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Djibouti's Fourth Somali Peace Conference
Is It the End of Political Partisanship?
By Abdalla Ahmed Hirad
Feb 09 , 2009

President Ghelle of Djibouti must be feeling triumphant that a new President of Somalia, Sherif Sheik Ahmed, was elected in his country, Djibouti, on Friday, January 30, 2009. This is the second time, since 2000, when a Somali President was elected in Djibouti under the tutelage of President Ghelle, supposedly with the mandate from IGAD—a sub-regional organization of the East African countries.
President Ghelle
This time he escorted the new President to the African Union (AU) Summit which has started in Addis Ababa soon after the election. In the year 2000, he escorted Mr. Abdiqasim Salad Hassan to the General assembly of the United Nations, where he held a closed meeting with the members of the Security Council, excluding the other IGAD countries, thus causing division between the IGAD Countries on the question, and further dividing an already split political leadership in Somalia. Indeed, the Somali political leadership has remained divided in the wake of the collapse of the government in 1991.

The First Failed “Manifesto” Government (January 1991):

Although one does not find division along political party lines in Somalia, clan feuding is generally assumed to be the mainstay of political partisanship. President Ghelle and others dub some of the faction leaders who lead these clans as “warlords”, probably to discredit them. But there, essentially, is no difference between all in their power seeking methods, political orientation or solutions for the problems of Somalia. Less obvious are their configuration into the two main political coalitions of the clan elite—in other words, the “Militarists” and the so-called “Manifesto”. The “Militarists” comprise mainly of military officers best known of them are the Late General Mohamed Farah Aideed, Colonel Abdullahi Yusuf, the last President, and a lesser known multitude of others allied to them. The “Manifesto” has comprised some of the survivors from the civilian leadership of the 1960s, the technocrats of the Barre regime and some “swing” military officers. This essay will slightly touch on the history of the contention between the two groups since the collapse of government in 1991; and will attempt to draw attention to the political relationship of the Government of Djibouti with both of them, as shall be discerned from the history of its efforts at reconciliation between the warring sides

The rift between the two groups started when President Barre’s coup succeeded to topple the then existing democratic civilian government, and long before tiny, winy sister Djibouti was an independent Republic. During the reign of the strongman—Barre —of Somalia, which lasted 21 years, since his coup on 21 October 1969, many clan-based military fronts were formed and took base in next door Ethiopia , with the objective of liberating the country from the grip of Barre’s dictatorship. But they failed to organize themselves around a common leadership or political platform. However, in late 1989, a group of officials from the former civilian governments, civil servants and allied businessmen produced a document they called “Manifesto”, charging President Barre for everything wrong in the country and accusing the armed fronts for disorganization and failure, calling them for unity and action within the country. Hence, they were coined “Manifesto” because of their authorship of the said document. Despite the pressure, President Barre undermined their efforts by playing his usual games of divide and rule, as well as other methods, from his bag of tricks of clan politics.

When Barre’s regime finally crumpled, a few months later—in January, 1991, to be exact—Mr. Ali Mahdi, a hotelier , a signatory of the “Manifesto” and a former member of the last civilian Parliament, was declared as the President by the “Manifesto” legion of political clan elite. He quickly formed the government which came to be known as” USC 91”—the appellation “USC” stood for the Hawiye Clan. But the USC was, prior to this, known to be an armed front led by General Aideed. Here we witnessed the first, open political confrontation between the political elite groups—the “Manifesto” and the “Militarists”—albeit that both protagonists hailed from the same clan. Aideed and his militia vehemently opposed to the government and started harassing and intimidating the members of the new Cabinet, dismantling the effort. However both wings of the USC were united on chasing out Barre and his clansmen, while both sides, in addition to seeking the control of Mogadishu, kept vigil so that the other side could not form an effective government. At this point the Djibouti Government intervened.

