The Upshot of the Somali Peace Express

Despite its shaky start, the UN-brokered Somali peace accord still has the potential to achieve a historical milestone. Two essential elements that were absent in the 14 previously failed peace conferences were prominent in this one. There were genuine peace-makers with considerable political capital and a relatively neutral third party to facilitate the process.

Naturally, the Somali people are anxiously trying to find some sort of inspiration and are galvanized by the optimistic appeal of this latest one. However, this is hardly unique.

Like a person lost in a desert for a long period finds hope and motivation to survive upon seeing a desert mirage, Somalis found temporary comfort to ease their desperate psyche in every one of the aforementioned peace conferences.

That said, objective assessment of what was signed in Djibouti by the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) would require focus on the most critical issues of contention.

Because, ultimately what renders any peace accord or a political settlement as success or a failure is not the ensuing cheers and the celebrations but whether or not the critical issues of contention were legitimately and substantively addressed and indeed implemented. More than any other factors these ensure what promises are kept and what deadlines are met.

Of course for the TFG, the most critical issue was the cessation of violence against the Ethiopian troops in Mogadishu (its known protection) and gaining recognition from the ARS.

On the other hand, for the ARS, the most critical issue, as their name indicates, was the “re-liberation” of Somalia from neocolonialism- ending the daily oppression of the Ethiopian troops and playing a role in the political future of Somalia . That being the case, the logical question that begs an answer is: If the occupation was (and remains to be) the very source of the insurgency, how would then the ‘cessation of violence’ as a precondition be possible?

The ARS is now fragmented to at least four different groups. They are the Jago Doon (position- seekers) whose primary goal is to be appointed to a position of power by any means. The Jeeb Doon (money-seekers) whose primary goal is to fill their proverbial pockets with whatever monies they can get their hands on. The Jihaad Doon (Jihad-seekers) whose primary goal is to drive Ethiopia out of Somalia, or die while engaging the enemy head on, and the Jawaab Doon (answer-seekers,) whose primary goal is to cultivate lasting peace through dialogue and pragmatic negotiation.

There is no question that in politics it pays to be a pragmatist who makes compromises and concessions when and where necessary. But the pragmatist is as effective as his or her prudence and ability to distinguish the fraud from the authentic.

It is implausible for the Ethiopian troops to pack and leave Somalia in the specified period of time, especially when the language of the agreement legitimizes their occupation. And, more importantly, affords them a wiggling room to define or influence the definition of what constitutes a “sufficient number of UN forces” (as they are to leave Somalia only after such vaguely infinite goal is attained).

Meles Zenawi did not decide to occupy Somalia for altruistic reasons or out of neighborly dutifulness. So, it is virtually naïve to assume that he no longer has plans to micromanage the rest of the commenced peace process, and keep on violating the arms embargo. And that he is not interested to buy more time (at least another 5 months,) till the U.S. elections are finalized and the fate of a lucrative enterprise known as global war on terrorism becomes clear.

The reality that the international community and many idealistic Somalis would rather ignore is that the cessation of violence is highly unlikely while the Ethiopian troops still remain in Somalia, and the man known as Colonel Gabre continues to rule Somalia, as Professor Hassan Mahadallah said, “…like a ruthless colonial governor asserting his authority with great deal of impunity over the Somali people and ironically the TFG itself.” The British Channel 4 has done a documentary expose (Warlords Next Door) in which Colonel Gabre’s absolute power is featured.

The ARS negotiators were not oblivious to these facts and that their most critical item was buried in the seventh article of an eleven article agreement. There is a widely accepted view that they were cornered to make some counterintuitive concessions.

The meeting was adjourned the day before the agreement was announced with an ultimatum from the chairman that the parties will either agree to a deal the next day or the conference will be aborted. This caused the wire services buzzing with waves of ominous news that the conference was about to fail. The next day there was a ceremony of frantic handshakes and nervous smiles that gave birth to the current peace accord express.

That being said, bringing lasting peace to Somali will require a holistic approach. An approach that not only addresses all critical issues of contention, but ensures the inclusion of all influential actors and stakeholders and, in due course, brings the external influencers such as Ethiopia and Eritrea to frame a multilateral comprehensive peace plan.

Make no mistake; while the Somali problem is an internal conflict, and most of the atrocious killings and human rights violations of almost two decades were committed by Somalis against other Somalis, it is the external element that pushed every peace process off track.

And while a thorough scrutinization of the peace accord is indeed imperative in order to fix its detrimental holes, it is equally imperative to prudently avert the development of any ill-advised campaign to stir the old negative impulses of cynicism. It is incumbent upon all Somalis from all corners of the political divide to find a way to patch together this accord and its subsequent phases.