19 May 2007 04:25


SW News
  • Title: [SW News] (IRIN) Focus on Djibouti
  • Posted by/on:[AMJ][Wednsday, August 23, 2000]


SOMALIA: IRIN Focus on the Djibouti peace conference

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

ARTA, Djibouti, 23 August (IRIN) - As members of Somalia's new Transitional National Assembly (TNA) prepare to elect a head of state on Thursday from a field of 47 candidates, the stage is being set for a new era in Somalia following a decade of civil war and anarchy.

After more than three months of peace talks at a plush villa in Arta, some 30 km southwest of Djibouti city, one of the main clans, the Hawiye, is expected to be given the task of heading the new transitional authority in the shattered nation. "Nobody else can take on the Mogadishu situation," a delegate at the talks told IRIN. "They messed it up, they sort it out".

With Mogadishu, the insecure Somali capital lying in ruins, the conference had voted in July to move a newly elected government temporarily to the southern town of Baidoa. But, with the momentum of recent success in neighbouring Djibouti, many participants say they now want to see the new transitional authority established in the capital as a powerful symbol of national leadership. Mogadishu is traditionally Hawiye territory, which gives the recent creators of mayhem a critical, if ironic, role in re-establishing national peace, according to analysts.

A difficult choice

The dilemma facing the 245 members of the assembly as they prepare for Thursday's vote was aptly stated to IRIN by conference delegates. One said: "A Hawiye president will have a much stronger hand in dealing with the Mogadishu warlords." Another, referring to resentment over this view within some clans, riposted: "Why should they be rewarded for mayhem?"

Under the procedures established for the election, each of the 47 presidential candidates must have the support of 10 delegates. Leading candidates then have to secure cross-clan support within the TNA to win the necessary majority.

Nightlong voting sessions this week, with Somali radio and television providing up-to-the-minute coverage for viewers back home, for the parliamentary speaker and secretariat have pushed the conference into a momentum un-matched since the talks started on 2 May.

The main contenders

On the eve of the historic vote, three main Hawiye candidates have emerged, with no clear favourite. They are: Abdullahi Ahmed Addow, who worked in the ministry of finance and became ambassador to the United States under the ousted president, Mohamed Siad Barre; Abdiqassim Salad Hassan, Barre's former deputy prime minister and interior minister. The third is Ali Mahdi Mohmed, the north Mogadishu faction leader.

Many political analysts told IRIN the main competition would be between the first two candidates, both from the Hawiye Habir Gedir clan. "The election of Ali Mahdi is unlikely because he will struggle to get sufficient backing from his own Abgal sub-clan and represents 'warlordism'," one analyst said. Fighting in Mogadishu accelerated in the capital in 1991 after Ali Mahdi’s leadership was rejected by competing Hawiye sub-clans. Criticism of the other two candidates focuses on their past role and association with Siad Barre's regime.

Djibouti draws praise

It is a major achievement of the conference that presidential elections are so close. And the sponsor of the peace conference which officially ended on Sunday, President Ismael Omar Guelleh of Djibouti whose country has borne almost the entire cost of the talks, has drawn praise for his efforts from the international community. "Powerful nations had failed to address Somalia's problems but Djibouti succeeded," French President Jacques Chirac said in a statement of support for the Somali conference this week.

President Guelleh has been praised by the international community for his country's efforts in trying to bring peace in Somalia

Since Sunday, the TNA elections for the parliamentary speaker and three deputies have proceeded efficiently with goodwill and humorous benevolence. Even the minor posts form part of the crucial power-sharing jigsaw among the Somali clans and sub-clans. Behind the scenes bargaining and lobbying are the invisible backdrop to every voting paper dropped in the glass boxes on the front of the conference stage. Once a senior post is secured, the clan of the successful individual is effectively eliminated from the remaining top posts. Women and members of minority groups have sufficient seats in the TNA to have the potential to wield power as a block. "This is a first in Somali history," a conference official noted.

Parliamentary Speaker Abdulrahman Deroow Issak, former secretary-general of the Rahanwein Resistance Army (RRA) was sworn in on Monday night as the TNA chairman and acting president. A walk-out instigated by one of his own competing Digil-Mirifle leaders to undermine his popular cross-clan candidacy proved that the composition of clan-based seats could retain a sufficient quorum to make the TNA an effective elective mechanism despite Somalia's deep divisions.

