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The quiet before the storm
By AFYARE ABDI ELMI
Wednesday, July 20, 2005 Updated at 2:43 AM EDT
As Stephen John Stedman of Stanford University's Center for International Security and Co-operation has observed, a badly designed and poorly implemented peace agreement can lead right back to renewed civil war. In both Rwanda and Angola, more people died after peace agreements were signed than during the conflicts themselves.
Now, there are growing concerns that Somalia - which recently ended more than 14 years of civil war and established a transitional government - may slip back into violence. Last Thursday, the United Nations Security Council rejected the Somali government's bid to have the UN's weapons embargo lifted. On July 11, a well-known Somali peace activist, Abdulkadir Yahye Ali, was shot dead inside his Mogadishu residence.
The transitional government, operating from exile since October and from within Somalia for only three months, has now officially broken into two factions. President Abdullahi Yusuf and Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi are on one side, with the parliamentary speaker, Sharif Hassan Aden, and several Mogadishu warlords on the other. In other words, that painstaking, two-year-long process has resulted in two parallel and hostile administrations, one based in Mogadishu and one in Jowhar, a city 90 kilometres north of the capital.
There are three main reasons for this split: the flawed mediation practices of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the direct meddling of hostile neighbours, and the incompetence and lack of political will among Somali leaders.
Instead of giving Somali groups the ownership of the peace process, IGAD allowed Somalia's neighbours to dictate the outcome of the conference. Not only have Ethiopia and Kenya forced a charter, a parliament and a government of their own design on Somalia, but Ethiopia is providing weapons to many Somali groups.
Although the Somali people and the international community expected the transitional government to lead a reconciliation government to prepare the country for democratic governance, the two factions lack both the will and the political skills necessary for this complex task. Because of their own deep mistrust for each other - and because of outside meddling - the two are no longer even talking as they prepare for another round of civil war.
At the core of their deadlock are two issues: the location of the capital, and whether or not to invite in Ethiopian and Kenyan troops. Mr. Yusuf and Mr. Gedi insist that troops of the front-line states will be part of the regional peacekeeping forces. They're creating a pretext whereby Ethiopian troops can enter the country to help them shore up their weak administration. Although they agree that, ultimately, Mogadishu will be the capital, they cite security reasons for their opposition to locating it there right now.
The parliamentary speaker and the Mogadishu warlords, on the other hand, do not consider Ethiopia and Kenya to be impartial third parties. They believe the President and the Prime Minister want to use foreign backers to eliminate their rivals. They also reject the government's proposal for Jowhar as a temporary capital.
Ending the protracted Somali conflict requires a balanced approach.
And the international community must understand that Ethiopia is the principal spoiler of the Somali peace process. To achieve peace in Somalia, it will be necessary to sustain pressure on Ethiopia. Ethiopia receives significant aid from Western countries - the United States alone provided more than $550-million (U.S.) in 2002-2003 - and it is therefore vulnerable to political pressure from donor countries.
Nor should the UN stand aside when the Somali people need it most; the UN must lead the Somali peace-building efforts.
The role of the African Union has not been entirely helpful so far. The AU was not considering Somalia's interests when it decided that it would be acceptable for Ethiopian and Kenyan troops to enter Somalia as peacekeepers. But the AU's current leaders (South Africa's Thabo Mbeki and Nigeria's Olesegun Obasanjo) will truly threaten Somali independence if they actually implement their decision to allow Ethiopia to send in troops.
A lasting peace will also require the political will and commitment of the Somali parties to the conflict; the current leadership must be pressed to look beyond short-term, vindictive objectives.
The involvement of a credible third party and the development of a sense of Somali ownership of the political process will certainly help in the long term. But, to prevent the civil war that looms once more, the world must press the Somali government's two groups. We must send the message that, if Somali leaders start another civil war, there will be consequences. Perhaps the Security Council should consider involving the International Criminal Court, or establish an international criminal tribunal for war crimes in Somalia.
In any case, any support for the transitional government must be linked to the government's performance in the reconciliation process. And the international community should send a clear message to the opposing factions: They must end hostilities and unite under one administration. They must avoid more bloodshed at all cost.
Afyare Abdi Elmi is a Somali Canadian journalist based in Edmonton,
and a PhD student in political science at the University of Alberta.
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