By Mahad Sheikh Ali Gelle
It was a cheerful celebration in the “life” of Somalia Presidential election on February 8th in our beautiful Pearl of the Indian Ocean capital, Mogadishu–as it has been several times before in 1960–67. Somalia is not the first country with instability, conflict and lack of security, but it is certainly amongst the first few that are not coming up with solutions. As every Somali can tell, our greatest problem today is not poverty, but the existence of ignorance, indifference and injustice. Our society needs the philosophy of ‘’Unite and Rule.’’
Somalia is currently in a political transition. The main tasks in front of the nation at this critical juncture are: to bring peace in the country by settlement of all odds and scars of the three decade long conflict, compliance and implementation of agreements signed between the government and various political groups at various times, open talks with Al-Shabaab, rehabilitation and reintegration of it’s fighters and review and implement the constitution through consultation with the Federal Member States. Meanwhile, the new leader and his government have to carry on the task of revamping the national economy that is limping due to political turmoil on one side and the effect of global economic and financial crisis on the other.
To redress the current disarray in medium and short-term measures of foreign policy, the new President, H. E Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, should appreciate the relative importance of available instruments of national power and develop/ modernize/ enhance the following accordingly:
1- Relations of Trust and Confidence with Kenya and Ethiopia: Historically Somalia is the meeting point of two great civilizations and today it is one of the epicenters of competing interests in an impending regional paradigm shift. Located between two regional economic and strategic powerhouses, Somalia can greatly benefit from developments taking place in Kenya and Ethiopia today. However, it is essential to realize that proximity adds vitality but also sensitivity and complexity in interstate relations demanding high priority and careful handling. Our foreign policy will breakdown at the point where either Kenya or Ethiopia loses faith in us and concludes that her vital national interests and sensitivities do not receive proper recognition in our conduct of relations. Changing global and regional political, economic and security needs and the seriousness of the challenges faced by the Horn of Africa, particularly extreme poverty and threats from terror networks have made things more complicated. The strategically unfavorable geopolitical location of Somalia dictates that it is too dangerous for Somalia to play Ethiopia or Kenya card. Nor can Somalia remain indifferent to its own vital interests.
2- The Federal Republic of Somalia faces the same challenges, only worsened by political turmoil, past rhetoric and current summersaults of Somali leaders and people in power. In this age of unprecedented remote viewing and listening saying something here something else there or saying one thing but doing another only expose politics and diplomacy to crisis of credibility and Credibility and confidence deficits seriously affect Somalia’s national politics and international relations, particularly with the two neighbors. So, one of them feels the need to (volunteer?) “We will help to protect Somalia’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity” while the other feels so exposed that it feels compelled to apply its own “Monroe doctrine”. In this sensitive relationship, vain debates, name-calling and finger pointing only raise risks of more external involvement in our internal power contests. So, domestic politics is the biggest problem of Somalia’s foreign policy today; restoration of trust and confidence with all our foreign friends and partners, but most importantly Kenya and Ethiopia is the top priority of Somalia’s foreign policy making and conduct of diplomacy.
3- Pro–active International Role: Vitality of relations with neighbors does not preclude pro-active role internationally. Strengthening relations with the new US Administration, further deepening traditional friendship with China, the UK, the European Union, Russia, Germany, Italy and France are some of the other priorities. Greater visibility in the UN, exploring possibilities for membership of the Security Council or actively seeking the Presidency of the UN General Assembly of which Somalia never had the opportunity to preside over, deserve utmost attention.
4- Vital Balance: It will almost sound like a cliché that Somalia today stands at the most critical thresholds of history and geography. In such a turning point, international support to take Somalia’s peace process to a meaningful conclusion with supervision, integration and rehabilitation of the Al-Shabaab army combatants, reviewing and promulgation of the provisional constitution, holding universal suffrage elections in 2021 and handing over power to a new elected government as soon as possible are top priorities in securing Somalia’s national interests. In pursuing these goals, Somalia political leadership, diplomatic team, civil service and security apparatus must be skillful in utilizing the goodwill, cooperation and support of the Somali people, and the international community, particularly our two neighbors and other major global players without being confused about our own internal realities and caught up in external complexities. What happens to Somalia will depend on how we are able to sustain the vital balance.
5- Learn from the Past Experience: Today, Ethiopia enjoys unmatched leverage, as regards the survival and security of Somalia. Landlocked Ethiopia remains more influential to vulnerable Somalia. The unfortunate incidence of 1977/1978, when Somalia flexed its geopolitical muscle is an unforgettable experience–an outcome of Somalia’s impractical and Ethiopia’s most opportunistic diplomacy. Ability to maintain a practical and balanced diplomatic relations with Ethiopia, therefore, serves another essential condition for Somalia’s survival and growth.