Second Djibouti Peace Conference (July 1991):

The Djibouti Government held its first Conference on peace in Somalia in June 1991. It was in preparation for an upcoming Conference which was held in July 1991—the next month. But neither Aideed nor the leaders of the other armed fronts did participate in the Conference. Indeed, all the participants comprised the “Manifesto” wing of the clans that had a military front to their name. But the “Militarists” and their associates were not part of July conference of 1991, despite the fact that the conference was held in the name of the armed fronts. Thus, the Government of Djibouti facilitated the formation of the first “Manifesto” government, with the support of Italy and Egypt, where Ali Mahdi was elected again as the President. Participating in this Conference were Mr(s) Abdurizaq Haji Hussein and Mohamed Ibrahim Egal—both Prime Ministers of the former civilian governments—Sheikh Mukhtar, the former Speaker of the civilian Parliament, Osman Ahmed Roble, a former MP and minister of finance, Mr. Mohamed Adan Zoppe, a former MP and Minister of interior at some point in the 60s, Mr. Omer Moallin,   Mohamed Abshir Muse, the former Police Commissioner of the civilian era and many other personalities allied to them.

At least, six of them were commissioned by the Italian Government immediately after the collapse of Barre’s regime, according to the Late Omer Moallin who told me, in February or March, 1991, that the group was assembled under his advisement, which means months before the Djibouti Conference. However, the “Militarists” would not allow the government to function in that political context, especially in Mogadishu, where General Aideed remained an active political actor. Worse even, in November of that same year General Aideed waged a war on Ali Mahdi’s camp. Because both the “Militarists’ and the “Manifesto” elite coalitions use the clans for military manpower and political support, it has come to be known as the war of Habar Gidir and Abgaal—the sub-clans of the two main protagonists who both hail from the same lineage. Since this Essay is merely confined to highlighting the historical  relationship of the Djibouti Government to the contending two elite camps—the “Militarists” and the “Manifesto”—I will escape the details of other peace talks held, after that, in Ethiopia and Egypt, all of which had failed, despite agreements between the leaders in the venue. It was noteworthy that this first Djibouti sponsored government was initially recognized by the UN, but that recognition was later withdrawn when the war in Mogadishu remained protracted.

The THIRD Djibouti Peace Conference (2000):

The political situation in the country remained unpredictable until President Ghelle of Djibouti, announced to the world that he will host another Conference for the Somali warring parties during the coming year to make sure that a Somali President finally participates in the next General Assembly. The Djibouti government did host a Conference which lasted 5 months. However, some of the main leaders of the “militarists” turned down the invitation including Colonel Abdullahi Yusuf and Aideed, the son. Other “Militarist” leaders such as Hassan Mohamed Nur (Shati Gaduud) and others responded and arrived to the Conference in a lukewarm attitude, perhaps with some arm twisting from Ethiopia. With their influence minimal, the Djibouti Government helped produce a government comprising the technocrats of President Barre, even some military officers of that era, but more importantly the Conference was visited by many “manifesto” leaders. The civil society groups were invited to the Conference, but they were sidelined by the traditional leadership who were, already, in cahoots with the Manifesto” politicians. Therefore, they could make no impact on the situation or the outcome; much as they would like to do so. Indeed, the civil society lost its role by the introduction of the 4.5-formula, which they tried to object to, but failed.