It was in three months of bargaining, much of it behind closed doors, at the villa in Arta that delegates finally arrived at the complex clan-based TNA power-sharing formula. Seats were divided among the four major clans - the Darod, Digil-Mirifle, Dir and Hawiye - and a multiplicity of sub-clan groups, from among some 2,000 delegates, clan elders, politicians, intellectuals and civil society groups. From the start, there was an overwhelming push to use the clan system as the favoured political mechanism for sharing power in a country which has had no central government authority for a decade. Virtually every other social structure and institution had been destroyed by one of the most devastating civil wars on the African continent. It forced hundreds of thousands into exile as refugees. Many of those elected to the TNA have north American and European citizenship.

As a power sharing instrument, the TNA serves a number of purposes. As well as being a vehicle for the credible and ambitious, analysts said it had also been used as a "dustbin" - a way of retiring old and troublesome personalities who have dogged the history of Somalia. Some served long detention sentences under the former regime; others were accused of committing human rights abuses, some turned opposition into the terrible famine and wars of the 1990s. Figures like General Mohamed Abasher, 74, former police chief and faction rival in northeast Somalia – now the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland – requires recognition and respect from his clan but without "being nominated for positions that involve power sharing equations", a Somali observer explained.

More controversial is the way the main Darod clan has used the TNA to placate at least six generals from the former regime, like the notorious generals Mohamed Hashi Gani and Mohamed Said Hersi Morgan. "Better to have them inside the tent, than outside and throwing stones," an Arta observer said. Crucial to the Darod power sharing process is the thorny issue of the Darod Puntland administration leader, Colonel Abdullahi Yusuf, who has not only rejected the Djibouti-hosted conference from the start, but warned that it could lead to a new round of war. If the military men are not given a place, argued the Darod representatives, they could be tempted to take up arms.

But critics of the conference have cited positions given to present and past war criminals, and to former officials and ideologues, as its biggest political weakness. Without any process to identify and deal with the war criminals, the process is stigmatised, critics said, especially in the eyes of self-declared Republic of Somaliland, where many of the worst abuses were committed, and vast numbers of civilians forced to flee a bombing campaign in the late 1980s.

Clan elders – the power brokers of the whole process – have played the selection game according to the political situation in their territory. Hawiye faction leaders were initially anointed by the clan elders in the early 1990’s, but then used "warlordism" to undercut traditional power. Warlords corrupted and co-opted elders and neutralised their influence. In an attempt to regain influence – after a decade of fighting – the Hawiye elders were quick to use the Arta process to try and reduce the status of the Mogadishu warlords. They ignored a boycott by the faction leaders, and vocal opposition to their departure, and went in force to the Djibouti-hosted talks. It was a process to be used against their own warlords: only one – Ali Mahdi Mohamed – was appointed to the TNA.

"Better to have them inside the tent, than outside and throwing stones"

In contrast, the Darod and the Digil-Mirifle elders were "relative newcomers to the warlord syndrome", said one Somali observer. In a more stable tract of territory, Puntland administration leader Abdullahi Yusuf has co-opted and organised elder support. Those attending the conference have been branded as "criminal" and threatened with unspecified recriminations. As a result, the elders at Arta have been forced to base their power-sharing calculations on opposition politics – and military men have been placated and wooed rather than dismissed.

Some disappointed candidates knocked out of the elections by their own sub-clans are taking a long-term view of the process. "First we need a government, then we start setting up opposition parties", said one participant.

The next step

In Somalia, peace and reconciliation talks traditionally last for months, to take into account complex issues and clan balance. The Djibouti process marks the first real attempt to organise a national leadership calculated purely on a clan basis. The time needed to achieve this has been a major factor in numerous failed conferences over the last decade, which have broken the political will and finances of various host governments and the United Nations.

But a new and cleverly devised deadline set by Djibouti's President Guelleh, now hangs over the conference. He has promised to take the newly-elected Somali president, accompanied by other regional heads of state, to the UN Millennium conference in New York in September. In order to take this first step in getting international and domestic recognition for a government that critics will dismiss as "exiled", much depends on the next move once the new head of state is elected.

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