6- The Ministry of Foreign Affairs: The new President and his coming Prime Minister must understand that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ main role is coordinating the work of various state and non-state actors and missions abroad as well as missions of other countries in Somalia. Many countries are bringing foreign trade and aid within their foreign ministries. Aid and trade negotiations have become important functions of ambassadors and diplomats. But in Somalia, MoFA’s role is evident in its lack of leadership in coordinating important political and economic issues as well as in the way missions/ambassadors of other countries bypass it in dealings with state and non-state actors. The MoFA basically suffers from either a lack of political attention and leadership or over enthusiasm of trying to take on too much without either the intellectual strength or the institutional capability to take on the foreign policy challenges facing Somalia today.
7- Change Management: Post-1991 leaders consistently associated Somalia with Rwanda; leadership is never tired of talking about Rwanda and Sierra Leone. But how did these societies manage their transformations? Why are Rwanda, South Africa and Sierra Leone gardens of peace and prosperity today whereas Somalia is a quagmire of conflict and chaos? Wisdom, knowledge and experience are vital for redressing problems of change–mismanagement from which Somalia suffers so much today.
Reconciliation, National Unity and Identity
Reconciliation and national unity is another precondition for the survival and moving forward of our nation. Genuine reconciliation enables Somalia to retain and sustain national sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence. Somalia’s national unity and identity is a function of: inter–clan and inter–regional harmony which serves as the ‘Center of Gravity’ of Somalia–constitutional recognition of federalism; adoption of inclusive systems; and enduring political stability and sustained economic growth.
Unifying Internal SecurityPolicy
More than 2500 years ago, highlighting the importance of knowing own national interests and understanding the capabilities, limitations, and intentions of enemies (threats and challenges), Sun Tzu said, “Know your enemy and know yourself, and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster”. This statement is very much relevant to Somalia’s present day security situation. Somalia’s national purpose and vital interests must be clearly defined, debated, concluded, and incorporated in the new Constitution.
To overcome internal security challenges and safeguard national interests/ objectives, Somalia is required to formulate a National Security Strategy that involves permutations and combinations of various instruments of national power (intelligence, political, diplomatic, economic, and military). Right-sizing the Somali National Army to maintain a viable military force is required by the national security strategy. It will also be vital to assist the civil authority to formulate national security doctrine and national security strategy. Likewise, it will be prudent to formulate a practicable military doctrine and defense strategy. Seriously studying the last two decade long civil war to derive fundamental lessons could be invaluable in formulating a practical national security strategy. Developing military institutions as one of the national unifying factors (inclusive and apolitical character), and an instrument of stability could be an added advantage.
Conclusion: Forward Looking and Dynamic Diplomacy
Geopolitics affects the sovereignty and political independence of all nations. Truly speaking, not even the superpowers and great–powers can enjoy absolute sovereignty because of interdependent international system. However, some countries are more sovereign and independent than others. Securing our national interest and standing the ground is significant to our new leadership. Talking about securing the national interest of his own country, the man most responsible for making Singapore what it is today, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew says, “we are small, we are weak and vulnerable. Unless we can stand our ground we will be overwhelmed”. Another visionary leader Chancellor Konrad Adenauer in his first meeting with Prime Minister Bulganin of the then Soviet Union said on 09-09-1955 “The division of Germany is abnormal. It is against human and divine law and against nature”. With such vision, today Germany has been unified.
Success or failure of our new President depends on the selection of our next Prime Minister who is willing to put the country interests first. Conflict or cooperation in Somalia depends upon how the federal system is devised, how the dispute settlement mechanisms instituted and how the Somali state presidents/actors behave. Somalia through its new leadership and heterogeneous communities has demonstrated it has the skills to be an open, tolerant and inclusive society. If our new President can avoid the twin scourges of sectarianism and corruption, there is every reason to be optimistic that our nation can emerge as a regional force for peace and progress and a hopefully more cooperative Africa.
As Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (Farmajo) is taking Villa Somalia from his predecessor Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as Somalia’s 9th president, the Somali people and the world anxiously anticipate to see if the ever-mounting tides of mistrust and deception between Somalia and her neighbors can be placated with this man’s relatively surprising victory. Time will tell but I am very much optimist of him.
In my final concluding words, now is the time for all Somalis to join hands to celebrate the birth of democracy (after long interval) and support the new President. Congratulations and good luck Mr. President.
Mahad Sheikh Ali Gelle
Mr. Gelle is a member of Jubbaland State Government and he can be reached at [email protected]
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