and the Arab League. That summit had produced a resolution that “welcomed the deployment of the Ugandan contingent to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and emphasized the role of AMISOM in achieving lasting stability in Somalia” while promising to provide “logistical and technical support to the AU and troop contributing countries to facilitate the full deployment of AMISOM leading to the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops in Somalia.”

Even leaving aside the point I have been repeatedly making since my January 25 column – that “even if U.S. and European envoys manage to cajole other countries into contributing the rest of the 8,000 peacekeepers to take the place of the withdrawing Ethiopian intervention force [thus far, AU members have pledged less than half the projected number of peacekeepers and only Uganda has made good on its pledge, sending approximately 1,300 troops], it is beyond delusional to think that such a modest contingent of Africans can succeed where the infinitely more robust UNITAF and UNOSOM II forces, with their 37,000 and 28,000 personnel respectively, failed barely a decade ago” – no one seems to have an answer as to what peace these “peacekeepers” are supposed to keep.

Certainly Dr. Frazier did not elaborate on this point, although, indicating that the U.S. would be moving ahead with a disbursement of $40 million in assistance and asking Congress for another $60 million to assist AMISOM, she and her interlocutors did express their confidence that “moving ahead expeditiously with the national reconciliation process will lay the groundwork to carry out successfully the transition to an elected government set for 2009.”

In fact, as readers of this column are familiar, the problem with the TFG is precisely in the admission – unintentionally implicit in Dr. Frazier's comment – that it is not only unelected, but is, in point of fact, no government at all.

As I pointed out nearly a year ago, the TFG is the product of a well-intentioned effort by the international community “to conjure up yet another government for Somalia after the ignominious collapse the previous year of its previous attempt, the farcical “Transitional National Government.'” “President” Abdullahi Yusuf, a onetime protégé of Libya's Mu'ammar Qaddafi and then of Ethiopia's Marxist tyrant Mengistu Hailemariam, tried to set himself up as warlord-ruler of the Somali region of Puntland after the collapse in 1991 of the Siyad Barre dictatorship. When that enterprise came to naught, he joined the queue of other wannabes who hived themselves off to a Kenyan resort on the shores of Lake Naivasha in 2004 where, armed with a bag of cash provided by Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh, he emerged as “president” of the TFG, while the runners-up contented themselves other positions, including seats in the 90-member (!) cabinet or 275-seat “Transitional Federal Assembly.” After its self-election, the TFG made no efforts to move to Somalia, much less to exercise any authority in the country. Rather, the Somali “leaders” hung out at various Kenyan resorts for over nine months until the exasperated government of President Mwai Kibaki which, after international funding dried up, was saddled with the bills for the TFG's hospitality, finally pushed the Somalis over the border where they set up shop in Baidoa and were nearly overrun by the increasingly radicalized Islamic Courts Union (ICU) before the Ethiopians rescued them by driving back the Islamists in a lightning campaign in late December and early January.

Thus the international community finds itself essentially trapped in a Kafkaesque drama: other countries pretend that Somalia is still a unitary state, the TFG pretends to be its government, AMISOM pretends to be a peacekeeping force supporting the regime's authority, the international community pretends to be engaged in backing the peacekeepers' “stabilization efforts,” and everyone pretends everything will turn out all right if everyone would just play along.

The problem is that no one asked the peoples of Somalia and, as the events of the last month (chronicled in my March 29 and April 5 columns) showed, they have declined to play their scripted role in this dangerous farce. In fact, occasional ceasefires aside, the daily fighting between Ethiopian forces propping up the TFG (the Ugandan peacekeepers, after being greeted upon arrival by heavy mortar fire, have remained essentially invisible) and insurgents spearheaded by Islamist fighters who had survived the campaign against them by tactically fading away, has not only killed hundreds of civilians in and around Mogadishu and displaced over 100,000 others, but also stirred up the flames of nationalism on the part of many ordinary Somalis who have historically borne little love for their Ethiopian neighbors and may be driving many of them right into the hands of the radicals, as a former leader of the ICU, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, confirmed last week during a television interview with Al-Jazeera: “The resistance which is taking place in the Somali arena is a popular resistance against occupation, aggression and annihilation…the Islamic Courts are part of the great Somali people.”