In the end, the Djibouti Government produced a “Manifesto” Government and named it the Transitional National Government (TNG), led by Abdiqasim Salad Hassan and Ali Galaydh.  No sooner than the new President was elected, President Ghelle whisked him to New York to participate in the General Assembly, and to meet secretly with the Security Council, alienating the other countries, as discussed in the first paragraph of the essay. But, as usual, the “Manifesto”, as is common to the Somali political elite, severed all relations with the traditional leadership and the civil society whose role is not unlike the intellectual class in the West.  The Conference held in Djibouti in 2000 and its outcome—the TNG-- had a number of pitfalls (1) The ”Militarists” were still in control of all the regions in the south and Puntland. Of course “Somaliland”, as always, had declined to attend the Conferences, probably doubting Djibouti’s fairness and sincerity, a priori. (2) One should note that these “Militarists” had initially fought Barre’s regime. So, a government comprising Barre’s technocrats in addition to the civilians of old and the Islamists was a disaster in their thinking. (3) Because of the Islamists’ influence, Ethiopia and the West, led by the US government of the day, were naturally averted to support the new arrangement. (4) Perhaps most drastic among the impediments was the fact that the government of Djibouti alienated all the governments of the region (the IGAD countries), under whose mandate it held the Conference. The Government of Djibouti had not even spared its old allies, in this case—Egypt and Italy—by not allowing them to even help fund the Conference, let alone contribute in any other substantive way. Even, some high officials of the UN Political Department, in New York, were complaining that Djibouti was keeping them in dark. That position of the government of Djibouti might have heightened the suspicions of many and propelled the rampant rumors of those days that Al-Qaeda could have been helping the fledgling and poor government of tiny Djibouti to single-handedly shoulder the exorbitant expenses of a 5-month-long Conference.

The First “Militarist” Government—the Eldoret Peace Conference (2002-2004):

It was only after the installation of the TNG that the militarists succeeded to forge their first ever alliance, when they took Baidoa as their capital and started a diplomatic and propaganda offensive by literally creating a dissident shadow government from the distance, until the international community finally intervened again. The Secretary General of the United Nations declared that there was need for the resumption of reconciliation efforts in Somalia in early September of 2001.All of a sudden the Representative of the Secretary General visited the dissident “Militarists” in Baidoa to register their grievances on behalf of the international community for the first time, since the culmination of the third Djibouti-sponsored (Arta) Conference. The result was the IGAD sponsored Conference (2002 -2004), hosted by the government of Kenya in Eldoret, later culminating in Embagathi, and supported by the UN and all the concerned regional Groups of the world. It took two years to conclude the Conference, mainly because of a rift between a “Manifesto” alliance and the “Militarist” alliance. The “Manifesto”, at this juncture, was being led by Abdiqassim Salad Hassan, the former President of the TNG. Colonel Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, the main survivor of the senior “Militarists” was the leader of the “Militarists”.

The “Manifesto” side was supported by Djibouti, Egypt and Eritrea. The “Militarists” were also openly supported by Ethiopia among others from the region and the wider world. As we know now that  the “Militarists” turned out to be the victors after two years of intense deliberations contrived only by the patience of the  international community. In the process, the “Manifesto”, with the support of Djibouti and Egypt, fought to the teeth against Ethiopia and its client, the “Militarists”. However, After Abdullahi Yusuf was elected President and the Cabinet was nominated, even endorsed by the Parliament, the opposition within declared the arrangement unacceptable. All called for the impeachment of PresidentYusuf. The threat was made by no less than the person of the Speaker to the Parliament, Sherif Hassan Adan, himself. Before the government moved back into Somalia, the Mogadishu warlords, allies of Yusuf until then, one would expect, perhaps afraid to lose their feudal spoils in Mogadishu and partly for clannish reasons in their agenda, gave a political fulcrum to the opposition in Mogadishu, denying the new government to take seat in the Capital.

The Fourth Djibouti Peace Conference (2009):

It must be noted that since President Yusuf’s election, the faces and personalities of both coalitions have changed. Indeed, the new Islamic insurgency of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) surprised the world, when it took over Mogadishu’s control in June 2006. But it was a surprise to both coalitions too. However, the Islamic coalition comprised the other side of the coin of political contention between the “Manifesto” and the “Militarists”. Only they did not recognize themselves as such, because this was obscured by the fact that they have a common enemy—the TFG, Ethiopia and the West. They started with eliminating the control of the warlords of Mogadishu. Then they quickly moved all sides from Mogadishu to control most of the South, down from Dhusamareeb to Kismayo, and finished with an attack on Baidoa to eliminate the ‘Militarists” government—the TFG. If it was not for Ethiopia that saved its “Militarists” friends, it would be the end of the “Militarists” as we knew them. Meanwhile, we saw that from the moment the UIC took over the control of Mogadishu, there was jubilation for the event in many quarters. Dignitaries and educated individuals visited Mogadishu. Others were giving advice through conference calls and E-mails.  I do not want to mention names here, but I was flabbergasted at the time as to what is the hubbub! We also saw that many MPs from the TFG visiting Mogadishu. Chief among them was the Speaker, Sherif Hassan Adan, on the grounds that he was arranging talks between the UIC and the TFG. In any case, when the UIC was kicked out of Mogadishu, the UIC together with the so-called Free Parliament took seat in Asmara, Eritrea. Again, there was a lot of support for the Asmara Meeting.

On the other hand, the international community started classifying the Islamists into moderates and radicals. Many failed to recognize the signs that the Italians found their friends, the “Manifesto”, within the UIC and around it. The cry for reconciliation also started early. With the Italians, inconspicuously, in the lead, the European Union brought a lot of pressure on the TFG. . But President Yusuf made an unforgetable mistake when he accepted a new Prime Minister, Nur Hassan Hussein., a “Manifesto” agent sold to him by “Manifesto” kinsmen of his own clan, coached by the Italians, as I got from the vine yard. Hardly did President Yusuf know that the opposition took over his government until it was too late. Meanwhile the talks that took place between the “Manifesto” TFG wing and the “Manifesto” ARS wing in Djibouti—mother of all “Manifesto" operations—gave the venue for the negotiations.

 We don’t know where the Ethiopians were, while all this was happening! The Djibouti talks were easy for the two wings of the “Manifesto”. The plot was more than just reconciliation; it was about planning a coup to remove the most senior “Militarist from power, and replace him with Sherif Ahmed—a ‘Manifesto”. With all the negotiators on the same side they added an equal number of seats from the “Manifesto” camp to the TFG Parliament to elect their new President. They persuaded the House Speaker, and the “Manifesto side of the old Parliament endorsed the plan, with a so-called majority. The Election took place in Djibouti. The additional two hundred members of Parliament, plus Manifesto members from the old Parliament, elected Sherif Sheikh Ahmed as the new President. The coup succeeded without a hitch! The Djibouti Government installed a “Manifesto” Government for Somalia for the third time, since 1991, but that is not the end of the story. Or is it?

Conclusion:

If the “Manifesto” believes that they have gotten rid of the “Militarists”, they are wrong!
Although some “Militarists” are left in the Parliament, it is true that an overwhelming majority will be from the “Manifesto” camp. At best, it is a party dictatorship, so to speak. But sure there still are “Militarists" in the TFG Parliament. After all, 126 members, among those 425 MPs present at the election, voted for Maslah Mohamed Siyad, a military general himself and the son of the Late President, Barre, who is considered the first militarist in Somalia. They voted against Sherif Ahmed. But there are other “Militarists” in the arena who are robustly active, today.

The radical Islamists have also been there from the beginning, but only covertly. These radicals including the remnants of Al-Itihad Al-Islamy, the Ras Camboni force and Al-Shabab, as we know them, and others, seem to have a common, spiritual, self-styled leader—Hassan Dahir  Aweys—a former commander of Al-Itihad when they attacked parts of  what is now known as Puntland, in 1991-92. He is also a former Colonel of the army, where he got a departmental transfer to it, from the custodial corps. The “Manifesto” wing of the ARS is now part of the TFG. Hassan Dahir Aweys, the spiritual leader of the radical Islamists and the Asmara wing of the ARS have refused to talk to any one, and, especially, Sherif Ahmed.

Al-Shabab is now in control of the area between the two rivers. According to analysts from the South, people are comfortable, with them, in power. They have given back the villagers their land, when they removed the bullies that intimidated them during most of the last two decades. It is safe to assume that they are the new “Militarists”, but with a very different ideology—the strict application of the Islamic Shari'ah. That is why they may not ever succeed to form the national government, but they will remain spoilers for a long time. Somalia may, therefore, remain without a government for a long, long time.

Abdalla Ahmed Hirad
Email: MHirad@aol.com

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