So if there is no peace to be kept, how does one proceed? Fortunately, the history and traditions of the Somali peoples suggest a solution, one which, incidentally, as my friend Dr. George B.N. Ayittey of American University has recently suggested in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal (Europe), has parallels in other traditional African political systems. It is the guurti, a consensus building assembly based on the internal dynamics of Somali's traditional clans – a reality that the greatest living scholar of the Somali, Professor I.M. Lewis of the Department of Anthropology at the London School of Economics, called “a pastoral democracy” in his magisterial study of the same title. The clans, it should be recalled, have been from time immemorial and remain today the principal source of social identity, political legitimacy, and real authority among the Somali. In fact, a large part of “President” Abdullahi Yusuf's weakness is directly attributable to the fact that he is a member of the Darod clan from Puntland, while the dominant clan in Mogadishu, the Hawiye, are not wont to suffer a Darod interloper, much less one from the hinterlands – imagine how well a southern conservative Republican would be accepted as self-declared mayor of New York or the welcome a northeastern liberal Democrat could anticipate as self-proclaimed governor of Mississippi.

In contrast to the illegitimate attempt to impose the TFG, developments unfolded differently in the northern Somali region that was once the British protectorate of Somaliland before it became the independent Republic of Somaliland which later joined with the former Italian colony of Somalia in an ill-fated union. In the north, the collapse of the Siyad Barre regime was a moment of liberation: during the dictatorship's brutal campaign of repression against the Somaliland clans, over 90 percent of Hargeysa, the Somaliland capital, and 70 percent of Burao, the second largest city, were destroyed, while, out of an estimated population of just under three million, over 50,000 people were killed and another million were displaced.

When the Barre regime was finally forced to flee Mogadishu in January 1991, while the rest of the former Somali Democratic Republic fell into the chaos from which it has yet to recover, in Somaliland responsibility for the shape of the post-conflict settlement, as it had in the pre-colonial era, fell to an assembly of traditional elders (guurti). A meeting convened in a freshly-liberated town of Berbera called for a conference of elders to meet in Burao in two months' time.

In the meantime, the elders were to hold consultations in their own communities. The result was the gathering in Burao in May 1991 of Somaliland resistance leaders and representatives of civil society and the diaspora as well as the garaaddo, suldaanno, and ugaasyo (titled traditional leaders) of the principal Somaliland clans who signed the May 18, 1991 declaration of Somaliland's reassumed independence within the borders inherited from the British Protectorate. After an understandably fitful start to its reclaimed sovereignty, a Somaliland national accord (axdi qaran) reached at the Grand Boorame Conference which met between January and May 1993. Composed of 150 clan elders along with hundreds of other delegates and observers from throughout Somaliland, the conference laid the foundation for what has been more than a decade of democratic progress and stability – which development while, rather ironically, not adequately recognized by the rest of the world, nonetheless points the way to forward for the rest of the former Somalia.

In short, while in the aftermath of conflicts international peacekeepers can provide both the security and the temporal and spatial room necessary to build a more stable future – the 2003-2005 success of the United Nations Mission in Liberia, headed by veteran a U.S. diplomat (and retired Air Force major-general), Ambassador Jacques-Paul Klein, is a case in point – they can only do so in the presence of a political will for peace which provides them with the local legitimisation of their undertaking. In Somalia, however, while replacing the hated Ethiopians with an AU force is a step in the right direction, it may be too little, too late: AMISOM is generally viewed as little better than another foreign attempt to impose on Somalis a regime with little local support and even less legitimacy.

The diplomatic rhetoric and wishful thinking aside, in the absence of a truly legitimate and inclusive national accord among the peoples and clans of Somalia (aside from those in Somaliland who have decided on a separate destiny) it should be no wonder that the embattled peacekeepers in Mogadishu have no peace to keep.

J. Peter Pham is Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs and a Research Fellow of the Institute for Infrastructure and Information Assurance at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He is also an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C.


Read in World Defense Review